When you convert the garage to a fourth bedroom, you need a way to cool and heat that space. Hiring an HVAC technician to extend the existing duct system will jack up the cost of your addition. Fortunately, there are ductless alternatives.
Window units and mini-split systems can act as an air conditioner and a heater. These appliances are known as heat pumps. There are even some mini-split heat pumps that can warm and cool an entire house, solving a problem for those who move into old homes that lack a central heat and air conditioning system.
How Do Heat Pumps Work?
Unlike a furnace that creates and pushes heat through a series of ducts, an air-source heat pump absorbs the heat from the outdoors and delivers it to the inside of your home to warm the air. In other words, it operates in reverse of an air conditioner. To cool the air in your home, a heat pump’s refrigerant absorbs the indoor heat and sends it outside. A reverse valve allows it to switch between cooling and heating.
What Benefits Does a Heat Pump Offer?
The most enticing benefit of using a heat pump is the money you’ll save on your power bill every month. Heat pumps are more efficient than other types of heaters or air conditioners. Depending on the model and various environmental factors, you could be looking at an efficiency rate of 300% or more.
How Efficient Are Ductless Heat Pumps Compared to Standard Heat Pumps?
Ductless heat pumps boast a better efficiency rate than standard units. Since there is no ductwork for the air to run through, air doesn’t leak out before it’s delivered to the room. They also give you zone control over room temperatures, and they’re easier to install. Bonus – The lack of noise caused by a rattling duct system also makes ductless heat pumps quieter.
Do Heat Pumps Work When It’s Below Freezing Outdoors?
Yes, heat pumps will still work even when the outdoor temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when the outdoor temperature gets near 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat pump’s condenser may freeze. For those who live in the southern or the southwestern region, this is unlikely to be an issue. People who live in other areas should keep a space heater on hand just in case.
Can a Ductless System Heat and Cool My Whole House?
It depends on whether the heat pump is window-mounted or a mini-split style. Window-mounted heat pumps are installed the same way as AC window units, and they are great for heating and cooling one room. Mini-split heat pumps can also heat and cool a single room; however, those that come with multiple indoor air-handling units are able to control the temperature in more than one room.
How Are Mini-Split Heat Pumps Installed?
When you buy a mini-split heat pump, you get a condenser and one or more evaporator air-handling units. Most mini-split manufacturers also include the electrical line, the drain line and the refrigerant lines (also known as a line set). The condenser is set up next to an exterior wall, and a small hole is drilled into the wall to run the line set to the evaporator.
Where Do the Indoor Air-Handling Units Go?
Window-mounted heat pumps go exactly where their name suggests – They’re inserted through the bottom opening of a window. The indoor units that come with a mini-split system are either designed to be installed on the wall or in the ceiling. Typically, wall-mounted indoor air-handlers are easier to install and maintain, and they’re cheaper than ceiling cassettes.
How Long Will a Ductless Heat Pump Last?
Ductless heat pumps have a long lifespan if they’re well-maintained. Window-mounted heat pumps can easily last 10 to 15 years. Mini-split heat pumps tend to last longer than window units. It’s common for mini-splits to function properly for two decades.
Is It Easy to Maintain a Ductless Heat Pump?
Maintaining a ductless heat pump is neither hard nor time-consuming. The most important task is cleaning the filter. This should be done about once every other month. On a window unit, the filter is located behind the front grille. For a mini-split system, you can find the filter in each air-handler. Don’t forget to clear debris from the back of the cabinet (for window units) or the outdoor condenser (for mini-splits).
Top 5 Best Air Conditioner/Heat Pumps
With all the advantages that ductless air conditioner/heat pumps have to offer, deciding to install one is an easy choice. However, picking a system is a little more difficult. We chose these five ductless heat pumps based on their energy efficiency, low initial cost and user-friendly design.
5) Daikin 18,000 BTU Wall-Mounted Mini-Split Inverter Air Conditioner/Heat Pump System
Designed for one zone, this mini-split heat pump by Daikin generates 18,000 BTUs of heating and cooling power in a room as large as 1,000 square feet. With a 17 SEER and a 9 HSPF rating, the ductless heat pump exceeds Energy Star’s efficiency requirements. It’s also built to last and backed by a 10-year warranty.
