No Duct Work – No Problem!

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Below is an article written by our Marketing Manager, Angela DeLong, recently published in “At Home in Berks”, the Home Builders Association of Berks County magazine! Learn everything you need to know about going ductless.

Berks County is full of them – beautiful, old brick homes, stone farm houses, historical inns and even renovated barns. Homeowners and contractors alike are lovingly restoring these structures to their historical grandeur, while adding the modern amenities we’ve all come to consider necessities – dishwashers, en-suite luxury bathrooms and even media rooms.

But one modern luxury (or is it a necessity?) is often missing: central air conditioning. The reason: no duct work.

It be impractical, or even impossible, to retrofit duct work into an old home or building, especially when trying to preserve the original architecture, and this often leaves homeowners with the impression that central air is simply not an option for them. So, instead, we play the twice-a-year game of lugging big, inefficient and – let’s face it – ugly, window air conditioners down from the attic in the early summer and back up to the attic again in the fall. Otherwise we will spend all summer roasting in our own homes, and doing everything to avoid going to the upper floors for about 4 months each year.

It’s time to stop this madness. It’s time to do what Europe and Asia have been doing for decades. It’s time to go ductless.

Central Air without Ducts

Ductless mini-split systems, like the Mitsubishi Intertek, now allow you to cool your home without any ductwork. And they are energy efficient – EnergyStar estimates that these systems can save 30% on your home’s heating and cooling costs.

Oh yeah, did we forget to mention that they will also heat your home? More on that later.

Ductless options range from one-room, to multi-room to multi-floor. They offer much more flexibility than a traditional HVAC system, allowing you to heat or cool only certain areas, and, without the complexity of ductwork to contend with, they are generally easier to install. For these reasons, ductless systems have been the primary way of providing indoor climate control throughout Europe and Asia for decades now.

While the cost of a ductless mini-split system may seem higher than a traditional central air system, the cost may actually run about 25% less when considering the additional cost of retrofitting ductwork into an existing system. Your investment really depends on what you are looking to accomplish. A reputable HVAC contractor will visit your home or building to get a good feel for the exact details of the proposed job, and will be able to provide you with several options to meet your goals and fit your budget.

Heating with Ductless Systems

Owners of older homes are also likely to have an inefficient heating system – usually an oil burning furnace – and are quite often outside of the natural gas utility’s footprint, making conversions to alternative fuels difficult. For these folks, the ductless system can provide relief in the winter months too. Just turn it on for instantly warm air – no more waiting for radiators to warm up.

You can choose to heat your whole home or building with the mini-splits, which are powered by electricity. If you are interested in this option, make sure you inform you HVAC contractor so that you can purchase a system that will adequately heat the whole building.

Another option is to simply use the ductless system as auxiliary heat – turning it on only in the rooms that are in use to provide a little extra warmth. Then you can turn down the main system’s thermostat to keep your heating costs down. And when you are running low on oil and want to conserve those last few gallons until your next delivery, you can always rely on the ductless system.

Ductless as a Solution to Other Problems

Ductless systems have a wide range of other applications. Many consumers have chosen mini-split systems to heat or cool that odd-ball section of their home or building – a sun room, attic or garage – or a new addition to the building that cannot easily be tied into the existing HVAC system. Sometimes a one-room mini-split system is the perfect solution for that one area of the building that always seems to be too hot or too cool.

Ductless systems can also be the perfect solution for homes that simply do not have the space for a traditional central heating and air conditioning system. Homes without basements, such as mobile or modular homes can benefit greatly from this technology, and recent trends have shown many people looking to install these systems in their shore homes.

Many businesses are also choosing a ductless solution for multi-room living spaces. In these instances, business owners, churches or non-profits often have rooms that are used at irregular intervals – maybe only on weekends during church services, or in dorms that are used only during special events. If those circumstances dictate that just some of the rooms will need to be heated or cooled just some of the time, a ductless solution may make the most sense. It allows for the heat or air to be turned on only when needed, and only where needed. The mini-split system also allows each room’s occupant to set the temperature to his or her own preference.

How Does It Work?

So how, exactly, does a ductless mini-split system work? Each system has a condensing unit on the outside of the building. The compressor – the heart of the condenser – uses inverter technology. The compressor adjusts to the load on the inside of the home to run at whatever speed is needed to keep the area comfortable. And that’s where the real energy savings come in.

Each outdoor unit then connects to up to eight indoor units. The most common residential installation would have one outdoor unit connected to one to three indoor heads. Each of these indoor units then can be controlled by a conventional thermostat or a remote handheld unit, allowing for separate climate control in each of the individual zones.

The fairly simple installation usually involves drilling a three-inch hole through which the refrigerant line connects the indoor head unit to the outdoor condenser. This hole is then concealed behind the indoor head unit itself and all work on the outside of the home can be hidden behind a few simple conduits. The indoor selections can be wall mounted, floor mounted, recessed for drop ceiling applications. There are also air handler options for retrofitting conventional heat pump installations.

Rebates for High Efficiency

Since these systems have no duct work, there is zero duct loss, making mini-split systems extremely efficient with ratings as high as 26 SEER[1]. Not only does this add up to big savings on your energy bills, but, because of these high ratings, most mini-split installations qualify for rebates offered by the local electric utility companies. An experienced HVAC installer or general contractor should be able to assist you with choosing qualifying models and obtaining these rebates.

[1] SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and is a standard measure for the efficiency of cooling systems. It is calculated as a ratio of the output of the system against the electricity required to power the system.