Select Ductless for Energy Efficiency and IAQ

April 30, 2013
Les Calahan
Les Calahan
Ductless mini-split systems are being installed in many residential settings and some commercial applications due to the boost they provide in energy efficiency and indoor air quality (IAQ). However, for residential contractors, it may be difficult to sell homeowners on the benefits when looking at the price tag. Ductless mini-split technology can cost approximately $1,500 to $2,000 per ton of cooling capacity, a full 30 percent more than central systems providing the same capacity. However, mini-splits do not require ductwork, a fact which narrows that cost gap dramatically and it may even cost less in the end. When proposing an investment of this size, you the contractor must consider first what ductless provides and how it will save consumers in the long run.

What Does Ductless Do?

Ductless mini-splits provide quiet, safe heating and air conditioning for structures without ductwork capabilities. This technology uses two main components, one outdoor compressor/condenser unit and one indoor air-handling unit. The indoor and outdoor units are linked by a conduit which houses the power cable, as well as the refrigerant and suction tubing and a condensate drain. Each indoor air-handling unit has its own temperature controller which provides individual zone control. The inverter mini-split system uses only enough energy to maintain the temperature that the system is set for, saving the consumer excess energy costs. The most common uses for these systems are in retrofit home add-ons with non-ducted heating systems. They partner well with hydronic, radiant panels, and space heaters. Additionally, ductless mini-split systems can be applied to room additions or small apartments where distribution ductwork cannot be installed, or to areas of a home that have airflow problems with their existing systems.

Energy Efficient Technology

Owners of home add-ons or retrofit rooms have already spent a good deal of money on renovations. The last thing they want to do is expend extra energy to maintain the quality of their home environment. Ductless systems are more energy efficient for one simple reason: heated or cooled air does not need to travel down long ductwork tunnels to arrive at its destination in the home. Forced air systems can lose up to an estimated 40 percent of the airflow through separated joints, cracks, etc, while ductless systems have 0 percent duct leakage. These systems have a reduced carbon footprint and use eco-friendly R-410A refrigerant, which, unlike the previous standard R-22 refrigerant, does not deplete the ozone layer.

For increased efficiency, consider adding a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), an air exchanger which allows for a countercurrent heat exchange between the inbound and outbound airflow. In so doing, the HRV removes stale air from inside the home and draws in fresh air from outside. As it transfers the air, the HRV retains up to 80 percent of the heat from inside, allowing for fresh, climate controlled air in the home while reducing heating and cooling requirements. Or, depending on what part of the county you’re in, propose an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) which transfers the humidity level of the exhaust air to the intake air. Either of these systems works side-by-side with a mini-split ductless system to keep the home energy efficient and comfortable year-round.

Why Ventilate?

Unless occupied at a job that requires outdoor activity, most people spend many hours at a time inside, breathing indoor air. Thus, the quality of this air has a major impact on health. Ductwork in forced air systems can be a source of pollutants, including allergens, dust, and mold. These systems distribute breathable pollutants throughout the home, causing or exacerbating allergic reactions and other respiratory problems over time. In addition, bacteria and viruses can remain in air ducts long after a family has recovered, only to be re-released.

Ductless systems have advanced filtration capabilities that help to purify the air that is being released into your clients’ homes. Overall air quality is improved and impurities are not able to remain trapped because there is no ductwork.

Other Benefits

Many ductless systems include washable filters that need only periodic cleaning. The installation itself is much quicker than a system with ductwork and is often completed by an HVAC installer in a few hours. Both the indoor and outdoor units are extremely quiet and have many other features that benefit consumers and include, again, individual zone control, plus sleep mode, quiet mode, timer, and other customizable options available due to the conditioner’s small size and operating range.

For those who work in the heating and air conditioning business, ductless mini-split technology is one of the best ways to promote energy savings and indoor air quality for your clients. Pair this system with HRV or ERV for clean, breathable air, from summer to spring.

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