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Frequently Asked Questions

Whether you're buying a brand new air conditioner or replacing your existing heating system, you'll probably run into a few questions before you feel prepared to make a final choice. This HVAC FAQ includes answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. Learn more about ductless air conditioning systems and find out everything you need to know about energy efficiency, lifetime operations, HVAC maintenance and more.

What is a ductless air conditioning system?

A ductless air conditioning system uses zonal cooling and heating to maintain the temperatures in your home without any ducts. Instead of building an extensive duct network, your HVAC technician will install a single outdoor compressor unit to connect to one or more evaporator units inside. Several conduits that go through a small, three-inch hole in one of your walls connect the units. These conduits include component parts that the ductless system needs to operate efficiently, including the power cable, suction tubing, refrigerant and condensate drain.

Because the lengths of the conduits can vary depending on your home's design, the outdoor unit can be installed anywhere within 100 feet of the indoor evaporators. The evaporators are enclosed in a stylish jacket casing so that they don't interfere with your home's decor. At about seven inches deep, they take up very little room.

When you have a ductless air conditioner with more than one indoor unit, it is known as a mini-split system. In a mini-split system, the outdoor unit can work with as many as four indoor evaporator units. Each indoor unit is responsible for heating or cooling a different room or zone in your house. Though the units are usually mounted near or on the ceiling, some people choose units that stand alone at the floor level.

Overall, ductless air conditioning systems are highly efficient and can help you save money on your lifetime heating and cooling costs.

Should I keep my old air conditioning system?

Your ductless air conditioning system is fully capable of providing all of the heating and cooling your home needs. However, some people choose to keep their old systems in case anything goes wrong with the ductless system. Because the ductless system maintains temperatures on a zonal basis, there may also be a few areas in your home that struggle to reach ideal temperatures during the hottest and coldest parts of the year. In those cases, you can use your existing air conditioning unit to assist the indoor evaporator units in areas that are hard to reach. If you have radiant floor panels, a heat pump or another zonal HVAC unit, your ductless system will work alongside the existing units to keep your home at a comfortable temperature all year long.

How does a ductless air conditioning system work?

In many ways, ductless air conditioning systems work similarly to traditional heat pumps. However, you won't need any of the ductwork or an additional indoor unit when you choose a ductless air conditioner. The system's outdoor unit houses a condensing coil, cooling fan, variable speed compressor and expansion valve. Each indoor unit includes several evaporators and oscillating fans that distribute air in specific zones in your home. These units are connected by conduits that contain refrigerant lines, insulating copper tubing, power cables and suctioning condensate drains. Air transfers between the units through two-way heat pumps and other component parts.

During the heating cycle, the compressor gathers outside air and heats it to your ideal temperature over the condensing coils. An internal fan prevents the system from overheating by cooling the coils regularly. Once the air is heated, it travels through the conduits to the separate indoor evaporator units in your home. Warm air that originated outside is then distributed throughout the separate zones or rooms in your home.

When you run a cooling cycle, the ductless air conditioning system removes heat from inside your home and transfers it to the unit outside. Next, the refrigerant lines cool the air and distribute it among the evaporator units and zones. Cool air passes into the separate zones through powerful, quiet fans that won't disturb you or your family. Because the evaporators also have a dehumidifying effect, you can keep your ideal temperature set a little higher to save money on your cooling costs without sacrificing comfort.

You'll also use less energy because the system includes several variable speed compressors that make use of inverter technology. Instead of rotating between on and off cycles, your ductless air conditioner maintains a consistent temperature by converting voltage from AC to DC power. It's also easy to maintain similar temperatures between each zone in your house so that you can be comfortable in any room. If you want to change the temperature or settings in a particular area, you'll have a simple remote control that allows you to program each evaporator unit individually.

How do I manage and control my ductless air conditioning system?

