Your All-in-One Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump Guide for 2021
Winter is upon us, and you might be struggling to decide how to prepare your home for a warm and cozy holiday season. While reading up on various ideas, you must have come across a mini-split heat pump several times.
You know what the best part is? Mini-split heat pumps are the best available option for summers too. So, once you have it installed, no matter if it’s winter or summer, its reversible function makes your home well-conditioned.
Now, you might be wondering what a mini-split heat pump is and how you can benefit from it in both seasons.
We have made a complete guide for you to learn everything there is to know about a mini-split ductless heat pump.
What Is a Mini-Split Heat Pump?
A mini-split heat pump is a ductless heating and cooling system that can regulate the temperatures in individual rooms or spaces as opposed to the traditional central air system.
They are a compact and flexible heating plus cooling option as compared to regular HVAC frameworks dependent on ducts to diffuse conditioned air throughout living spaces. Mini-split heat pumps are also known as ductless mini-split air conditioners, ductless ACs, or a mini-split air conditioning system and do not rely on ducts for transferring heat.
Mini-split heating systems have two primary units consisting of an outdoor compressor and an indoor evaporator. The indoor unit maintains the room temperature by ventilating warm/cold air while the outdoor unit ejects the unwanted heat generated during the process.
The flexibility of mini-split heat pumps to work in every season is why they are becoming increasingly popular, and it usually does not increase the cost by an enormous edge. For the most part, ductless heat pump heating is best suitable for early spring, late fall, and mild winter conditions while they are an excellent cooling aid during the summer. In some instances, they can also be used during the winter peak but more on that later.
Types of Mini-Split Heat Pumps
One of the best features of ductless mini-split heat pumps is their flexible installation options. The various choices it offers makes it a favorite among consumers because you can have it placed according to your home’s structure. This adjustability comes with a variety of heat pumps available. Here are the types you must consider before making your next purchase:
1. Single-Zone Mini-Split Heat Pumps
Single-zone mini-splits are designed to control an individual room’s temperature and have a single indoor and outdoor unit.
Single zone mini-split heat pumps are better if you just have a single large area to heat or cool. This can be your bedroom, living room or any area where you spend most of your time. These are also perfect options for areas such as your garage.
2. Multi-Zone Mini-Split Units
Multi-zone mini-split system consists of two to four indoor units connected to a single outdoor unit. Each indoor component can function independently at different temperatures despite being connected to a single outdoor unit.
This is an ideal and cost-effective option for you if you have a number of rooms in your house to heat or cool. With a single piece of equipment, you can easily maintain all your rooms that need to be conditioned.
3. Wall Mounted Mini-Splits
As the name suggests, wall-mounted mini-split systems are positioned near the top of a wall. They’re the cheapest choice for the consumers and hence the most popular mini-split option.
Wall-mounted mini-split systems are best for rooms with at least 7′- 8′ high ceilings as they need to be mounted approximately 6 feet high. Single-zone as well as multi-zone wall mounted ductless mini-split heat pumps are available.
4. Floor Mounted Mini-Split
Just like wall-mounted mini-splits, floor-mounted mini-splits are also installed on a wall, except they’re positioned near the bottom, instead of towards the top.
Floor mounted splits are the go-to option if you have short heightened ceilings, slanted walls, or large windows. If you have an attic bedroom, you know this is what you’re getting!
5. Ceiling Cassette Mini-Split
These mini-splits are installed on the ceiling. Ceiling cassette mini-splits don’t ruin your room’s aesthetic, leave your walls empty for decor, and provide ample airflow than most other types of systems.
If you have considerably large rooms, then ceiling cassette mini-splits are the ones to go for. They have four openings blowing air on each side that spread the air equally in your room.
6. Concealed Duct Mini-Split
Concealed duct mini-split heat pumps are mounted on the ceiling and can be connected to more than one duct. This type of unit offers climate control for multiple rooms or an individual large area through ducts connected to a single indoor unit.
These are also great if you don’t like the look of mini-split units as these are practically invisible or ‘concealed’ and can be installed in multiple areas providing even coverage for large rooms. They are a blessing for those who want to make the most out of a single indoor unit. Transition ducts can be used to transfer air to small adjoining rooms, saving you the expense of installing a separate unit.