The 230-volt system is incredibly quiet. Its indoor air handler produces a mere 36 decibels, and the outdoor unit never climbs above 51 dB. Along with the wall-mounted evaporator and outdoor condenser, you get a complete installation kit that includes a 15-foot line set and a digital remote. There’s even a wall mount for the outdoor unit if you have no concrete slab on which to place it.
An inverter-driven compressor prevents start/stop energy loss, and the fin is coated in a hydrophilic material to promote condensation drainage. Defrost is automatic, and you’ll get warm air instantly in the winter thanks to the hot-start function. Daikin’s long-lasting titanium apatite photocatalytic filter neutralizes allergens, germs and odors.
Via the remote, you can control the airflow direction with the swinging louver. The button labeled “powerful” provides a 20-minute burst of hot or cold air while the Eco+ button optimizes the mini-split heat pump’s energy usage. You can turn off the color-coded mode light, control the fan speed and enjoy extra-quiet performance on sleep mode.
4) Frigidaire 8,000 BTU Slide-Out Air Conditioner/Heat Pump (FFRH0822R1)
With a coverage limit of 350 square feet, the 115-volt Frigidaire Slide-Out Air Conditioner/Heat Pump is ideal for bedrooms. Producing 8,000 BTUs, the window-mounted unit is extremely energy efficient. It’s rated at 9.8 EER, and Energy Star calculates that it costs one-third less to run this heat pump in comparison to similar models.
To help you maintain a tight seal around the window, Frigidaire provides a pair of accordion curtains that fit an opening 16.5 inches tall and 26.9 to 36 inches wide. You also get seal strips, two support brackets and an ergonomic remote control. Frigidaire warranties this model in full for 1 year and the sealed system’s components for 5 years.
A 259-CFM fan blows cool and warm air at three speeds out of the dual adjustable louvers while the antimicrobial mesh filter captures airborne contaminants. During humid weather, the heat pump can remove 1.5 pints of water from the air per hour. Frigidaire put a 6.5-foot power cord on the heat pump, so you can easily connect it to the nearest outlet. Should a power outage occur, the unit will automatically resume operation.
You can access the same functions on the touch panel or the display-equipped remote, including the 24-hour timer and fan-only mode. To allow the heat pump to automatically adjust the temperature, you can set it on energy-saver mode. There’s also a sleep mode, which slowly lowers the temperature a few degrees.
3) Pioneer YN Series 36,000 BTU Multi-Split Heat Pump Quad Unit (4 Zone)
Cool and heat your entire house with the Pioneer Multi-Split YN Series Heat Pump. Putting out 36,000 BTUs of cooling and heating power, the 230-volt quad indoor-unit system can handle the demands of homes 1,200 to 1,600 square feet. Its 22.5 SEER and 10.3 HSPF ratings mean you won’t be faced with ridiculously high electricity bills.
Pioneer offers a 2-year-parts and a 5-year compressor warranty for the YN Series heat pump. In addition to four flat-panel wall-mounted air handlers and a 62-decibel outdoor condenser, you get a 16-foot line set, an electrical and drain line and all the necessary fittings. Each indoor unit has its own remote, and the condenser comes factory charged with refrigerant.
You’ll never spend a dime on filter replacements thanks to the air handlers’ washable filters. The condensation pan resists rust, and the aluminum fin coil is coated with a hydrophilic material. The mini-split system’s inverter automatically adjusts the refrigerant speed. An axial flow fan enhances the self-defrosting heat pump’s energy efficiency.
Use the remote to select auto mode or one of three fan speeds. Vacation mode sets the air handler to 46 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy during extended absences. Reach your desired temperature fast with turbo mode, tell the air-handler to clean its evaporator coil with self-clean mode or press “follow me” to get the localized temperature. You can also swing and tip the louver via the remote.
2) Senville Mini-Split 18,000 BTU Air Conditioner/Heat Pump (SENL-18CD)
Senville’s 18,000 BTU mini-split heat pump is designed to work effectively in areas from 251 to 368 square feet. Depending on the climate region, the air conditioner/heat pump achieves a 7.2 to 8.5 HSPF. With a cooling efficiency of 19 SEER and a heating efficiency of 3.1 COP, get ready to reap the rewards of lower energy bills.
