HVAC systems and the types of technology that comprise them have evolved at a rapid pace over the past century or so. Similar to phones and computers, as the level of sophistication in HVAC systems has increased, the overall size and amount of machinery has decreased. This trend has taken us from the immensely cumbersome and inefficient early AC prototypes (one in-home model from the 1920s measured 6 ft. x 7 ft. x 20 ft.) to the current pinnacle of space-saving home climate control technology, as well as the focus of this article: ductless HVAC systems.
As any good sleuth will have deduced by now, ductless HVAC systems are systems that don’t require ducts. Like traditional AC & furnace systems, these apparatuses provide hot and cold air to certain subsections and/or the entirety of your home (depending on your needs). However, unlike traditionally centralized systems, ductless systems function without needing to plug into an existing network of ducts to transport the air from room to room. In addition to being a much more energy efficient option than traditional systems, there are a number of scenarios in which the time, money and maintenance you’ll save with ductless systems make them well worth the investment.
There are two main types of ductless systems – single zone and multi-zone. The term zone in this case refers to any room or area that a given system is responsible for. Thus, the only functional difference between a single zone system and a multi-zone system is range. When it comes to price, however, that difference can become significantly more pronounced. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the number of zones you need covered.
Single zone ductless systems are typically used to control climate in a single room or section of a larger home, usually to supplement or cover new ground in pre-existing structures with primarily duct-based systems. Single zone systems may work as a whole home solution in some small homes and apartments, but the overall spatial range of a single zone system is fairly limited.
In terms of functionality, efficiency and convenience, single zone systems are hard to beat. They are a great modern substitute for clunky window units. While the initial price tag may be slightly more than that of a window unit, single zone ductless systems are still relatively inexpensive and extremely easy to install. Plus, the added energy efficiency you get from the latter will quickly pay for itself, whereas the costs of maintaining older technology will continue to increase over time.
Multi-zone ductless systems use the same technology as single-zone systems on a larger scale. They can be used to cover anywhere from two separate rooms to an entire home or building. The size of your system will depend on the total area you want to cover, the layout of said area, and whether you want to supplement certain sections of a pre-existing duct-based system or entirely replace/avoid such a system. These details will also help determine all of your initial costs and whether or not the overall investment makes sense for you individually given your current living situation.
Considering the added coverage, it’s no surprise that multi-zone systems cost more than single-zone systems. While operating & installation costs won’t be that much higher, you’ll still be paying for more machinery right off the bat, as you’ll need multiple ductless units in order to cover multiple areas. Making the switch to a whole-home ductless system when you already have an existing duct-based system is especially pricey, as you’ll also have to pay to disable and dismantle that existing system. Up front costs aside, however, a multi-zone ductless will be easier and cheaper to operate and maintain over time.
As with any technology, ductless HVAC systems aren’t perfect. Despite its overwhelming benefits, there are some less than positive aspects to consider prior to investing. Some of these aspects are inherent to the technology itself, while others have much more to do with external forces and surrounding factors.
The efficiency, dynamicity and convenience of ductless systems are by far their biggest draws. The energy efficient nature of new ductless models make them ideal for anyone looking to lower both their carbon footprint and their monthly electric bills.
They also allow for more flexibility when it comes to your home’s climate control. As opposed to being limited to a single thermostat setting for the entirety of your home, ductless systems allow you to control temperature and other settings from zone to zone. Having this type of flexibility, especially as a whole-home solution, in turns allows you to save even more energy and money over time, as you can adjust the settings in various zones based on occupancy.
Lastly, the ease of use and lack of hardware add to the convenience of ductless systems. From a maintenance standpoint, having far less hardware to deal with means far less upkeep to deal with overall and a much smaller chance of technical issues arising over time.
The biggest downside to ductless systems is the initial cost, especially if you want to switch from a traditional duct-based system to a whole-home ductless system. These up-front costs can be recouped by money saved over time, but the amount of time it takes for such an investment to pay off can be considerable. It can also vary greatly depending on how much money you have to put into it purchasing and installing, how much use you get out of the new system and the energy rates charged by your local supplier.
Other cons to consider include minimal maintenance and aesthetics. While not nearly as extensive or expensive as professional maintenance for traditional duct-based systems, the units used for ductless systems do require monthly filter cleanings. It’s a super simple DIY task that should only take a couple minutes per filter, but still… maintenance is maintenance.
In terms of aesthetic, pickier homeowners sometimes take issue with the wall-mounted design of ductless units, especially since they can’t be covered. Rarely a dealbreaker, whether or not this an issue at all really just comes down to taste and tolerance.
In addition to the added comfort and convenience of a ductless system, there are several scenarios in which going ductless simply makes the most sense, both financially and logistically. For the sake of time, we’ll stick to going over just five of the most common scenarios.
One circumstance in which single zone ductless systems are the perfect option is for new additions to pre-existing homes. Whether it’s a single room or a whole new wing, it will be considerably easier and far cheaper to install a ductless system for climate control than it would be to expand your primary system with a whole new section of ductwork.
Ductless systems are a great option for smaller, more limited spaces. As such, one instance in which you may want to consider investing in ductless systems is if you are moving into a smaller space. In some cases, as mentioned prior, if you live in a relatively small home, apartment or condo, you may even be able to get away with using a single-zone system as a whole-home solution, depending on the set-up of course. Even if you opt for a multi-zone system with more than one unit, the limited space will limit the size of the system and in turn lower the upfront costs.
As stated in the pros section, ductless systems afford you more flexibility when it comes to controlling the climate inside your home. By giving you the option to control temperature and setting in a single zone as opposed to affecting the entire climate of your home, ductless systems allow you to create independent temperature zones. This capability is extremely beneficial for rooms and spaces that are a) occupied more often than the majority of other rooms and spaces, b) unable to adjust to the settings from your primary system as well as other rooms and spaces, or c) being used for a special purpose that requires more extreme or more precise temperature settings than other rooms and spaces.
The best time to invest in a whole-home multi-zone ductless hvac system is if and when you are either building or moving into a new home without existing ductwork. This allows you to completely bypass what would otherwise be the most expensive and laborious step in going fully ductless – the need to replace an existing traditional unit. Without an existing system in the way dictating your options, you’re free to go fully ductless right off the bat. Not only will you get the benefit of lower operating and maintenance costs over time; you’ll also save money up front since it’s cheaper to install a ductless system from scratch than it is to build a brand new traditional system with all new ductwork.
If your number one priority is improving the energy efficiency of your home as soon as possible, thus rendering initial replacement/installation costs and overall ROI somewhat less important, you may feel compelled to go fully ductless regardless of how much financial sense it makes. If this is the case and you’re fortunate enough to have the monetary wherewithal to make such a decision, then by all means go for it.
With any luck, ductless systems will be industry standard sometime in the near future, in which case it couldn’t hurt to stay ahead of the curve. Even if you go fully ductless but don’t end up staying at your current residence long enough to see the full ROI over the lifetime of your equipment, it could be enough of a selling point to substantially increase the overall value of your home, which could in turn net you a bigger ROI on the equipment than you would’ve gotten otherwise. This is far less of a sure bet than the steady ROI you’ll get from lower monthly costs, but it’s something to consider nonetheless.
Whether you’re ready to make the switch to going fully ductless or just considering a single zone ductless system to supplement your current system, the folks here at Maichle’s are always happy to help however we can. From our top-of-the-line Mitsubishi Ductless Systems to home estimates and installation, we have everything you need to make the switch! To discuss your options with one of our experts directly, give us a call at (302)328-HVAC and ask about our ductless systems.