7. Smart Mini-Split Heat Pumps
Smart mini-split units are an excellent option allowing you to control your heating or cooling from your phone. Many manufacturers for wall-mounted, floor-mounted and other mini-split heat pumps are now also offering ‘smart’ options that come with intelligent features. Using these you can schedule the timing for your mini-split heat pump’s operation or set automation and more.
These may be slightly pricey but using intelligent features you can save on your monthly electric bills. You can also make any standard mini-split heat pump smart, that comes with an IR remote, using a smart AC controller or also known as a mini-split thermostat. These are budget-friendly devices and equip your heat pump with all the features of a smart unit!
How Does a Mini-Split Heat Pump Work?
A ductless heat pump system transfers heat through a pattern of evaporation and condensation as a refrigerant substance runs through the system.
All ductless heat pumps contain two heat exchanger coils, one used to condense the refrigerant and another to evaporate it. The refrigerant sucks up heat from the encompassing area throughout the process of evaporation. On the other hand, the condensing process diffuses heat absorbed previously. Ductless heat pumps then regulate the room’s desired temperature as a result of the movement of refrigerant between these coils.
How does a mini-split heat pump cool?
In spring and summer, the heat pump absorbs heat from within your home utilizing the indoor unit’s evaporator and then delivers it outside using the outdoor unit.
The cool liquid coolant moves to the evaporator, absorbs the indoor heat, and transforms into a gas. The already hot gas is passed through a compressor and further heated up and pressurized.
The hot coolant at that point moves through the condenser coils while a high-powered fan kicks on. The air flows over all of the condenser coils to help the release of heat energy. After the refrigerant’s warmth is dispersed outdoors, the refrigerant cools down and becomes a liquid. It is then passed through an expansion valve, getting further cooled before getting sent back to the evaporator to begin the cycle again.
How does a mini-split heat pump heat?
The closed-loop coolant system works much the same way in the fall and winter, only that the process is reversed. Rather than the refrigerant getting heat from indoors, the refrigerant now collects heat from the outdoors.
At the point when the refrigerant loses pressure and transforms into a vapor, it gets a lot colder than the temperature outside. Since heat energy streams from hot to cold, the refrigerant gets heat from the outdoors. After the refrigerant takes in all the heat, the outdoor compressor pressurizes the gas turning it into a hot fluid. The incredibly hot refrigerant then goes to the indoor coils, and the blower helps discharge the warmth from the refrigerant into the duct system.
How Does a Heat Pump Work When It’s Freezing Cold Outside?
Since a heat pump works by absorbing heat from the outside, you must be questioning that when it’s cold outside, where is the heat absorbed from? Luckily, there is still plenty of heat to be gathered, even when temperatures are as low as 5° F! Also, heat naturally travels from a warmer object to a colder object. Hence during extreme weather conditions, refrigerant drops to a level below the temperature outside and can absorb the available heat.
But sadly, when temperatures plunge beneath the freezing point, the heat pump’s effectiveness decreases significantly. This is why many people prefer other heating systems in extreme climate conditions. Since heat pumps move heat rather than produce it, they are considerably more efficient in temperate climate zones.
However, some companies offer Freeze Protection mode in their latest models that allows you to control the temperature inside your homes located in extremely cold areas. In this mode, your AC will be running at minimum power while still blowing warm air indoors. This feature is best for vacation homes or a garage etc. that need climate regulation in severe weather conditions to avoid the bursting of pipes. Tip: If you have a smart AC controller you can enable or disable this mode using your phone from anywhere.
Ductless Hyper Heat Units
With every problem comes an opportunity, and hence hyper-heat pumps are the latest innovation in heat pump technology. These are ductless and ordinarily have a more enhanced, powerful, and efficient compressor. Hyper-Heat units work with a hyper-warming technology that permits the heat pump to deliver both cooling and heating even during extraordinarily cold climate conditions.
The efficiency of a standard heat pump becomes questionable as soon as the temperature drops below 25 F. However, ductless hyper heat units work effectively even when it’s as cold as negative 13 F.
