Air Source Heat Pump Systems in New Construction (Podcast)

Air Source Heat Pump Systems

Mike Cappuccio, founder of N.E.T.R., Inc., talks with John Maher about installing air source heat pumps in new construction. He explains the installation process and outlines why builders are choosing this efficient heating and cooling option.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, founder of N.E.T.R., Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Today, we’re talking about ductless mini split systems in new construction. Welcome, Mike.

Mike Cappuccio: Good morning, John. How are you today?

Should You Install Ductless Mini Splits Into New Homes?

John: Good, thanks. So, Mike, do you recommend installing a ductless mini split system when a new house is being constructed?

Mike: Absolutely, John. We’ve done many homes like that, and it’s not even really just from a ductless side. You can also add the ducted air handlers as well. So we have multiple options of what we can do in a home. But I think you’re going to see over the next, probably one year to 10 years, that you’re going to be seeing that this is going to become probably the only option that you’re going to have for your homes moving forward with new construction, because if the new Green Deal does get passed, which it’s looking like it possibly will, but I mean, everything is moving to electrification now today. I mean, look at your automobiles. Look at solar, look at wind, look at what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to move fossil fuels away from our homes now. And that includes… Hey, we’re building a new home now.

And I see new homes getting built all the time with ductless products and ducted products, and more, what I’m going to call variable flow refrigerant systems where you’re using air source heat pumps, I’m going to say, is probably more of an accurate phrase versus a ductless mini split system. It’s an air source heat pump, is what we’re actually putting into the homes now.

And it already is moving towards something. This market is exploding in the United States with electrification and it’s going to keep moving forward. I don’t see it going backwards at all but moving forward with new construction. It’s absolutely a viable option. You look at the way homes are being built today. They’re being built a lot tighter, better insulation, better windows, better roofing, tighter envelopes. Everything is a tight, tight envelope when they build the home. And the heat losses…

I mean, when I look back at running a heat load on a home, probably, let’s call it 40 years ago when I first got into this business and I was 20 years old. I mean, you’d run a heat load based on certain criteria and you’d see that a home would maybe come out to 20 or 30 BTUs a square foot of heating and cooling that you would need in homes. And now I’ve seen it as low as four and five-

John: Wow.

Mike:    … BTUs use per square foot. And why is that happening? It’s happening because the envelopes of homes are tighter. When we look back at when we were kids, we had a single pane window with storm windows. Now everything is a triple pane window. Low-E glass. Sun can’t get in. We had two-by-four construction in homes. Now it’s two-by-six with minimum insulation. When we look at the building codes, they’ve changed and everything is changing for energy efficiency. The ductwork is insulated better. The equipment’s become more efficient. It heats better. So I mean, this is absolutely going to be an exploding market in the new construction market over the next 10 years.

Ductless Mini Split Versus Air Source Heat Pump

John: Right. Right. And the distinction that you’re making between a ductless mini split system and an air source heat pump, they work on that same technology, but with the air source heat pump, what you’re saying is you’re able put in a combination of the indoor wall units and also ducted systems to say, heat and cool, and entire floor, that sort of thing.

Mike: A ductless mini split is more of a ductless wall unit with one unit outside. It was used in applications… It’s still being used today for spot cooling, spot heating, things like that. But everything now is going to a bigger condenser outside where it has multiple indoor units on it and you’re basically zoning out the home.

I mean, that’s the other thing with the new construction market. I mean, I want you to think of this as, I mean, I know the home I grew up in as a kid, was a split level home. You had one furnace in the basement. We never had air conditioning. We had fans and we had one thermostat on the top floor… Not the top floor. We had a split level home where it was up on the second floor in the middle of the hallway.

And it was one thermostat for the whole entire home. When you’re doing this with an air source pump, you are zoning out your home. Each bedroom might have its own indoor unit in it, or maybe three bedrooms is one zone and the kitchen’s another zone. The dining room, the den, the TV room, the theater room. I mean, the home office, I mean, everything has its own system, basically in it, that’s running off one system outside.

So multiple different temperatures, being able to zone the home for comfort is a lot of what’s happening with the new construction. Because people just don’t want that one thermostat with one area where you have hot spots, cold spots. I want you to think of this. Do you come into your house when you walk in your home today and do you turn on a switch and every single light comes on in the house?

