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Ductless Heat Pumps: Efficiency Ratings and Routine Maintenance You Should Understand

Published on: December 16, 2013

Ductless heat pumps are excellent home-comfort systems for the more moderate climate of the Southeast United States, which is great news for home and business owners seeking a practical all-in-one heating and cooling system.

Better news – if you’re shopping for a system replacement, space conditioning or remodeling your home, the accommodating design options, comfort control and superb efficiency ratings of ductless heating and cooling systems should be in bold headlines across your list of system options. Use this efficiency ratings and ductless care guide to help make easy work of selecting and maintaining your new ductless system.

The Ductless Advantage

Ductless heat pumps provide home heating and cooling by using the principles of refrigeration for extracting, moving and releasing heat energy from one air source to another air source (indoor and outdoor air). With milder winters across the Southeast U.S. compared to Northern regions, ductless systems are better able to maximize performance and efficiency ratings, providing a comfortable solution that is easy on the energy budget. These are highlights of the advantages of going ductless for your home-improvement project or new home design:

  • With compact components, ductless heat pumps are designed to accommodate virtually any home-interior design.
  • There are no energy losses associated with the typical ductwork system, which is about 20 percent according to the federal Energy Star program.
  • Enjoy a genuine zoning system with independent temperature control at each indoor air-handling unit (AHU).
  • With optional indoor air quality components, each AHU is practically an air-purification system.
  • Ductless systems are configurable, allowing design options for single-room conditioning, multiple rooms and whole-home heating and cooling.
  • Ductless systems require minimal do-it-yourself (DIY) maintenance.
  • Since no fuel is combusted for heating as with gas furnaces, ductless heat pumps pose no risk of leaking carbon monoxide inside the home.
  • High-efficiency ductless heat pumps easily out-perform ducted forced-air heat pumps and furnaces, space heaters, baseboard heaters and window A/C units.

How Ratings Help

Efficiency ratings are important for a number of reasons for selecting a home-comfort system. First of all, the heating and cooling efficiency ratings of ductless heat pumps help you perform a cost analysis to determine the estimated operating cost – similar to how an automobile’s estimated gas mileage helps determine the cost of driving the vehicle.

Efficiency ratings give you an apples-to-apples comparison for different models you are considering for your home-improvement project. This process is important for determining the lifetime operating cost, which is the true cost of any home-comfort system purchase, and the return on your investment. Moreover, once you have gained insight on the importance of energy efficiency, you’ll see that the so-called bargain deals aren’t actually bargains, but, rather, an impending headache and potential money pit.

Efficiency ratings help you decide which system is best for your part of the Southeastern United States. If you live in South Florida, you certainly want to put more weight, or performance, into cooling efficiency, which typically includes ductless systems with good humidity management. On the other hand, if your home is in Spartanburg, S.C., you may decide to place a higher value on the heating efficiency of your new ductless system for surefire warmth on those winter days and nights with temperatures hovering or below the freezing point.

Lastly, the location of your new ductless system must be taken into account when considering heating and cooling efficiencies. For instance, if you are converting attic space to a spare bedroom or home office, you may consider cooling efficiency more important than heating efficiency, no matter which state your home is located.

HSPF: Heating Efficiency

The heating efficiency of ductless heat pumps (and any ducted heat pump) is indicated by the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF). A higher HSPF value means greater system efficiency. The HSPF is calculated by factoring the estimated heating output over the heating season of a system by the electricity input needed to power the compressor and electric-resistance components.

SEER: Cooling Efficiency

Since ductless heat pumps provide home cooling in addition to home heating, they are rated for cooling efficiency in the same manner as conventional air conditioning systems. Cooling efficiency is known as the Seasonal Energy-Efficiency Ratio (SEER), and is calculated by factoring the estimated cooling output for the duration of the cooling season by the electricity input needed to power the electrical components. Like HSPF, the higher the SEER value, the greater performance and efficiency delivered.

Energy Star: Guide To Energy Savings

The Energy Star program was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992 as a voluntary program to provide a platform for the development of strategies and manufacturing technologies which reduce pollution. The Energy Star logo and labeling program is internationally recognized, and helps consumers save energy dollars by easily identifying appliances and products that have met stringent efficiency testing carried out by certified third parties.

