Understanding the Difference Between Ductless A/C and Ductless Heat Pumps

Published on: May 26, 2015

The primary difference between a ductless A/C and a ductless heat pump is that the heat pump can heat a space as well as cool it. Both air conditioners and heat pumps cool by removing the heat from the indoor air via refrigerant. A heat pump contains a reversing valve that switches the refrigerant flow. This valve lets the heat pump extract heat from the outdoor air instead of indoors, as it does in the summer. Both ductless air conditioners and heat pumps have an outdoor condenser and an indoor air handler that connect via a narrow conduit.

Benefits of Ductless Systems

Both types of ductless systems offer a good deal of energy efficiency and comfort in the cooling mode. Central and ductless systems must meet minimum energy efficiency requirements set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The current minimum for cooling efficiency stands at a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 14 and a heat pump’s heating efficiency is called the heating season performance factor (HSPF), which now stands at 8.2.

  • The SEER rating of ductless systems is often higher than those of central cooling systems because upgraded technology embedded in many ductless systems gives them an edge. A ductless A/C or ductless heat pump that uses inverter technology, also called a variable-speed compressor, keeps the system running at low speeds continuously. Instead of increasing energy consumption, running at a slow speed over a longer period saves wear and tear and cuts power consumption. HVAC systems use the most electricity when they first start, which also stresses the parts. Avoiding frequent starts and stops improves efficiency, durability and your comfort, since the room stays evenly comfortable for a longer period.
  • Ductless systems don’t use ductwork to deliver the conditioned air, which cuts thermal and ductwork losses created by leaks or breaches in the ducts of central HVAC systems. Leaky ducts can occur anytime, and energy losses are proportional to the size and location of these leaks. The air handler in a ductless system blows the air directly into the room.
  • Easy installation is another benefit of a ductless system. Since there’s no ductwork involved, all the HVAC team has to do is place both the outdoor condenser and the indoor air handler and join them with the conduit. The factory installs the refrigerant, eliminating this step at your home.
  • A ductless system is by its nature a zoned system, delivering conditioned air to one area only. Each air handler has its own thermostat that you can set based on occupancy and thermal preferences.

Why Use Ductless Heating

If you expect to use the space where you’re installing a ductless system during the cooler months, you may want to consider the heat pump option instead of the ductless A/C. It will let you use the space year-round without having to rely on another heat source. Heat pumps are an ideal appliance to use in this region for heating in cool weather, since the weather seldom drops to a point where the pumps can’t harvest adequate heat from the outdoor air.

Heat pumps are one of the safest ways to heat any home, since there’s no combustible fuel involved. This eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure and it won’t need venting through a wall or the ceiling. Heat pumps are also safer than ventless room or garage heaters. Ventless heaters rely on an oxygen sensor that turns the system off when oxygen levels in the room fall too low. If this sensor fails, the heater will continue to run, possibly emitting harmful combustion gases into the air.

If you’ve been using or are considering electric resistance heating in lieu of combustion systems, a heat pump will save substantially more energy. Electric heating efficiency is measured by its coefficient of performance (COP). The COP is a ratio of how much energy the heater uses to create one unit of heat. Electric heaters have a COP of 1, while a ductless heat pump may have a COP of 3 or more. Higher COPs indicate better efficiency.

Given the year-round functionality of a ductless heat pump versus a ductless A/C, a ductless pump is a better investment, since you can use it for safe energy efficient heating as well as cooling.

Learn more about the difference between a ductless A/C or ductless heat pump from the pros at AC Southeast®, or contact us today to find a contractor near you!