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Restivo’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Johnston, Rhode Island, is well-known in its market for providing ductless solutions to residential clients as both a Mitsubishi Diamond Dealer and an LG Excellence Dealer. Now the firm sees more interest from the commercial side. Jack Restivo, the company’s president, said he never expanded too much of the commercial side because he disliked working on large rooftop units. Ductless provides him with a way to meet a growing opportunity in a manner he prefers.

Much of his latest commercial work is driven by a need to provide diversity in comfort and climate control. For example, Restivo recently bid a project at a funeral home. This business has different needs for several rooms based on the number and desires of the occupants. The firm has also done work for a number of churches that have the same needs.

Company buildings also provide an opportunity as employee comfort becomes a bigger concern. Restivo recently quoted Arnold’s Lumber, a large building supply outfit in Rhode Island. They plan to expand their offices and get away from using oil heat, which is common in New England. Restivo recommended ductless units for the new offices.

Although they often carry higher upfront costs, ductless systems have the potential to save on installation costs. Restivo’s recently installed ductless systems at three U-Haul facilities. The firm added ductless systems in all the common areas and hallways. At first, the owner wanted a traditional gas system, but Restivo convinced him to go with mini-splits because the cost of running pipes throughout the building proved too expensive.

“One of the perceptions you try to get out of people’s minds is that they’re mini-splits,” he said. “They really should be classified as heat pumps because there is so much you can do with them.”

Switching to ductless brings financial incentives, including rebates and improved energy efficiency. Restivo said one 4,000-square-foot building used to get its heating and cooling from one of two large rooftop units. If one or two people worked late, they either dealt with the temperature provided or ran the system unnecessarily. With ductless solutions, only their individual workspaces get conditioned.

“The mini-splits just provide a lot more opportunities where they can be utilized,” Restivo said.

A Restivo’s installation at a church.

MANY NEEDS: A Restivo’s installation at a church solves the problem of meeting different needs in different rooms.

Tom Fisher, a member of Restivo’s sales staff, said ductless solves one of the biggest issues in existing offices: the different comfort needs of employees. In some cases, the design of the building creates challenges, with offices that remain difficult to properly heat or cool.

“Ductless solves those problems,” Fisher said. “It allows for different zones and different climates, and that’s what people like. They like to be comfortable in their home, and they like to be comfortable in their office.”

Restivo said some people used to object to ductless units for reasons of appearance. They considered the wall-mounted unit an eyesore. Manufacturers have answered that concern. For example, LG offers the Art Cool picture unit. It’s actually a piece of art that goes on the wall. Restivo used this for a recent project at a law office. There are also low-mounted units that hide from sight and even concealed units that can be placed in a drop ceiling.

The Art Cool from LG.

PICTURE PERFECT: Ductless systems are becoming an aesthetic alternative for many offices. The Art Cool from LG comes with pre-framed images, or owners can insert their own artwork.

“There’s a lot of different things you can do with these systems to really dress them up,” Restivo said.

Jamie Jensen sees the benefits of ductless for a commercial space each day at his firm, Air Control Home Services, in Lake Havasu, Arizona. The HVAC contractor replaced its previous HVAC system with a Trane VRF with eight air handlers. The new system has resolved the classic temperature disputes that plague many offices.

The biggest growth area for Air Control comes from storage units. Lake Havasu is a popular spot for summer homes, with a large demand for storing everything from personal watercraft to RVs. Air Control placed 50 ductless units at one storage facility last year.

“People didn’t care at all what temperature they were storing stuff at,” Jensen said. “Now, it’s a half-million-dollar boat or a $1 million motor home, so they’re concerned.”

Ductless systems also allow building owners to direct cooling where needed, when needed. An RV or a boat entering a storage facility needs more cool air than one standing idle.

The company is also putting more ductless systems in facilities that require specialized cooling for equipment and normal temperature control for workers, such as offices with server rooms and dental offices with equipment storage.

Many jobs come from replacing evaporative coolers with ductless systems to reduce maintenance expenses and provide both heating and cooling. Ductless systems do create their own maintenance needs. Jensen said there is a need to wash the filters and keep an eye on the blower wheel.

Restivo’s and Air Control have long been leaders in ductless applications for residential use. Air Control has been a leading dealer of Trane ductless units for the entire nation. Both have limited their commercial work in the past. That may change as commercial operations consider the ductless option more often. “It’s a company culture,” Jensen said.