You can choose between a remote or wall-mounted control for your ductless air conditioner. Many people choose remote controls so that they can operate the systems from anywhere. However, some people prefer the convenience of a single wall-mount control so that they don't lose their remotes. Each indoor unit in your mini-split system has separate controls and its own thermostat, making it easy for you to set each unit to the exact temperature you prefer. You can also program different settings for various points throughout the day to keep your home at a consistently temperate level and to cut back on your energy usage.

How do I know if a ductless air conditioning system is right for my home or building?

Ductless systems can work in many different settings, and your HVAC technician can help you determine whether or not it is appropriate for your home or office. In general, ductless air conditioners are easier to install than traditional heating and cooling systems because ductwork usually requires specific features such as good insulation and high ceilings.

Consider the following applications for a ductless air conditioner:

  • Upgrading Your Existing HVAC System - Old buildings often have poor, inefficient HVAC systems that cost more to run and provide fewer results. You can replace space heaters, window units, electric baseboard heaters and stoves with a simple, energy-efficient ductless system that is easy and affordable to operate.
  • New Home Construction - When you build a brand new home, you have a great opportunity to take advantage of the lower operating costs, energy efficiency and convenience of a ductless air conditioning system. By asking your contractor to incorporate plans for a ductless system into your new home, you may even save on construction costs by avoiding installation of expensive ductwork. You can use one or more ductless air conditioners to maintain temperatures in various areas of your home. In a two-story home, you'll notice the benefits of a ductless system even more because the indoor evaporator units are much more efficient than traditional air conditioners on higher levels.
  • Additions - If you're adding on to your home, it might be easier and more affordable to use a ductless air conditioning system for the new area. Instead of expanding the ductwork or relying on small heating and cooling units, you can choose the efficiency and convenience of a ductless system. Many families also choose ductless air conditioners when they convert basements or attics into living spaces.
  • Add More Power to Your Zonal System - You may want to consider a supplemental air conditioner if your existing zonal system doesn't cover your entire house. Many people maintain several zonal systems throughout different areas in order to maximize their efficiency and comfort levels.
  • Save Money on Utilities for Seasonal Properties - Typically, it's much more cost effective to use a ductless system in a property that you only use for a few months each year. When you visit the home, you can quickly adjust the temperature using the indoor evaporator units. There's no need to care for or maintain a traditional duct system during the rest of the year.

How efficient are ductless air conditioning systems?

Ductless systems are popular because they are extremely energy-efficient and typically cost less to run than traditional air conditioning systems. Most ductless air conditioners consume anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent less energy than traditional duct systems and central air conditioning units. Additionally, average ductless systems have very high SEER ratings for their cooling capabilities and consistently positive HSPF ratings in regard to heating. SEER ratings often reach up to 22, and many ductless systems have HSPF ratings of 10 or more. With variable speed compressors and zonal heating and cooling in your home, you'll save money and energy.

Keep these other important facts in mind:

  • With zonal heating and cooling, you only maintain temperatures for the rooms you're using. This saves energy across your home and prevents you from wasting money on areas of the home that don't need to be at a particular temperature.
  • Many homes have improperly sized ducts that can use up to 30 percent more energy than a ductless system. Your ductless air conditioner distributes air to each room through the indoor units and avoids pockets or leaking areas that are likely to occur in ducts.
  • Central air conditioning systems use a lot of energy just to switch on and off throughout the day. Your ductless system saves energy by running continuously and using variable speed compressors to determine the appropriate speed based on the room's climate.

How long have ductless air conditioning systems been around?

Ductless air conditioners were first developed during the 1970s in Japan by several Asian manufacturers who hoped to improve the design of window units. Because homes and buildings in Asia are typically smaller than American structures, ductless systems were much more convenient. Ductless systems were also quieter, smaller and more efficient than other heating and cooling systems.
After a few years, the technology and ideas behind ductless systems spread throughout Europe, North America and the rest of the world. Ductless air conditioners were improved with features such as programmable controls, longer conduits, larger temperature ranges and higher capacities. Mini-split systems were developed for larger buildings and homes that needed more heating and cooling power. In the United States, people have now used ductless systems for more than 20 years.