No, you don’t do because that’s not efficient. But that’s how we heated and cooled our homes back then. When you look at new construction today, it’s not like that. Do we turn on five burners on the stove to boil one pot of water? No. We put on one burner. So when you start looking at what’s zoned in your home, there’s multiple things that are zoned. Your oven is zoned. Your refrigerator has a zone. It has a freezer, it has a cooler. And now even with some of the more advanced refrigerators, they have different drawers with different temperatures. And we’re bringing that into the home now because people want to be comfortable.

Benefits of Zoned Heating and Cooling

John: Yeah. And if you’re home all day in just a home office and maybe you’re using the home office and the kitchen, and that’s the only two rooms you use in the house, might as well heat or cool those rooms and have it shut off or, or turn very low in the rest of the house.

Mike: Absolutely. I mean, I have a unit in my own home, in my own office at home. When I work from home, I’m in my office. I have a couple of computers in there. I have the TV on, I have different things on. And it gets warm in there. And I mean, I close the door. I put on my ductless unit, I have a ductless unit in there, and it has multiple zones in my house, but I have the other zones turned off, saving energy and not air conditioning all parts of the home in the summertime.

And even sometimes in the winter time, my room gets too hot in there because of all the heat being thrown off from the equipment. And I put the air conditioning on in the winter time in there. So there are sometimes where people do need cooling in the winter time. So there’s multiple different applications of new homes, but that’s what you’re seeing now from comfort levels of what’s going to happen.

Installing Heat Pumps in New Homes Versus Existing Homes

John: Right. What are some of the differences in terms of installing an air source heat pump system in a new construction versus going into an existing home and changing the heating and air conditioning over to an air source heat pump?

Mike: Well, new construction, let’s talk about first, and then we’ll get into the existing home in a second. But with the new construction, the advantages you have are that 99% of the time, you’re not going to put any piping on the outside of the homes. You won’t have any slim ducts or that white plastic running on the outside of your home because we can put all of that in the walls at this time. We can put the drains in the walls, put the electrical in the walls. And sometimes we can even recess the units into the walls. Most wall units, or even the floor mount units that we use, can be recessed into the wall about two to three inches. So instead of having eight inches sticking out, you can get it down to four or five, maybe six. It looks a lot neater because it’s recessed into the wall at that point if we’re working with the builders to do that.

So from a new construction standpoint, you can hide many, many things, keep the piping inside the home, run it down through walls, run it down through chassis. We do this a lot in Boston, a lot in the city where, I’m going to call them new construction because these are homes built in the 18 and 1900s, but from a new construction standpoint, I was in one the other day where you had a four story brownstone home and I walked into it and I just looked up and it was a big empty shell. So they basically had the brick on all four sides, but nothing in the home. Empty. So now they build the home inside of the brick shell and it’s a brand new brownstone home. And that’s when we’re going in there, doing a rough, running everything in, perfect solution for what we’re doing. And then we’ve done new homes too as well with stick construction and we’re running things in there.

The good thing a lot of times with new construction is when you’re using an air handler and you are going to use a combination of duct work and possibly wall mount units or floor mount units or ceiling recess units as well, you’re working with a nice wide open space. You’ve got wood that can be altered if you want to have an opening for a certain indoor unit or an outdoor unit. Running ductwork is much easier because all the space is open. You’re just putting in registers and boxes. You’re doing rough ductwork in maybe a knee wall or an attic or something like that. It’s much faster and easier to work in a new construction standpoint than it is from an existing home. When you get into the older existing homes now and you’re installing an air source heat pump in there and maybe you’re doing a… Let’s take a system that maybe has wet heat.

You have radiators or a baseboard running around there. And let’s say it’s an old oil system, for the sake of discussion for today’s podcast, we might go up into the attic and put a ducted unit and hit the top floor, all the three bedrooms, with an air handler and then downstairs put two wall units. But we’ve got to really look at, okay, how are we going to get the piping to the outdoor unit outside? Where might a branch box go in the attic or the garage?

Nine times out of 10, you’re probably going to have some piping on the outside of the home unless we have some closets or chassis that might line up to get down into the basement or into a garage of some sort. But most times you are going to end up with some type of piping on the outside of the home and drains at that point. So definitely, from a new construction standpoint, it’s going to be a much cleaner installation on the outside of the home.

New Construction Allows You to Hide Ductwork More Easily

John: Right. So with that new construction, you’re able to kind of hide some of that duct work because you can install a lot of that stuff before you close up the walls and things like that.

