Technological advances, a more energy-conscious society, and a wave of available energy utility rebates are invigorating ductless heating and cooling solutions in the U.S. According to Navigant Research, ductless systems will account for nearly 30 percent of all North American energy-efficient HVAC system revenue by 2020.

New England Nucleus

Right now, the ductless market is having the most success in the Northeast, where the housing stock is older, said Mike Smith, senior marketing manager, residential Mitsubishi Electric U.S. Cooling & Heating Division.

“Essentially, all of the coastal regions tend to be markets where housing stock will be older,” Smith said. “Those represent great opportunities for ductless. Recently, new technologies have meant we can expand into new markets and start growing in much more Northern-tiered markets based on new heating technologies. The majority of our business comes from those older cities in New England, the Northeast, and a bit of the upper Midwest, as well.”

Malcolm Persaud, senior manager, product planning and development, heating and air-conditioning solutions group, Panasonic Corp. of North America, said the new technology is also expanding ductless in the residential market, as well. “It’s the awareness of heat pumps now being capable of being the primary source of heat in the large areas of the U.S. In the past, the typical heat pump would’ve had to incorporate an auxiliary heating system to satisfy the heat in winter.”

Persaud said he sees potential in the Southeast market because the region would benefit greatly from ductless technology. “At this moment, ductless has 12 percent market share. However, it can increase to 20 percent with the appropriate solution.”

Midwest Market Potential

Donnie King, director of distribution development, Samsung HVAC, said ductless is progressing from additions to whole-home applications. “Residential growth is happening everywhere,” King said. “It’s occurring fastest in the Northeast segment and in the Northwest. There are pockets of large growth in the center part of the country, like in Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and St. Louis.

“In the Midwest, residential growth is designed mainly to take care of troubled zones,” he said. “Commercially, the same markets are growing, but for different reasons. Engineers are looking at the products for space savings and energy-efficiency savings.”

According to King, the Midwest offers the greatest potential for ductless growth because it’s an emerging market. “There’s a lot of emphasis being put on the heating performances of ductless and its ability to condition a whole house or building. But, the single largest potential for the foreseeable future is still going to be heating and cooling troubled zones or specific areas in a building or house.”

Jeff Vida, sales director, Four Seasons Heating, Air Conditioning, and Plumbing, Chicago, said ductless offers the perfect solution for many types of Chicago homes built 50-plus years ago with boiler heat.

“These homes do not have conventional ductwork, and converting to forced air can be both costly and aesthetically unappealing,” Vida said. “The ductless mini-split product can be installed in one to eight head applications running off only one outside condensing unit. We’ve helped Chicago homeowners completely eliminate their old, heavy, and inefficient window cooling units with heat/cool wall-mounted equipment in all rooms of their homes. We’ve received rave reviews from customers thanking us for saving them the hassle of reinstalling window units every summer only to have to remove them every winter. This, coupled with lower electricity bills, make it a win-win situation.”

Of Four Seasons’ total product sales in 2014, ductless mini-splits accounted for only 1 percent of sales. “That’s a 100 percent increase over the previous year, and it accounts for almost seven figures in top-line revenue,” Vida said. “The majority of customers are not familiar with the technology,” he explained. “They have a need but are not sure of the best solution. Our direct media campaigns continue to broaden the understanding of the product and the versatility of its uses. The key is to review the applications with every homeowner. While the wall-mounted unit is the most popular, there are multiple indoor unit options ranging from ceiling-recessed cassette units to horizontal-ducted units to floor-mounted units. Ductless systems are one of the most efficient ways to condition your home.”

Growing Consumer Awareness

Jason Hanson, president, Sierra Pacific Home & Comfort Inc., Rancho Cordova, California, said consumers in the Sacramento, California, area are growing more knowledgeable and more receptive to ductless products. “The reason it [ductless] has grown is because manufacturers and dealers are more apt to promote the product,” Hanson said. “And, now, there is greater awareness so homeowners know to ask for it or are more receptive to accept a proposal for the product. Those are the driving growth factors.”

Hanson noted ductless is mostly being applied to problem areas such as master bedrooms, game rooms, or converted garages, and not the entire home. “A smaller percentage of the ductless jobs are going to older homes that lack central HVAC, and a multi-zone ductless product is being added to the home.”

Gregory Gill, president, Action Air Conditioning, Heating & Solar, San Marcos, California, said ductless applications account for about 20 percent of his business. “That’s a big number. We’re about a $10 million a year company, so we’re doing 1,000-plus systems a year, or more.”

According to Gill, ductless applications in the San Diego area are most common in retrofits; however, he recently installed systems in three new construction homes in lieu of conventional HVAC.

“They’re becoming more and more popular, but I don’t foresee ductless taking over the conventional market unless it makes some changes,” Gill said. “The biggest detriment is cosmetic. That’s the only complaint people have. Otherwise, everything else we hear from the consumer is positive. The units are getting to be a little sexier to look at on the walls, so manufacturers understand the situation. People love the low noise, great efficiency, and the diversification in regards to the zoning of the house.”

Publication date: 4/27/2015

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