This brings us to the point that when making your choice, you must not ignore the climate conditions of the area you live in.
HVAC Zoning With Mini-Split Heat Pumps
As mentioned above, mini-split heat pumps allow you to create multiple heating, ventilation, and air conditioning zones in your homes. And all of it is done using a single piece of equipment with more than one indoor unit.
When you have multiple air handling units, every unit is allocated to a particular area, zone, or room of your home with the assistance of a certified HVAC technician. Your HVAC contractor will help plan the zones to make the most energy-efficient and convenient zones for your family.
Usually, you can have as many as four indoor air handling units, which means you can create four rooms or zones for one outdoor unit. The number of your indoor units is subjected to your home’s size and how much cooling or heating your home and family requires.
As per your needs, you can install one indoor air handling unit in your garage, another on the main floor, and a third one for the upstairs level. If most of your day is spent on the first floor, you can save energy by keeping the other zones at a more energy-efficient temperature.
A typical duct system loses around 20-30% of the conditioned air through cracks and holes in the ductwork. And since mini-splits don’t need any ducts, you won’t have to worry about losing any conditioned air through the ductwork.
With smart air conditioning it’s not necessary to purchase multi-zone units. Cielo Breez app allows you to create zones conveniently in just a few taps. All you’ve to do is just group together multiple devices in your home as per your needs. Read our step-by-step guide to create HVAC zones using Cielo’s smart AC controls.
Choosing the Right Mini-Split Heat Pump
There are several essential things to keep in mind when choosing the best ductless heat pump for your home’s needs.
To begin with, you’ll want to ensure the unit has the capacity necessary for your home. This is impacted by window size, ceiling height, and the number of people living in the house. You’ll have to choose a number for the indoor units you’ll need after deciding if you’ll be heating/cooling single or multiple areas. You’ll need to choose suitable installation spots and ensure adequate space for drainage of the condensing tube.
Besides cost and size, the unit’s energy effectiveness is another significant thing to look at. All residential heat pumps in the United States accompany an Energy Guide label detailing the unit’s efficiency rating compared to other models.
If you live in a cold climate, choosing a model with the best heating season performance factor (HSPF) should be your main priority. On the contrary, in hotter climates, select a unit with the best seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Even though it might cost more upfront for a model with a higher rating, you’ll save on long term operating costs.
How to Install a Mini-Split Heat Pump?
Installing a ductless mini-split system is a comprehensive process, requiring the right tools and proper instructions. Before you install this system, you should choose what sort of ductless mini-split unit you want.
Once you know which mini-split unit suits you best, you will have to start thinking of the indoor unit’s position. Then begin installing the indoor wall unit. You should also ensure beforehand that the wall leads to space outdoors as the refrigerant lines will be linked to the outdoor unit. Furthermore, you will need to create a hole in the wall (preferably 2 to 3 inches) to mount your indoor unit. After this, you will have to decide the location of the outdoor unit and install it there.
This in no way explains the nitty-gritty because we believe it is ideal to consult an expert before installing anything. Like many other massive appliances, mini-split heat pumps are challenging to install. In fact, for those with little or no experience at all, they can be risky. Companies also provide different instructions on installing these heating and cooling systems, so it’s essential to pay attention to information and guidelines. If you’re not confident and are wondering how you can install a mini-split heat pump on your own, be sure to contact a local HVAC professional to get the assistance you need.
DIY Mini-Split Heat Pumps
While most mini-splits require professional installation, a few models are available in the market designed for DIY installation.
A Do-It-Yourself mini-split is a ductless system that you can install all alone. This type of equipment is designed to be easier to install, thus allowing anyone with basic handyman skills. Despite their potential for significant savings, installing a mini-split on your own can be challenging.
Typically, they come with all the necessary installation guidelines and materials but keep in mind that DIY installation may require professional help, such as electrical wiring. Hence, it is always best to consult someone, or otherwise, you could end up bearing a huge loss.
Mini-Split Heat Pumps Need Regular Maintenance
Mini-split heat pumps, like any other home appliance, need proper and scheduled maintenance for efficient functioning. Here’s how you can keep a regular check on your units:
1. Clean your filter every month
This one is straightforward but super effective as dirt particles are common culprits when a system starts causing trouble. Most frameworks require filter cleanings once a month, but you should also check your manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.
