When it comes to heating and cooling your home, there are a lot of options to choose from. You want to take the time to consider them all in case one is better suited for your comfort needs. Two of the most popular choices are heat pumps and ductless mini-splits, although many people confuse them for one another. This can make it more difficult to figure out the differences between a heat pump and a ductless mini-split. More important, how can you figure out which one is right for you?

Let’s review the differences between heat pumps and ductless mini-split systems. They can share similar features but are ultimately two different types of HVAC system.

While Some Heat Pumps Can Be Ductless, Not All of Them Are

The defining feature of a heat pump is that it transfers heat instead of generating it, making it a more energy-efficient alternative to combustion HVAC systems like a traditional furnace. Heat pumps can be used for both heating and cooling depending on which direction the heat is flowing. There are also two main types of heat pumps, ducted and ductless. If you’re going to consider heat pump installation, you’ll want to consider which option is best for you.

Ducted heat pumps circulate air through a system of ducts just like a furnace or central air conditioner does. Ductless heat pumps, meanwhile, deliver air directly into the room. Both types of heat pumps are highly efficient and can help to reduce energy costs. It comes down to your specific priorities when choosing between a ducted or ductless heat pump.

An easy way to compare different heat pumps is through their energy ratings. Since heat pumps can offer both heating and cooling, they use two different energy rating systems. During the heating season, a heat pump’s energy efficiency is rated by its Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, or HSPF rating. In cooling mode, they’ll use the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or SEER system.

Mini-Splits Always Lack Ductwork, and Can Be Used for Both Heating and Cooling

Because a heat pump can be ducted or ductless, the similarities to a ductless mini-split system will depend on what kind of climate control the mini-split can offer. This is because mini-split systems will always lack ductwork, hence the name. Instead of using air ducts, heating or cooling is delivered directly to various rooms through connected indoor and outdoor units. You can install multiple indoor units to adjust the temperatures of different rooms or spaces individually.

Some mini-split systems are for air conditioning only, designed to cool multiple smaller or detached spaces. Other models function similar to heat pumps, as they can provide both heating and cooling by transferring heat where it’s needed.

Should I use a Heat Pump or a Ductless Mini-Split?

Whether a heat pump or ductless mini-split system is your ideal HVAC system depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Whether your home already has air ducts: Not having to install a series of air ducts will significantly lower your installation costs. A ducted heat pump system can be highly energy efficient, making it a good choice for energy-conscious households.
  • If your family prefers different temperatures: Needing multiple different temperatures for various rooms or floors of your home is easier to accommodate with a zoned comfort system. This means you can individually control each zone’s temperature. Zoning systems can be installed into air ducts, and ductless systems with multiple indoor units can also be set up for zoned control. Installing a zoning system with existing ductwork will probably cost less than installing multiple indoor mini-split units.
  • The size of your home: Mini-split systems are perfect for smaller homes, or a detached space like a workshop or small guesthouse. Larger homes will do best with a traditional ducted system, which can include a heat pump.

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