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Q: What is a ductless heat pump?

Ductless heat pumps (a.k.a.,“mini-splits”) are highly efficient zonal heating and cooling systems. Mini-splits were developed in Japan more 30 years ago and have completely changed how people think about heating and cooling their homes and businesses. More than 50% of the residential air conditioners sold world-wide are ductless heat pumps. Ductless heat pumps are heat pumps and they are ductless.

Q: Why heat pumps?

Heat pumps are ideally suited for the Northwest climate, delivering efficiencies 2-4 times that of electric resistance space heating. That is because heat pumps don’t actually make heat, they use a refrigerant and a compressor to extract heat from the outside air and “pump” it into your home. In the summer, heat pumps can reverse cycle and serve as efficient air conditioners. And, because the price of natural gas and other fuels have gone up more than the price of electricity over the last few years, heat pumps heat for less in the Northwest. Period.

Q: Why ductless?

Many homes do not have ducts and adding ducts is expensive and often impractical. Residential duct systems are also hard to get right. Not getting the ducts right results in big energy efficiency penalties (up to ~30%). Poorly designed and installed duct systems can also result in issues related to air flow, comfort, noise, and indoor air quality. Ducts should be cleaned, but rarely are.

Q: What are appropriate applications for a ductless heat pump?

We believe ductless heat pumps are applicable to nearly all homes. Of course, we are The Heat Pump Store! Some preferred residential applications include: Displacing existing electric heating – Some of the most cost effective ductless heat pump applications consist of a single-zone system serving the main area (zone) of a house heated with electric baseboards, wall units or ceiling cable heat. In these cases, “old electric heat” continues to serve bedrooms, bathrooms and other secondary zones as needed. And you get awesome air conditioning in your primary zone! Displacement also works well with electric resistance forced-air systems (with additional consideration of secondary zones); Bonus rooms and additions – Ductless heat pumps are perfect for room additions, attic living space, and that bonus room that is no bonus because it is too cold in the winter and/or too hot in the summer; New construction – New homes can be designed or easily adapted to take advantage of the characteristics of ductless heat pumps. As with existing homes, the most cost-effective approach is often a hybrid strategy with 1 or 2 ductless heat pumps and low cost electric resistance heaters serving low use areas. Many builders have come to realize that ductless heat pumps clean up the intensive process with installing quality central ducted systems.

Q: Do I still need my old heater(s)?

While a DHP system can be used as a primary heat source, most homeowners are encouraged to keep their existing electric heating units (or install in new construction projects) to supplement the DHP system in extreme weather conditions or to serve distinct secondary zones (as needed).

Q: How is the system controlled?

The system is controlled with a handheld remote control that resembles your TV remote control. Using this control, the homeowner can select heating or cooling, the temperature setting, and other modes of operation such as fan speed and air direction.

Q: How much does a ductless heat pump cost?

Typically, the total installed cost of single-zone ductless heat pumps ranges from $3,000 to $5,000. Factors that may affect installed cost include: equipment manufacturer and model, refrigerant line-set length, and difficulty of installation. Multi-zone solutions add cost. You may be able to lower the cost if you have “drills and skills”. The Heat Pump Store has developed Do-it-Yourself Ductless packages for builders, remodelers, and homeowners that typically reduce total installed cost by $500 to $1,000 (per zone).

Q: What incentives are available for ductless heat pumps?

Because ductless heat pumps represent the highest level of efficiency, utilities and federal and state governments offer thousands of dollars in incentives and tax credits to help you pay for your system! Utility Rebates – Most Northwest utilities are encouraging the use of inverter-driven ductless heat pumps to displace electric resistance heat. Most of the utilities are offering significant rebates (up to $1,500) for installations in single and multi-family homes with the “old electric heat”.

Q: How long will a ductless heat pump system last?

With proper maintenance, a ductless heat pump should perform well for over 20 years. Many systems installed in the 1980’s are still functioning well today (> 30 years).

Q: What kind of maintenance does a ductless heat pump require?

First and foremost, cleaning the filters on the indoor unit is a must. Every month or two (depending on use and environment) works for most people. The good news is that vacuuming the filters only takes 2-3 minutes. You should also keep debris (leaves, plants, bark mulch, clutter, etc.) from building up around the outdoor unit and blocking the air flow or drainage holes. Additionally, The Heat Pump Store recommends that system performance be checked and both the indoor and outdoor units thoroughly cleaned every 1- 3 years for appearance reasons and to ensure a proper operating environment. Some homeowners may be able to perform most elements of this check-up/cleaning. The Heat Pump Store offers a service plan for those who don’t like chores.

Q: How do I know what size ductless heat pump my house needs?

Ductless heat pump systems are sized to meet the heating and cooling needs of individual zones in the home which can vary greatly due to the thermal characteristics of the zone and connected zones. The good news is that there is a great deal of flexibility when it comes to sizing ductless heat pumps because they are inverter-driven, variable speed. Typically, a 1-ton (12,000 BTU/hr) DHP will effectively serve up to 600 square feet. More if there is a good back up system you are willing to use. The Heat Pump Store can help you with sizing specific to your primary zone(s).

Here are links to important forms for taking advantage of the rebates available:

Going Ductless
Oregon Energy Tax Credits (pdf)