A Guide on Mini-Split Heat Pumps for HVAC Technicians

Mini-split heat pumps, or ductless mini-splits, is a compact heating and cooling system that allows homeowners to control temperatures in homes or individual spaces. It has two main components; the indoor air unit and the outdoor compressor/condenser. Due to its energy-efficiency, size, ability to zone different areas of a home, and easy installation process, mini-splits have become a popular choice for home heating and cooling. 

Advantages

Size

Perhaps the most significant benefit of mini-split heat pumps is their size. Both the indoor and outdoor units are much smaller than a typical central air or furnace system. Its size allows for easy installation and freedom with placement — they can be on the floor, mounted on the wall, or attached to the ceiling. 

Variable Refrigerant Flow 

A ductless mini-split easily adapts to your needs. It monitors the home’s outside temperature and the inside temperature to decide how much cooling or heating is needed. It’s able to fine-tune heating and cooling due to its variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system. With VRF, the system releases the right amount of refrigerant needed for each indoor air component, making the system energy-efficient by keeping heat transfer at a minimum. 

Easy Installation 

As the name suggests, the system is ductless, meaning that it doesn’t have ductwork. They provide a lot of versatility that many other systems don’t have, as it frees up a lot of space usually taken up by ductwork. Because of this, the mini-split can be installed virtually anywhere. 

A ductless mini-split can save a lot of space for customers with smaller homes and apartments or those who don’t have attics or basements. 

Silence

Unlike central air or furnaces, mini-split heat pumps are a lot quieter to operate. The inside components are distributed around the home and use low-powered fans to disperse air throughout each room. 

The design of a mini-split system contributes to its quietness. Ductworks often make a lot of rattling and banging noises due to their vibration when air passes through. Mini-splits make less noise as air travels through due to its less turbulent air. 

Energy Rebates

Thanks to their efficiency, mini-splits can qualify their owners for equipment-related tax benefits and credits under many different circumstances.

Disadvantages

Upfront Cost

Compared to other systems, mini-splits generally offer cost and energy savings over time; however, the initial installation process can be expensive, with an average price of about $1750 per ton (12,000 BTU per hour) of cooling capacity. This is about 30% more expensive than central air, minus the ductwork. 

Appearance 

Although mini-splits allow for different placement options, its appearance can distract some homeowners since they can be hanging off the wall or ceiling. 

Types of Mini-Split Heat Pumps 

A wall-mounted mini-split system installed near the top of a wall.
A wall-mounted mini-split system installed near the top of a wall.
  • Single-zone mini-split: Consists of a single outdoor and indoor unit. It’s designed to control the temperature of one room. 
  • Multi-zone mini-split: Composed of two or more indoor units for one outdoor condenser. Each unit in this system can operate independently of the others and be set to different temperatures.
  • Wall-mounted mini-split: Installed near the top of a wall. These are the most popular because they’re the least expensive option. 
  • Ceiling cassette mini-split: Installed on the ceiling. They provide a wider airflow and are ideal for customers who want their heating and cooling system concealed without taking up a lot of space. 
  • Concealed duct mini-split: Mounted on the ceiling but connected to one or more ducts. These are ideal for customers who want to heat/cool multiple rooms or a large individual area. 

Key Factors to Keep in Mind When Choosing a System for Your Customer

BTU Output

Mini-split systems are efficient and powerful. When recommending a system for your customer, pay attention to the BTU output. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and it refers to the amount of energy required to increase the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. A higher BTU rating system is more powerful, meaning it has a higher heat output, while a system with a lower BTU rating is less powerful.

To determine the appropriate BTU for your customer, you need to figure out each room’s square footage using a mini-split. The best rule of thumb is to multiply the room size (in sq ft) with 20-30 to get a BTU value. 20 is eco-friendly, while 30 is the most powerful. 12,000 BTU units are the most common for single-zone mini-splits. 

Energy-Efficiency

SEER and HSPF ratings are crucial energy-efficiency metrics for heating and cooling. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it measures how energy-efficient the cooling effect of the mini-split is. The bigger the number, the more energy-efficient the system is. HSPF stands for Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, and it’s the same thing as SEER, but used for heating instead of cooling. 

Because a mini-split system is for cooling and heating, each rating is as important as the other. Both SEER and HSPF affect your customer’s energy bill. 

The minimum SEER rating for air conditioners is 13, while most air conditioners are rated from 13 to 21. Anything over 21 is considered highly energy-efficient. 

As for HSPF, most air conditioners are rated between 8 to 10. Anything over ten is generally considered better, and for a heat pump to have the ENERGY STAR label, it must have an HSPF of 8.2 or higher and a SEER of 12 or higher. 

Brand

Choosing the right brand is very important, as its reliability is crucial in the HVAC industry. 

For the more prominent brands, MRCOOL, Mitsubishi Electric, Fujitsu, and LG are the best. They’ve been in the industry for years and have an excellent reputation for mini-split systems. 

For smaller, less prominent brands, Pioneer, Daikin, and Kilmaire are good options. They do not have the reputation that the more prominent brands have, but they offer reliable mini-split models at lower prices. 

Conclusion

When helping your customer choose a new AC option or upgrade, don’t hesitate to mention mini-split heat pumps. Mini-split heat pumps are a great option for customers and provide an enhanced level of flexibility. Despite their upfront cost, they’re incredibly energy-efficient and offer many different types depending on your customers’ needs. Make sure to pay attention to SEER and HSPR ratings, branding, and BTU output to recommend the best system for your customer.

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