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What Is a Ductless Heat Pump and How Do They Work?


Your 1,200-square-foot house is either freezing cold or ungodly warm. It’s difficult to keep it at an ideal temperature, but paying to install a central air conditioner unit for your small space seems ridiculous. 

Rather than bundling up in the winter, or stripping down in the summertime, is there a way to keep comfortable all year long?

Enter: ductless heat pumps.

Learn how ductless heat pumps work, the pros and cons of ductless heat pumps, and if they’re worth installing in your home.

Table of Contents

What Is a Ductless Heat Pump?

Also referred to as a mini-split heat pump, a ductless heat pump is an efficient and convenient way for homeowners who don’t have ductwork to heat and cool their homes. 

When comparing ductless vs. central air, ductless systems are installed directly in the room they’re intended to heat or cool. Central air conditioning, on the other hand, feeds air through a system of ducts and vents to cool more than one room or an entire home.

how does a ductless heat pump work

How Does a Ductless Heat Pump Work?

Before we can help you understand how a ductless heat pump works, we need to explain how a regular heat pump works. 

Despite its name, a heat pump performs heating and cooling functions, depending on your needs. When it’s cold outside, a heat pump extracts heat from the ground or air outside and transfers it through your home. When it’s warm outside, a heat pump reverses its mechanisms and redirects the flow of refrigerant, removing the heat from inside your home and sending it outside. 

A ductless heat pump also performs both heating and cooling functions but uses a heat transfer cycle between the outdoor and indoor units that are connected via pipe. It also uses refrigerant to absorb and release heat, carrying it between indoors and outdoors. 

How a Ductless Heat Pump Cools

Here’s how the process works:

  1. Heat from inside your home is extracted and put into the ductless heat pump.
  2. This heat is blown over the indoor coil, where the refrigerant absorbs the heat and continues.
  3. The refrigerant travels through the pipe that connects the indoor and outdoor unit before entering the compressor.
  4. The compressor heats the refrigerant even more so it’s hotter than the air outside.
  5. Then the hotter refrigerant enters the outdoor coil, releasing the heat from your home outside, completing the cooling process.
  6. The cooling process repeats.

How a Ductless Heat Pump Heats

For a ductless heat pump to switch between cooling and heating, the reversing valve has to redirect the flow of refrigerant. This happens automatically based on the temperature you set. Here’s how this process works:

  1. The heat from outside is extracted and put into the ductless heat pump.
  2. The heat is blown over the outdoor coil where the refrigerant absorbs the heat and continues.
  3. The refrigerant travels to the compressor where more heat is added.
  4. The now-hot refrigerant travels through the pipe into the indoor unit where it enters the indoor coil.
  5. The heat from the outside is released in your home, completing the heating process.
  6. The heating process repeats.

Are Ductless Heat Pumps Worth It? Pros and Cons of Ductless Heat Pumps

A ductless heat pump might not be right for everyone. 

For example, if you have an older home — maybe built between 1900 and 1940 — it’s unlikely you have ductwork throughout your home, making efficient heating and cooling nearly impossible. On the other hand, if you have a very large home, central air conditioning might make more sense.

When comparing ductless vs. central air, how do you know which might be right for you?

Whether you’re thinking about a ductless heat pump or want to explore a new HVAC system, AAA Heating & Cooling can help. Contact us today.
what is a ductless heat pump

Pros of Ductless Heat Pumps

  • Easy to install – Compared to central air conditioning, ductless heat pump installation is easier because it doesn’t require any ductwork. Instead, all that needs to be done is to drill a small home, about three inches.
  • Cost-effective – Compared to central air conditioning, many ductless heating and cooling systems cost between $2,000 and $8,800, which is between $3,000 and $4,000 less than an HVAC system. However, if you need multiple ductless heat pumps, this cost will increase and may (or may not) become more expensive than an HVAC system.
  • Customizable comfort – Because a ductless heat pump serves a single room, comfort can be customized by choosing the exact temperature you want for each room in your home. 
  • Energy efficient – Did you know that around 30% of energy is lost in a duct system, resulting in higher utility bills and difficulty keeping a home comfortable?

Cons of Ductless Heat Pumps 

  • Larger upfront cost – This will depend on every home and whether the installation involves only one single unit, multiple units, replacing an HVAC system with ductwork, etc. Although the unit itself might not cost more than an HVAC, the price of installation itself can add up.
  • Aesthetics – Outside of your home, the unit for a ductless system is smaller and more streamlined than an HVAC unit. However, instead of vents flush wall vents inside of your home, a wall-mounted air handler takes its place.
  • Correct sizing – Sizing is important with any HVAC system, but a ductless heat pump that’s too big or too small can cause short cycling, which may cost you both time and money.
  • Not ideal for every climate – Not every ductless heat pump can handle frigid temperatures, so if you live in a climate that regularly experiences negative temperatures, a ductless heat pump might not be enough.

ductless vs central air

5 Types of Ductless Heat Pumps 

You might be considering a ductless heat pump if you:

  • Live in an older home
  • Live in a smaller home
  • Are looking to heat or cool one room or small section of your home
  • Have a home with windows that can’t support a window unit
  • Want greater temperature control
  • Want to increase your home’s energy efficiency
  • Want to save money on your utility bills
  • Have people with different temperature needs in your home
  • Don’t want to invest in an HVAC system

No matter the reason, there’s like a ductless heat pump that could serve your home and family best. At AAA Heating & Cooling, we can help guide you to the best ductless system and perform the installation, too. 

#1: Single-Zone Mini Split

Most ideal for an apartment or small home, a single-zone mini split has both an indoor and outdoor unit. Typically, the indoor unit is placed in a central area of the home or the room that sees the most traffic. 

#2: Multi-Zone Mini Split

Are you looking to heat and cool a larger home? A multi-zone mini split system comes with one outdoor unit and as many as five indoor units that can be strategically placed to meet the needs of your family.

#3: Wall-Mounted

Many ductless heat pumps are wall-mounted, which to some, is an eye-sore. To prevent interrupting your home’s aesthetic, wall-mounted ductless heat pumps are mounted high on the wall to help blend right in.

#4: Floor-Standing

If mounting your ductless heat pump isn’t in the cards, floor-standing systems are an option. They might also be preferred for homes with slanted walls, low ceilings, or larger windows.

#5: Ceiling Cassette

Rather than being installed on the wall or floor, this ductless heat pump system is installed directly in the ceiling. Though more costly, homeowners sometimes choose this option for aesthetics or to keep the wall and floor space as clear as possible.

are ductless heat pumps worth it

AAA Heating & Cooling: The Experts on Heat Pump Technology and Ductless Heat Pump Installation

Are you looking for a cost-effective and energy-efficient way to heat and cool your home? Ductless heat pumps might be worth it, depending on the needs of your home and family. 

AAA Heating & Cooling provides trusted and reliable HVAC needs to customers throughout the Portland Metro Area. With over 62+ years of experience, we have the knowledge and credibility to talk through various HVAC options and might serve you best, whether that be ductless heat pumps or another heating and cooling system option.

Interested in learning more about the best HVAC system for your home? Contact us today.
what is a ductless heat pump