Homeowners have many choices for heating and cooling the home, from central furnaces and air conditioners to ductless heat pumps. Ductless systems, also known as mini-split systems, consist of an outdoor compressor and indoor air handling unit connected by a series of conduit and tubing. The tubes transport refrigerant between the two components, allowing you to heat and cool your home without the use of ductwork. While these systems offer improved efficiency compared to traditional central systems, they also come with a higher price tag and an appearance that some may find unpleasant. To determine if mini-split systems are the right option for your home, weigh cost and aesthetics with your typical heating and cooling needs.
A new central cooling system costs around $3,500 to $4,000, according to This Old House. A furnace costs another $3,000 installed. If you already have one or both of these components and the duct work needed to distribute heated or cooled air throughout the home, a ductless heat pump makes little sense. But what if your furnace or air conditioner are nearing the end of their life? The average mini-split system costs between $3,000 and $5,000, according to BuildingGreen.com, making them slightly more expensive than a new furnace or central air conditioner.
In this type of scenario, the improved efficiency of the split system may help you make your decision. Like all heat pumps, mini-splits extract heat energy from the air rather than generating it. This allows the heat pump to operate much more efficiently than a furnace or air conditioner, which can save you money on heating and cooling each month. Even better, ductless heat pumps represent a type of zoned system, which means you can use them to heat or cool only the rooms you're in. Central heating and cooling systems condition the entire home, which wastes money and energy if you only really use a few rooms.
If your home doesn't have central air or heating, ductless heat pumps are almost always the most economical choice. Adding duct work costs an average of $3,500 to $4,000, according to This Old House, which doesn't include the cost of the furnace or air conditioning equipment. Ductless systems don't require ducts, which can save you thousands and help you avoid tearing up your walls, ceiling and attic to add ducts.
Of course, not everyone likes the look of ductless heating and cooling. While central systems transport air using hidden ducts and grills placed in walls or ceilings, mini-split systems are much more visible, relying on air handling units placed on the wall in each room. Before investing in a ductless heat pump, decide whether you're willing to trade improved efficiency and a potentially lower price tag with the cost of having these units visible on the wall. If the appearance of a ductless split system bothers you, ask your installer if it might be possible to conceal the unit in the ceiling or wall, or to add a decorative casing to help it blend into the room more effectively.
Consult an HVAC professional like Blairco Heating and Air Conditioning if you have any further questions.