Warrantied for 5 years, this LETO Series heat pump comes with one indoor air handler and an outdoor handler. Each one provides quiet performance, ranging from 30.5 to 48 decibels indoors and 58 decibels outdoors. Included in the installation kit is a copper line set that stretches to 16 feet, which is more than enough length for a single-zone system.
Using an inverter, the 230-volt ductless heat pump self-adjusts the refrigerant flow to reduce energy loss upon startup. The fan moves at three speeds, and you can run it with or without heat or air conditioning. Even at a temperature as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat pump can still provide warm air.
To control the functions of the wall-mounted evaporator, use the wireless remote. The remote’s screen lets you view the temperature and the current mode such as sleep and turbo. Direct and swing give you control over the louvers. Self-clean keeps the heat pump in working order while the timer helps you save energy.
1) Pioneer 12,000 BTU Mini-Split Air Conditioner & Heat Pump (WYS012-17)
The 115-volt mini-split air conditioner/heat pump heats and cools efficiently with ratings of 17 SEER and 9 HSPF, respectively. Generating 12,000 BTUs, the mini-split system is perfectly sized for rooms 350 to 450 square feet. To help protect your investment, Pioneer offers a 5-year warranty on the compressor and complimentary technical support.
Wiring, a drain line extension and an insulated 16-foot line set are included in this system’s installation kit. The 55-decibel outdoor condenser is housed in galvanized metal for durability. The wall-mounted evaporator boasts an LED temperature display and a sound level range of 28 to 38 decibels. You can control the indoor unit via the digital remote, which is equipped with an LCD screen and a temperature sensor.
A permanent filter saves money on replacement costs while the inverter compressor maximizes the mini-split system’s energy output. The system comes pre-charged. It’s programmed to automatically restart in the event of an electrical outage, and it will self-switch from heat to cold or vice versa.
You can set the variable fan to one of three speeds, adjust the temperature, put the system on sleep mode and start the timer with the remote. Other functions allow you to move the louver in four directions and order the air-handler to clean its own evaporator coils. For automatic temperature detection and adjustment, press the “follow me” button on the remote.
Air Conditioner/Heat Pump Buying Guide
Acronyms such as HSPF and COP may have you feeling lost, and is there really a difference between EER and SEER? This buying guide will tell you everything you need to know when choosing a ductless air conditioner/heat pump.
There is a slew of ratings that indicate a ductless heat pump’s efficiency. The COP (coefficient of performance) is a ratio that tells you the amount of heat the mini-split system produces to the amount of energy it consumes. For example, a COP of 2.0 means that the heat pump generates 2 watts of heat to every watt it uses.
HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor) is another heat-only rating. To calculate the HSPF, the BTUs are divided by the watt-hours of electricity consumption. The resulting figure gives you an idea of the heat pump’s efficiency over the course of winter.
Sometimes, manufacturers put a number immediately after HSPF, such as HSPF4. The number indicates the efficiency in a specific climate region. There are six regions, and their locations are determined by the International Code Council.
That number on your heat pump’s yellow Energy Guide sticker is the EER (energy efficiency ratio), which takes the system’s BTUs and divides them by the heat pump’s cooling capacity in watts. The EER figure gives you a standardized measurement of the heat pump’s cooling ability.
While SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) also measures how well the heat pump produces cool air, this rating shows the system’s performance on a seasonal basis. To find the heat pump’s SEER rating, divide the BTUs by the number of watts the unit consumes per hour.
EER vs. SEER
When comparing ductless heat pump systems, make sure to compare EER to EER and SEER to SEER. Weighing the EER of one system against the SEER of another system will give you an inaccurate comparison.
Energy Star Certified
On the same Energy Star product label that displays the EER and the estimated yearly energy cost, there may also be an Energy Star-branded seal. If you see this seal, it means the ductless heat pump is certified by Energy Star. To receive this certification, the heat pump must provide a significant amount of energy savings and meet other requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sizing – BTUs and Tons
We cannot over-stress the importance of buying the correct sized air conditioner/heat pump. Although hot climates, poor insulation and ceilings over 8 feet high require more BTUs, areas 150 to 350 square feet need a 6,000 to 8,000 BTU system. For 350 to 700 square feet, 9,000 to 14,000 BTUs are necessary. For multiple-zone cooling and heating, you’re looking at 18,000 to 24,000 BTUs.