When the air filter gets dirty, the accumulation will obstruct airflow through the system. Decreased airflow can make it difficult for the system to heat or cool the environment. Ultimately, you could end up with a coil covered in ice. That’s a grim problem prompting other, more costly, mechanical failures.
2. Protect your outdoor unit
Maintaining the condenser is as important as keeping your indoor unit in top shape. Prevent dirt and debris from reaching the outdoor unit and if placed on the ground, you must remove any shrubs that are likely to grow around it.
Placing it under a shade with a fence around it can help protect it from pets and varying weather conditions throughout the year.
3. Conduct a detailed inspection twice each year
As most mini-split systems are used for both cooling and heating, it’s optimal to conduct an inspection twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. That way, you can feel confident that the system is prepared to give its best for the upcoming season.
You can also carry out a DIY maintenance if you’re up for it!
4. Evaluate the installation
In case you’re having issues with your mini-split heat pump, there’s a possibility it wasn’t installed properly. Call a technician who shall check if the system has an appropriately leveled indoor fan coil that channels water completely, oil leaks because of a sloppy flare connection, and other such things that you may not have the knowledge to sort out all alone.
Misconceptions About Mini-Split Heat Pumps That You Shouldn’t Worry About
There are many misconceptions about mini-splits that might be why you don’t have one as of yet. Well, let us bust these so you can enjoy and fully benefit from these ductless systems.
- People believe that they are expensive alternates to oil or gas heaters, which is entirely wrong. They may have a high installation cost, but they have very low operational costs as opposed to its substitutes.
- You might’ve heard that mini-split heat pumps are home for bacteria. In reality, they are much cleaner than ducted systems. They have ionizers and filters that clean air. But as with everything, filters do require maintenance and cleaning.
- If you hear ductless systems are best suited for new homes – A mini-split heat pump installation has nothing to do with a house being new or old. They can be installed anywhere!
- Since heat pumps work round the year both for cooling and heating, people doubt their efficiency. However, this doesn’t affect their functionality. Your heat pump will only loose efficiency if you delay your maintenance checks.
- There is also a misconception that mini-splits take too long to condition the room. This is absolutely incorrect, they just work at different speeds to maintain a consistent temperature. With smart features such as scheduling and geofencing, that mini-split thermostats bring, this is even more efficient.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Mini-split Heat Pumps
Are mini-split heat pumps right for your needs? Everything has its pros and cons, and its your requirements that let you decide the best available option for your home. Let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of mini-split reversible air conditioners, so you have enough knowledge when making a decision.
- The operating cost for mini-splits is significantly low.
- They can be made smart to compliment your smart home.
- More efficient than other available options in the market with Energy Star certifications and high SEER and EER values.
- Can be installed in considerably less time and effort than ducted air conditioners.
- Ductless systems have comprehensive filtration options that wipe out dirt and pollutants, improving indoor air quality.
- Ductless mini-split heat pumps need minimal maintenance and save you lots of money.
- The reversible system allows you to benefit in every season.
- Due to ductless systems’ higher efficiencies, many utility companies now offer rebates to homeowners and businesses to install ductless air conditioners.
- While mini-splits usually offer cost and energy savings over the long run, the initial installation can be 30% more costly.
- Improper positioning of multi-zoned mini-splits can lead to short-cycling resulting in the waste of energy and incorrect temperature controls.
- Many homeowners find the appearance of the indoor air handlers unfitting for an otherwise aesthetically pleasing room setting.
Make Your Ductless Heat Pumps Smart
If you want an automated heating system using mini-splits, all you have to do is buy a smart thermostat device like Cielo Breez Eco or Cielo Breez Plus to make your unit smart. You’ll have control over your heat pump from anywhere using your phone.
By connecting your mini-split with Wi-Fi and making it smart, you’d also be able to utilize intelligent features such as scheduling, geofencing, Comfy mode and so much more.
Ductless mini-splits are great for any kind of spaces with minimal installation hassle while maximizing the energy savings as well as overall comfort.