Ducted Heat Pump vs Mini Split: Which One is Better? Posted on October 3, 2023 The cold season is upon us once again. As the summer gives way to the golden leaves of autumn, it’s time to retreat indoors and crank up the heat. Among homeowners, two popular heating sources are the ducted heat pump, and the mini split. Since home heating accounts for a huge chunk of winter utility expenses, it’s in your best interest to determine which one is more efficient for the same amount of energy. Let’s examine the pros and cons of ducted heat pumps vs mini splits. What is a Ductless Mini Split? Most people are familiar with conventional ducted HVAC. But some may not be as familiar with the ductless mini split. A mini split is an AC system that also provides a heating function. As the name suggests, a ductless mini split does not require ducts – instead, it uses a split-type model, with an indoor air handler connected to an outdoor compressor. Both units are connected by a thin conduit that houses the refrigerant and power lines. Advantages of the Mini Split Easier and less expensive for new installations Can service one or multiple rooms Individual zone temperature settings Inverter driven making them more efficient that traditional HVAC Mini Split Drawbacks Requires an indoor air handler in each space being conditioned Not as efficient when temperatures go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit What is a Ducted Heat Pump? A heat pump is a heating and cooling system that is an alternative to the traditional gas or electric furnace. It uses the existing ducts to distribute cooled or warmed air throughout the home. Unlike a furnace, a heat pump functions by moving heat instead of generating it, making them more efficient than fuel-burning systems. During the cold season, the pump transfers heat from the outdoors into the home. It then reverses the flow during the warm months, when it transfers the heat from your cool home and into the warm outdoors. Modern heat pumps save energy in large part because they simply move heat rather than generate heat. Advantages of the Ducted Heat Pump Connects to a home’s existing ductwork Less conspicuous than mini splits Only one unit to service instead of several Ducted Heat Pump Drawbacks More expensive to install if the home doesn’t have existing ducts Either no or limited individual zone control Ducts cause energy losses Ducted Heat Pump vs Mini Split Compared Installation Since ducted heat pumps require ductwork, they are ideal for homes with an existing duct system. Otherwise, a mini split will be easier and cheaper since it doesn’t rely on ducts. A variety of mini split indoor unit options are available including wall mount, ceiling cassette, and concealed ducted units allowing you to choose the best type for your application. Efficiency In general, mini splits are more efficient than ducted heat pumps since they deliver the heat directly to the room and are inverter driven. According to the Department of Energy, a typical duct system loses between 25% to 40% of the energy output from the central heat source. However, this can be remedied with proper insulation and regular duct cleaning. Many heat pump condensers made for use with a ducted system do not take advantage of inverters meaning they can only run at one speed. Mini splits on the other hand are able to scale production up or down depending on the needs of the space. This allows them to excel when it comes to efficiency. A geothermal heat pump can improve the efficiency even more. Compared to normal heat pumps that use a condenser, a geothermal heat pump uses pipes buried underground. The pipes circulate water to transfer heat energy to and from your home and the ground. However, their exceptional energy efficiency comes with a higher upfront cost and extensive installation. Comfort As ducted heat pumps are a central heat source, they are controlled via a central thermostat. In contrast, mini splits provide individual temperature settings for each zone or room, providing better comfort. It also makes them more efficient by turning off the heat in unused rooms. Maintenance A ducted system only requires maintenance of the central heat pump, and periodic cleaning of the ductwork. For mini splits, each indoor air unit requires its own filter cleaning and maintenance, in addition to the outdoor compressor. Performance Most modern mini splits from reputable brands can continue operating at temperatures as low as 5°F. However, the colder the weather, the less efficient their heating capacity gets. Be sure to check the heating specs and make sure they match the needs of your region. Some mini split heat pumps excel in cold climates while other will struggle with temperatures below 40°F. The early models of heat pumps produced in the 1980s were notorious for being effective only in moderate temperatures. However, today’s high-efficiency heat pumps have been greatly improved and tested as far north as Alaska, and even in research stations in the Arctic Circle. At 0° F, ducted heat pumps can still have more than twice the efficiency of gas heating or standard electric heating, which is why they are popular heating sources for cold Nordic countries like Norway and Finland. In