Mike: Yeah. Most times, John, we’re going in when the framing is being done, right after… You’re going in, okay, when everyone’s doing the rough. Plumbers are doing the rough, they’re putting in the rough plumbing pipes in the walls. They’re putting the rough electrical in the walls. And we have a system devised for how we actually go in. And sometimes, most times we will hang a piece of blue board on the wall where a wall unit’s going to go if that’s the necessary indoor piece of equipment. That’s been chosen and we will actually mount the plate on the wall and drill out holes and get everything so when the construction is completed, we’re coming back and putting the indoor unit up onto the wall or down on the floor at that point or something at that point.

So it all depends on what’s happening. But newer construction is a much cleaner installation from a piping and ductwork perspective, because you’ve got a lot of wide open spaces. You get into the older homes and you’re working in an attic. Sometimes people have so much stuff in their attic, you can’t get to certain areas. Or a lot of times you get into these homes that were built in the 40s and 50s too. And a lot of the ceilings, they’re made of almost cement sheet rock, I guess I’m going to call it, where they’re about an inch thick where you’ve got to cut it with a buzz saw and you’ve got metal in between there and cutting these holes for the vents in the ceiling are very tedious. It’s dirty work. A lot of dust gets involved. Lot of dust contamination has to be done. So new construction’s cleaner sometimes than existing homes.

Is an Air Source Heat Pump the Right Choice for a New Home?

John: Right. So if anybody is considering building a new home, do you think that they should absolutely consider putting in an air source heat pump-

Mike: Oh, yeah.

John:     … System for heating and cooling?

Mike: Probably going to be multiple systems that you’re going to install. Because I mean, even when you look at the homes today that are being built, I mean, most homes today aren’t 1500 square feet, 2000 square foot homes that are being built today. It seems like those are the homes getting torn down and they’re building a five or 6,000 square foot home. So, that’s when you got to look at, okay, what are we going to install? How are we going to do it? How’s it going to be zoned out?

I mean, I’m seeing a lot of even housing complexes now that are being built. I saw a job in Boston the other day that was going on where it was, I think two or 300 housing units being built in Boston that were all being done with air source pumps today.

John: Wow.

Rebates for Installing Heat Pumps

Mike: So they’re electrifying. These cities are electrifying things and getting away from gas, getting away from oil and they’re moving to electrification. And the other thing, too, with new construction, you’ve also got to be looking at your rebates too, because if you’re not putting a furnace in a new construction home, you’re going to fall into those massive rebates of probably somewhere upwards of around 10,000, maybe even more, depending on what you’re doing, because you’re not putting the fossil fuel in there.

And then you got to look at how you’re going to heat the water too as well. I mean, air source water heaters are becoming a big, big thing. I’m seeing multiple manufacturers now coming out with air source heat pump water heaters. I saw one the other day. I don’t want to mention any manufacturers, but there are some of them now that have the DB rating on them. They’re as low as 50 DB as far as sound level goes. And they’re actually pretty sleek looking. Some of them look like a little refrigerator and the actual water heater goes in the space where people live. And it looks like an appliance and you’d say, “Oh, what’s that?” And you go, “Oh, that’s my water heater.” So we’re seeing a lot of different technology today. I mean, I can imagine what things are going to look like in the next 10 years.

I mean, I think this is just a growing, growing electrification market. I mean look back 10 years ago with electric cars and look where we’re at today. I mean, I’m watching commercials now with Ford on TV with electric vans and service vans. And this is not far away. This is not, not far away. It’s a changing world and they want things to be a lot cleaner than what we’ve been doing. Everything’s going to go to the net zero and carbon neutral footprints. And I mean, that’s all you’re hearing about today. And with air source heat pumps, I’m seeing many communities now are all gathering together. And there I was on a call last week where there’s an alliance that was put together out in the Concord Lexington area where there’s a group of people that are helping homeowners and trying to get them to electrify their homes. So, you’re going to see it. Not see it. I’m seeing it.

Contact NETR to Talk About Heating for New Construction Today

John: Right. Absolutely. All right. Well, that’s really great information, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Mike: John, thank you and have a good holiday.

John: You too. And for more information, visit the N.E.T.R. website at, or call 7-8-1, 9-3-3, N-E-T-R. That’s 7-8-1, 9-3-3, 6-3-8-7.