Keep in mind these figures are a rough guide. The manufacturer almost always lists the coverage area in the specs, taking the guesswork out of sizing. If you see tons listed in the description, that’s just another way to describe the heat pump’s capacity. One ton is equal to 12,000 BTUs.
Although Freon has become a universal term to describe any refrigerant. Freon is actually a specific type of refrigerant called R-22. With an EPA ban R-22 looming because of this refrigerant’s propensity to damage the ozone layer, new heat pumps operate on R410A refrigerant, which is known as Puron. If you plan to self-install your ductless heat pump, look for a system that comes pre-charged with Puron.
Whether you go the window-mounted or mini-split route, installation is easier when you don’t have to hunt down the parts you need to get your heat pump up and running. Make sure the heat pump comes with an installation kit and all the necessary parts for a complete install are included.
For a window-mounted unit, that means accordion sleeves, brackets, seals and screws. Mini-split systems should come with items such as a drain line, an electrical line, two refrigerant lines, putty and tape.
Be sure to get the right length for the line set. The length that comes with most mini-splits is 16 feet. However, most manufacturers offer additional line sets in lengths ranging from 10 to 50 feet. Note that mini-split systems pre-charged with Puron may only be charged to certain lengths.
Outdoor Condenser Wall Mount
The outdoor condenser unit that comes with a mini-split heat pump should be installed on a slab of concrete just like you would with a full-size heat pump or an AC condenser. However, if there is no concrete slab and you don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of pouring and setting one, get a mini-split system with a bracket that lets you mount the condenser to the wall.
Window-mounted and mini-split heat pumps come with a filter. If you’re concerned about bacteria and other airborne contaminants, find a unit that comes with an anti-microbial filter. Many filters are designed to last forever. Some require cleanings every 2 months or so while others can go 6 months before you need to wash them.
Self-Cleaning Evaporator Coils
The evaporator coils sit directly behind the filter. Over time, the coils accumulate dust and other particles. Cleaning the evaporator coils is a necessary part of ductless heat pump maintenance. However, some models have a self-cleaning function that you can manually activate, which cleans and dries the coils for you.
Although ductless heat pumps can last for 15 years or longer, rain, hail and sunlight can take a toll on a window-mounted unit’s cabinet and a mini-split system’s condenser. Make sure the cabinet or the condenser housing is made of durable materials like galvanized metal, which has a rust and corrosion-resistant zinc coating. The paint also matters. For instance, epoxy can withstand extreme temperatures, and it’s non-toxic.
Inverter vs. Rotary Compressors
Every heat pump contains a compressor. A compressor’s job is to circulate the heat pump’s refrigerant, which means it uses a lot of the heat pump’s total energy consumption to maintain your desired temperature.
An inverter compressor doesn’t use all its power followed by a total shut down like a rotary compressor. Instead, it puts out just enough power to reach your chosen temperature, idling until a temperature adjustment is needed again. If you want to maximize your energy savings, a heat pump with an inverter compressor is your best bet.
If you’re sound sensitive, look for a unit that produces 40 or fewer decibels. In regard to mini-split heat pumps and their outdoor condensers, the sound level won’t matter as much. However, if you spend a lot of time outdoors or your neighbor’s house is only a few feet away, get one that doesn’t climb above 60 decibels.
Since you’ll be using your heat pump year round, you definitely want one that comes with a remote. For wall-mounted mini-split systems, a remote becomes a necessity since the indoor air handler will be out of reach.
On the indoor portion of your ductless heat pump, there are one or more louvers, which let out the flow of cool or warm air. Louvers are adjustable, but the most convenient heat pumps let you adjust them remotely. Setups that optimize multi-directional airflow will let you swing the louver side to side and direct it up and down.
Energy Saving Functions
An energy-efficient ductless heat pump should offer a variety of user-controlled functions that reduce energy consumption and the subsequent costs. Sleep mode gradually and slightly lowers or raises the temperature while eco mode instantly reduces/increases the temperature and fan speed.
Some models offer a vacation mode that sets the unit 10 or so degrees above freezing. A timer will turn off the heat pump after a specified period, so the system won’t run all day when you aren’t home. If the remote has a temperature sensor, you can press a button to make the heat pump regulate the temperature according to the sensor’s readout.