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Ductless Heat Pump vs. Ductless A/C: What's the Difference?

One of the most energy efficient ways to condition challenging spaces is with a ductless heat pump. This system is capable of both heating and cooling, which gives it an enormous advantage over a ductless air conditioner--such as a window or wall unit--which can only cool.

A heat pump works by moving heat from one place to another, while an air conditioner can only move heat outdoors. Both systems use refrigerant as the medium for heat transfer, but the heat pump has a reversing valve that switches the refrigerant flow. In the summer, it efficiently moves heat outside, and in the winter, it harvests the heat in the air.

Efficiency Ratings

Both heat pumps and air conditioners must meet the same energy efficiency standards for cooling, which is noted by their seasonal energy efficiency ratio. All systems must have a SEER of 13, and ratings for some systems can go well into the 20s. Because a heat pump also heats, it has a heating efficiency rating--the heating season performance factor--as well. All heat pumps must have an HSPF of at least 7.7, and some systems have a rating of 10 or better.

Besides having to meet the same efficiency standards as central heating and cooling systems, ductless heat pumps gain efficiency by virtue of the fact that they don't use ducts to deliver the air. They blow the conditioned air directly from the indoor air handler, eliminating any thermal and air losses that occur in ducts.

Heating Benefits

Heat pumps harvest heat from the outdoor air to produce heat for your home, making them a safer alternative to vented or ventless heaters that use combustion fuel. There's no danger of emissions, including carbon monoxide.

A ductless heat pump is also far more efficient than heaters that use electric resistance coils. Another efficiency rating applies to heat pumps, called their coefficient of performance. A heat pump may be able to create three to four times the heat from one watt of electricity, giving it a COP of 3 to 4. An electric resistance heater can only produce one watt of heat for each watt it uses, giving it a COP of 1. Using a heat pump in lieu of electric heat can save substantial energy.

Installation Considerations

Because ductless heat pumps also heat, their installation involves a few more considerations than those for a window or wall air conditioner. Snow will interfere with the heat pump's ability to create heat, so the HVAC contractor will place the condenser in a place that's easy to access and preferably in a sheltered location.

A flexible conduit connects the condenser to the air handler, and to get the most efficiency in the heating mode, the contractor will try to place the condenser within a shorter distance to minimize energy losses as the hot refrigerant flows through the conduit. The conduit contains the refrigerant line, the drain line to remove condensation in the summer and the power source.

A ductless heat pump can support up to four separate air handlers, which can hang on the wall, sit on the floor or be placed on the ceiling. In colder areas of Virginia, a wall or floor mounted air handler will heat the room more comfortably, because heat rises. If a ceiling installation is preferable, using the ductless system with ceiling fans with a reversing switch will bring the heat down.

Almost all ductless systems come with remotes, making them easy to control. Each air handler has its own thermostat settings, making it possible to condition only the rooms you use, which also saves energy, although in the winter, it's a good idea to keep the heat at a minimum setting, at least, to prevent damage that cold temperatures can create indoors.

Contact us to find a Mitsubishi Electric contractor in your area of Virginia. He'll be happy to tell you more about the benefits of a ductless heat pump.

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