Don’t Overlook the Benefits of Ductless Mini-Splits

June 13, 2001
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Over the past 20 years, ductless mini-spilt systems have evolved and gained some attention within the hvac industry. In fact, according to Bruce Hazen, associate vice president of Fujitsu General America, the North American market sells about 100,000 ductless units each year.

Although this number may seem somewhat low, Hazen points out that the ductless market is growing faster than window a/c units and unitary systems.

He also insists that ductless heating and cooling should not be ignored, even though some contractors overlook the benefits of such systems.

“There is no reason why this category can’t achieve 250,000 or more,” said Hazen about the sale of ductless units. “We should not be considered the red-headed stepchild of the industry any longer for several reasons.”



Contractor’s Last Choice

Hazen points out that ductless split systems have not become a competitive system in the industry because many contractors see them as a “last resort if all else fails” unit.

Instead of installing a ductless system based solely on its benefits, most contractors only install it when a more traditional heating and cooling system will not work due to space limitations, problems with ductwork, etc.

Ductless units can be more expensive than regular systems. Contractors sometimes see this higher price as something they do not want to pass on to consumers, making ductless units again look like a “last resort” system.

But Hazen says that the use of a ductless system can be beneficial when it comes to making money and promoting productivity. He says that installing ductless only takes “two men three to four hours, and one job is completed.”

This allows a contractor to finish a job quickly and move on to the next, which provides an opportunity to build profit.

Besides a relatively fast and easy installation, Hazen explains that ductless units have several practical benefits which can put them outside the category of just an alternative system.

One key benefit is the potential for energy savings. Hazen says that ductless mini-splits can achieve the level of energy efficiency being promoted by the DOE through spot cooling.

“Look at another approach,” he says. “Why turn on your central a/c system for the whole building or residence when you’re only using one or two zones? Why not condition the air for the zones being used and forget about the rest?”

Hazen believes that by using zone cooling, rolling blackouts can be reduced if not eliminated.



Benefits

Over the past two decades, ductless mini-splits have taken on a more sophisticated look while continually becoming more affordable. In addition, the systems have gradually become more technologically advanced, adding new components and features.

“Software and electronics will help to advance the simplicity and the cost savings of operation for general use,” says Hazen. “Enhancement of the product in the same manner will enable additional growth in commercial markets as well.”

Currently, ductless systems have features that Hazen believes can act as a selling point for customers. A few specific functions are:

  • Quiet operation, where dB levels can be in the low 30s;
  • Auto-louver, a function on the remote that allows the consumer to “sweep” the air to help with air quality and temperature;
  • Auto restart/reset, which allows users to reboot after a power failure; and
  • 24-hr programmable remote control, to control on/off functions, on/off time settings, temperature settings, sleep timers, multiple fan speeds, dry mode for dehumidification, and more.
  • Hazen says that these systems need to eventually include other applications such as filtration, low-ambient control, and fresh air. But the product can ensure a broad appeal if it is “installation and operation friendly.”

    Hazen says that although ductless systems can come with a variety of functions, it may be important to find a middle-ground unit. The technology is only good if it is not too difficult for the homeowner to use.

    Finally, Hazen recommends that the system should be tested and accredited by a major testing lab for safety. This will be indicated on both components with the UL or ETL marks.

    Special attention must be paid when installing units by different manufacturers, says Hazen. Systems designed by the same manufacturer will have proprietary technology and will usually work better together.



    Growing Market

    Hazen is convinced that ductless mini-splits will continue to make an impact on the industry.

    “Twenty years are gone and probably over 1.3 million systems have already been installed,” he said. “It’s not an item that is likely to go away.”

    Hazen says that currently, residential use of ductless systems is approximately 20%, while in Canada, the use is around 50%. With more education, Hazen believes that the opportunities in ductless systems can be recognized and the sales numbers will go up.

    Publication date: 06/18/2001

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