Expand Living Space With Ductless Climate Control System

If your temporary work-from-home job has turned into a fulltime remote position, you may be looking to relocate your “office” from the kitchen table to a permanent space. But where will you squeeze in a home office? If a lack of climate control is a limiting factor to retrofitting a space, a ductless HVAC system may be the solution.

Walton EMC’s Rigs Santos answers your most-asked questions about ductless climate control systems.

Over the last year, Walton EMC’s call center has received many questions about ductless systems. To help members evaluate this heating-and-cooling option, we asked Rigs Santos, a Walton EMC energy advisor, to provide the lowdown on these systems.

What is a ductless heat pump?

Ductless split-system air conditioners and heat pumps, also called mini-splits, are air conditioners or heat pumps that do not use ductwork for air distribution. The typical mini-split consists of a wall-mounted indoor unit combined with an outside compressor. The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms.

When is a mini-split a good solution?

It’s most often used as an alternative to a window AC unit or portable space heating. There are certain situations where a ductless system has a clear advantage, such as for room additions where extending or installing air distribution ductwork is not feasible. A ductless system may also be a good option for areas outside the primary living space, such as a workshop, garage apartment, guest house or pool house.

Depending on your home’s construction, a mini-split may also supplement a traditional heat pump to cure room-specific heating/cooling problems. For instance, if your kitchen really heats up in the summer, a ductless unit can make the room more comfortable.

A mini-split can also be used to add AC to a house with no existing ductwork. Ductless isn’t cheap, but it’s less expensive than adding ductwork to an existing house.

Are ductless systems energy efficient?

One of the biggest advantages of a ductless system is it can save up to 30 percent in energy costs over central systems. Because they have no ducts, mini splits avoid energy losses associated with ductwork. Remember to look for a system with the Energy Star.

Aside from lower energy costs, why is ductless preferable to a window air conditioning unit?

Unlike window units, mini-splits require only a very small hole to be drilled into the wall, making them less vulnerable to air leakage. They also keep your home safer because through-the-wall and window-mounted room air conditioners can be easily removed from the outside, providing easy access for intruders.

Is a mini-split system expensive?

A ductless unit will typically cost several times more than comparable window units or space heating units. Those costs will vary depending on the size of the space you want to cool or heat. You’ll get lower energy bills in return, but the payback period may be long-term. Ask your HVAC contractor to calculate the return on investment on any mini-split system you are considering.

Do these systems require a lot of maintenance?

As with a traditional HVAC system, the filter must be kept clean. Mini-split systems need free-flowing air circulation around both the indoor and outdoor components to operate efficiently. Monthly (more often if you smoke or have pets) filter cleanings are necessary. Failing to clean filters will waste energy and money. It could also shorten the life of the system.

Are there air quality concerns with ductless systems?

Manufacturers claim ductless mini-split systems actually provide better air quality and remove more allergens than traditional systems. The reason: No ductwork means there are fewer places for microorganisms like mold to grow. Also, most mini-split models are equipped with filter systems and self-cleaning functions that prevent bacteria growth.

How many years of service can I expect from a mini-split?

With proper maintenance and routine servicing, ductless heat pumps have the same life cycle as traditional HVAC systems.

Can I install this myself?

It’s not recommended. “The extra money you spend to have a pro do the job is worth it,” Santos advises. If a mini-split is installed incorrectly, it can negate energy efficiency and end up costing you more in the long run. Hiring a pro installer will ensure proper system sizing and installation, both critical to getting the benefits from a ductless system. Also, the installer must be able to handle refrigerants according to EPA guidelines.

Be sure to seek out a local heating and cooling contractor who has experience in installing and servicing mini-splits.

Does it take a long time to install a mini-split system?

Compared to the time it takes to extend ductwork into a home office, attic or basement, installing a mini-split is much faster. An installation can be accomplished in a few hours in the average home.


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