How much do ductless air conditioning systems cost?

Though the exact price of a ductless air conditioner depends on several factors, you'll typically pay between $3,000 and $5,000 for a single indoor system. Units for additional zones can increase the price. Prices can also vary based on factors such as the system's capacity, manufacturer and the refrigerant and conduit line lengths. You'll also need to factor in the cost of your HVAC technician. In some cases, it might cost more upfront to install a ductless system. However, you'll save money in the long run because the system is more efficient and costs less to operate than other types of air conditioning units.

What kind of incentives are available for ductless air conditioners?
You'll find a wide range of incentives from manufacturers and state and federal governments when you buy an energy-efficient ductless system. Look online to find resources on the particular incentives for your state and consider the following tax credits and cash rebates that are available.

  • Federal Tax Credits - The federal government offers some tax credits for homeowners and business owners who install energy-efficient ductless air conditioning units. Though some credits expired in 2012, you can find the most recent information on available credits through the Energy Star website. Of course, you should always ask your accountant to help you determine your eligibility before claiming any of these credits.
  • State Tax Credits - Check with your state's local representatives to find out if there are any incentives in your area for purchasing and installing a ductless system. You can also find more information on the latest local benefits from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. States like Oregon offer a credit that gives each resident up to $50 per half-ton of the system's overall capacity. Oregon residents could receive up to $400 or 25 percent of the amount paid for the entire system. Similarly, Montana residents can receive up to 25 percent of the system's total cost when they claim the Energy Conservation Installation Credit. There are plenty of opportunities available to save on your taxes if you look for the best incentives before purchasing your ductless system.
  • Cash Rebates - Some utility companies give cash rebates when customers buy new ductless systems or upgrade their existing air conditioners to make them run more efficiently. You may qualify for interest-free financing or a cash rebate of up to $1,500. Contact your local utility company to find out whether there are any incentives available in your area.

How long will a ductless air conditioning system last?

Both the indoor and outdoor units of your ductless air conditioning system are designed to be reliable and durable for many years. If you care for your system properly and perform regular maintenance throughout its lifetime, your ductless air conditioner could last for more than 20 years. Many people who purchased ductless systems in the 1980s and 1990s are still able to enjoy the efficiency and comfort of zonal heating and cooling today.

What kind of maintenance do I need to perform on my ductless air conditioner?
With a bit of routine maintenance, you can dramatically extend the life of your ductless system.

  • First, you'll need to care for the air filters regularly. Filters keep the air your family breathes clean by drawing in allergens, dust and other small particles. You should clean air filters monthly to keep the air in each zone fresh.
  • You also need to care for the coils in your indoor and outdoor units each quarter. Use a damp rag to wipe down and clean the coils inside the outdoor compressor and the indoor evaporator units so that they can continue to run at their peak efficiency.

These two simple tasks will ensure that your family always enjoys clean air and that your ductless system runs optimally at all times.

How do I know what size to buy for my home?

Ductless air conditioning systems are available in a wide range of sizes to provide efficient cooling and heating in every area in your home. Sizes are typically based on British thermal unit (BTU) capacity ratings, and each indoor and outdoor unit has its own top capacity. If you have a multi-zone system, your outdoor compressor unit should have a capacity that is higher than the combined capacity ratings of all your indoor evaporator units. However, you can have a compressor unit with a slightly lower capacity if you won't be running each of your indoor units at their full speeds simultaneously

Your ductless system's size should also be based on the volume and square feet of each zone that you're trying to heat and cool. Many indoor units have capacities that range from 9,000 BTU to 30,000 BTU. Families with large homes may need to consider using supplemental units or multiple ductless systems to maintain ideal temperatures consistently in all zones.