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How Does a Ductless Heat Pump Work?

The weather in Portland is again hinting at signs of summer. The sun is going to show itself every day for the next six days—a lot for our region in early June—and it’s expected to hit 80 degrees on consecutive days. It’s nearly time to turn on your AC. So why are we suggesting you think about your home heating options?

It may seem counterintuitive, but summer is actually an ideal season to think about your heating system. While it will hopefully not be used for many months to come, it’s the perfect time to plan, especially if you might be on the lookout for an upgrade. And summer might be the perfect time to find a good deal on a new furnace.

More importantly, many heating and cooling systems work interchangeably to ensure you’re comfortable year-round. So you may in fact be adjusting your air conditioning system when you update your heating system.

But don’t jump in too fast. Here are three considerations to make before selecting your heating source:

Fuel Type

Natural gas often leads the way when it comes to fueling home heating systems, but that’s not the only option. There are also units that consume propane. Don’t want to rely on fuel for your heat? You don’t have to any longer, as many sources use electricity, including the heat pump.

Distribution System

How Does a Ductless Heat Pump WorkForced air and hot water are the two most common modes of transferring heat into your abode. While hot water systems use a boiler to circulate the warmth through pipes to baseboard radiators, the more common option is forced air. This is when air is pushed through ducts. And these same ducts can be used for air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Heat pumps can utilize air duct systems, but as you’ll soon discover, ductless heat pumps are also a functional tradeoff. The major benefit of this is that air ducts are prone to leaks—the biggest flaw of forced air distribution—and this won’t be an issue if you go ductless.

However, it should be noted that it’s ultimately a lot less costly to stick with the original design of the home. A complete change in distribution can get costly, so it’s important to weigh the economical and environmental factors carefully before making a decision.

Efficiency

As with any appliance, the more efficient heating system you decide upon, the less you’ll pay in monthly operating costs. Even small savings monthly can make a dramatic difference over one year, and certainly over many. Discuss this in detail with your local HVAC contractor to ensure you’re selecting an effective solution that’s also the best value for your home.

Traditional Heat Pump

So if you’ve addressed the above considerations and are still leaning toward a heat pump you may be wondering, exactly how does a ductless heat pump work? But let’s start with the traditional heat pumps for comparison.

An air-source heat pump uses the same duct system as your air conditioning unit to cycle and deliver heat to each room in your home. This option runs via electricity, so it’s one of the more efficient options, particularly if you have solar installed as well.

A similar alternative is a geothermal heat pump. This heating system literally absorbs heat from below ground to heat your home, making it even more efficient. They are sometimes more cost prohibitive, but consult with your municipality, as there may be available incentives.

But How Does a Ductless Heat Pump Work?

A ductless heat pump, also referred to as mini splits or zoned heating, doesn’t need ductwork installed to transfer heat throughout your home. Instead, a refrigerant line, power cable, suction tubing, and condensations drain line connect the indoor air handling unit and an outdoor compressor. This makes it significantly less costly to install if your home is not yet fitted with a duct system.

The indoor units are installed by an HVAC company, such as Entek, in each predetermined zone in your home and are often crested near the roofline in a white shade that seamlessly fades into the background. Even better, each unit inside can be independently controlled. That means if you want less heat in the kitchen and more in the corner office with the large bay window, you’ve got it.

Zones are created with your local HVAC professional. You will discuss the goals you want to achieve with your new heating system (high energy-efficient model, for example, that lowers your monthly utility bill and allows you to keep the bedrooms warmer and living areas cooler). Based on your personal goals and the layout of your home, the HVAC professional will outline zones, and each zone will get one indoor air handling unit.

So, how does a ductless heat pump work? Basically, it’s a reverse air conditioner that permits you to control the temperature of each room in your home. Strangely enough, it actually pulls warm air from outside and forces it into your home. You’re certainly thinking, how could this be possible in winter? Well, the refrigerant is even colder than outside air, and it lures the warmth into the outside unit, which is then transferred to the appropriate indoor air unit.

While the ductless heat pump can absorb heat when it’s as low as -4°F, once it drops below freezing, the system has to work extra hard. Thankfully, the weather here in Portland is nearly perfect, as we only see a few weeks of below-freezing weather (if that) before popping up to the 40s and above.

While you may not be considering a heating system for your home with summer just around the corner, as a reminder, the ductless heat pump does also function as an air conditioner. It pulls cool air in from outside before redistributing it into your home. So if your space is ready for an HVAC facelift, then it’s a heat and cooling source worth your consideration.