Energy Star-qualified ductless heat pumps are often identified as such on the bright yellow EnergyGuide label. The EnergyGuide label makes it simpler to quickly compare the efficiency between similar ductless system models, and provides the estimated annual energy consumption.

CEE: Consortium For Energy Efficiency

The Consortium For Energy Efficiency (CEE) is comprised of energy-efficiency experts and administrators across the United States and Canada. They are engaged in residential, commercial and industrial industries to promote verifiable energy savings through the promotion of energy-efficient products, programs and initiatives. CEE uses a tier system to help consumers easily identify the efficiency of products, such as ductless heat pumps.

Look for ductless systems in the CEE Tier 2 and CEE Tier 3 Advanced categories as a quick-start to energy-saving systems. Heat pumps in Tier 2 must meet or exceed 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF, and cooling-specific ductless systems in CEE Tier 3 must meet or exceed 16 SEER. CEE maintains a verified directory of energy-efficient HVAC equipment for quick reference, including a list of Energy Star-qualified equipment.

Routine Maintenance

Ductless heat pumps are sophisticated machines engineered with the latest technologies for energy efficiency and performance. To leverage the greatest performance and enjoy maximum home comfort from your new ductless system, occasional maintenance is required. The best kind of maintenance for your new ductless system is routine maintenance, both professional and easy DIY care.

If you are a discerning consumer, you will want to know what kind of maintenance is involved with owning a ductless system. These are the DIY maintenance tasks for ductless systems:

  • Free airflow is key for ductless heat pumps. The outside unit should be clear of airflow obstructions. Depending on the season and weather, common obstructions include grass clippings, leaves, snow and ice. Strewn debris and solid obstacles, such as fencing or shelters, may also obstruct airflow. The outside unit needs a minimum of four feet clearance to the top and sides. Check periodically to ensure the unit is free from debris, leaves, and snow and ice accumulation.
  • The air filter inside each AHU should be checked between one and three months, depending on usage. A dirty filter increases electricity consumption and compromises indoor air quality. (If any of the AHUs are installed in concealed spaces, such as recessed in a ceiling or wall, it’s wise to choose AHUs with self-cleaning air-filtration components.)
  • During the cooling months, check the outside unit for clear drainage. The condensate drain tubing for ductless systems is often concealed inside walls, attic and/or crawl space, so confirming free drainage is important.
  • Include dusting the air-supply and air-return fins in your housecleaning list.

Annual professional maintenance should be on your spring-cleaning or fall-maintenance checklists. Ductless heat pumps contain a network of interlinking components with specific tasks for producing efficient airflow, refrigerant compression, heat exchange, condensate drainage, air filtration and electronic monitoring. These are some of the tasks performed during routine professional maintenance:

  • Inspecting and testing electrical contacts and system functions, including heating, cooling and dry cycles, thermostat functions and sensors. Something as simple as a worn electrical contact burdens the compressor, which affects efficiency and performance, and increases system wear.
  • Airflow and fan speeds are tested.
  • The indoor and outdoor heat-exchange coils are inspected for cleanliness, including mold and mildew growth, which is common in households in the humid Southeast.
  • The drainage system is inspected and cleaned as needed.
  • Air filters and self-cleaning air-filtration components are cleaned and inspected.
  • The outside unit is checked for firm mounting and mounting brackets (concrete footing or wall-mounted units).
  • Accessible refrigerant tubing and coils are inspected for leaks or damage. Refrigerant is measured as needed.

Recap: Efficiency Factors

In addition to efficiency ratings and routine maintenance, other crucial factors which affect the performance of ductless heat pumps are home preparation, system design and quality installation. Work closely with a reputable HVAC professional who understands ductless systems, and communicates clearly with you to help prepare your home, and design and size a ductless system specific to your home-improvement project or new home construction.

For more information about ductless heat pumps, efficiency ratings and maintenance, please contact us to be connected to a ductless system contractor near your Southeast U.S. home.