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How Heat Pumps Work: Ductless Mini-Split Systems

Contrary to common assumption, a heat pump can be used to both heat and cool a home. If you know how your air conditioner works, you are familiar with a heat pump. There are many different types of heat pumps to choose from, but this week we will focus on ductless mini-split heat pumps for zoned heating and cooling.

A heat pump is like an air conditioner that can also work in reverse. Like a refrigerator, an air conditioner uses refrigerant to absorb and transfer heat from one location to another. For a very technical explanation of how heat pumps work, watch this video:

By switching to a higher efficiency heating and cooling system, such as a ductless mini-split system, you could save anywhere from 20-50 percent on your heating and cooling costs (EPA). There is a variety of heat pumps to choose from, including geothermal, ductless mini-split, air-source, and absorption.

Although this can get very technical, we are going to walk you through each system so you can make an informed decision when you need an energy efficient alternative to your current HVAC system.

Ductless Mini-Split HVAC Systems

Illustration: The Family Handyman

For the majority of U.S. homeowners, their heating and cooling system consists of an outdoor unit, which houses the condenser, compressor and other parts, and an indoor unit, which is connected to a furnace or heat pump. Ductless mini-split heat pumps also have an outdoor compressor and condenser as well as an indoor distribution and handling unit. Power, refrigerant, tubing, and a condensate drain connect the two units.

According energy.gov:

The most common applications are in multifamily housing or as retrofit add-ons to houses with “non-ducted” heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane). They can also be a good choice for room additions and small apartments, where extending or installing distribution ductwork (for a central air-conditioner or heating systems) is not feasible.

Ductless Mini-Split Advantages:

    • Small and Flexible – Wall, floor, or ceiling mounted, these types of heat pumps can work with many different heating and cooling “zones,” saving you money by only heating occupied areas of the home. The indoor unit can be hidden from view in a drop ceiling or hung on a wall or ceiling. “Most indoor units have profiles of about seven inches (~18 cm) deep and usually come with sleek, high-tech-looking jackets. Many also offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it’s positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling.” (energy.gov)
    • Easier to Install – The conduit joining the indoor and outdoor units is a lot smaller and requires only small wall openings. As a result, it is easy to have both units far away from each other, giving you more options for where to position the unsightly outdoor unit.
    • Cost Effective – Ductless mini-split systems eliminate the potential for air duct leaks and are very energy efficient (up to 26 SEER rating).
    • Ductless – No more ducts or the potential for duct air leakage. This alone, could save you 30 % on your heating and cooling costs.
    • Safer – No more need for window mounted units which can provide an easy access point for home break-ins.

Ductless Mini-Split Disadvantages:

    • Installation Cost – Mini-split systems can be more expensive to install, but there are ways to bring the cost down with rebates and other incentives.
    • Appearance – Some people do not like the look of their indoor mounted mini-split system, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many people find them sleek, attractive, and subtle.
    • Finding the Right Contractor – Ductless mini-split systems are not the most common heat pump to install. Finding the right contractor who has experience dealing with these complex systems can be difficult to find. Luckily, if you live in the Champaign, IL area, Cassel Home Comfort is the perfect choice for all your heat pump needs. Give us a call today and we will work with you to get the best deal, in both money and energy savings, on your next heat pump.

To compare ductless, mini-split systems with other cooling systems, click here to view an energy.gov infographic.


Located in Champaign, IL, Cassel Home Comfort is your go-to source for all of your heating and cooling needs, including ductless mini-split heat pumps.

If you need help deciding on the right heating and cooling equipment to install in your home, call your home comfort experts at (217) 689-4522 for your FREE Whole Home Inspection and Analysis.

We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any questions you may have.

We also offer an ongoing Home Maintenance Plan to help ensure your heating and cooling system is at its highest efficiency levels and lasts a long time.

Cassel Home Comfort Heating & Cooling is committed to being your best HVAC contractor choice in Central Illinois in both Value and Customer Service!

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