the US, a field study of air-source heat pumps in Minnesota, which has some of the country’s coldest winters, found that homeowners could cut their heating energy usage by 35% to 50% by using heat pumps. Both types of units can be used in cold climates, but its critical to purchase equipment optimized for the region you are in. Ducted Heat Pump vs Mini Split Summary CriteriaDucted Heat PumpMini SplitEase of Installation and CostIdeal for homes with existing ductworkFor homes without ductwork in placeFlexibilityLimited to rooms with ductworkFlexible installation locations Different models available to suit room placementEfficiencyLess efficient than mini splitMore efficient (except for geothermal heat pumps)ComfortCentral thermostatIndividual zone controlMaintenanceOnly 1 unit to maintainMultizone systems require individual upkeep Featured Mini Splits for Heating for Winter 2023 Most efficient: Friedrich FPHMR36A3A 32000 BTU Floating Air Pro Quad-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump This outdoor quad zone condenser is 32,000 BTU unit with a connected capacity of up to 48,000 BTUs. It can be connected to Friedrich’s standard wall unit, 4-way ceiling cassette, as well as a ceiling concealed duct unit. These indoor units can be mixed to fit your installation requirements. It can achieve up to 21.0 SEER when used with non-ducted indoor units, 19.5 with ducted units, and 20.25 with a mixed combination of both. This model features Friedrich’s Precision Inverter Technology, which uses a variable speed compressor to keep up with your comfort control needs while still being energy efficient It also has Low Ambient Operation, making it a great year round option for heating and cooling for most of the US. It will operate in the Cooling Mode when outdoor temperatures are as low as 14°F up to 115°F. The range in which this unit will heat is equally as wide and it will heat when temperatures are as low as -13°F up to 75°F! Price: $2,749.00 Friedrich FPHMR36A3A 32000 BTU Floating Air Pro Quad-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump Base Price shown is for outdoor unit only. You can choose 2, 3 or 4 indoor units below with a total connected capacity of 48,000 BTUs. If you are choosing... View Product Best cold-weather performance Bosch BMS500-AAM036-1CSXHC MAX Performance 36000 BTU Configurable Quad-Zone Heat and Cool Split System This 36,000 BTU Quad-Zone Outdoor Condenser Unit offers heating and cooling operation range down to -22°F, with 100% capacity at -5°F. It is a great option for year round comfort control. It also includes a factory installed base pan heater that keeps the condensate from freezing in extreme conditions. This system will also cool at low temperatures for national usability. It features Inverter Drive Technology provides optimum power control and extremely efficient operation by automatically changing the condenser power. The result is speedy, flexible operation that uses less electricity. It constantly adjusts the compressor rotation speed to provide optimum performance at all times. Once the set temperature is achieved, the system continues to operate with minimum power. Price: $3,859.00 Bosch BMS500-AAM036-1CSXHC MAX Performance 36000 BTU Configurable Quad-Zone Heat and Cool Split System Bosch Climate 5000 Series 36,000 BTU Quad-Zone Outdoor Condenser Unit offers heating and cooling operation range down to -22°F, with 100% capacity at -5°... View Product Featured Ducted Heat Pump for Winter 2023 Bosch 4 Ton IDS Premium 20 Seer Inverter Ducted Split System Bosch’s Inverter Ducted Split (IDS) System is a great alternative to conventional heating and cooling systems that require a condenser and indoor cooling unit plus a furnace. As the name implies, it is a ducted split system that installs in two parts (1 indoor air handler and 1 outdoor compressor) and connects to your homes’ ductwork. The EnergyStar-rated 4-ton IDS system has a SEER Rating of 20 and an HSPF rating of 10.5. It offers 47,500 nominal cooling BTUs and 48,000 nominal on high and 40,000 BTUs on low. It incorporates modulating inverter technology that allows for a smoother, more efficient comfort level achievement while its boosted compressor speeds get conditioned air to you sooner. The IDS system is designed for long-term durability. It uses painted galvanized steel and has been salt-spray tested for durability and corrosion resistance, making it a good option for coastal areas. The air handler has an integrated drain pan manufactured from corrosion-resistant composite material, with a gently sloped design to reduce standing water and offer flexibility for vertical or horizontal applications. It includes an all aluminum coil that is more durable and minimizes the chances of a refrigerant leak compared to copper coils. The control board also sits in a dedicated pocket of the air handler, protecting it from humidity in the air stream. Price: $6,499.00 Bosch 4 Ton IDS Premium 20 Seer Inverter Ducted Split System Bosch Inverter Ducted Split (IDS) System is a great alternative to conventional heating and cooling systems that require a condenser and indoor cooling unit plu... View Product Mickey Luongo Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.