Applications for a Ductless Heat Pump (Podcast)

Applications for a Ductless Heat Pump

Mike Cappuccio, founder of N.E.T.R. Inc, talks with John Maher about different applications for ductless heat pumps. He explains why homeowners are replacing other heating and cooling methods with ductless, and he outlines how zone heating works.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, founder of N.E.T.R. Inc. Heating and Cooling Systems in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Today we’re talking about applications for a ductless heat pump. Welcome Mike.

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

Why Do People Replace Baseboard Heating With Ductless?

John: Good. So, Mike, there are a number of reasons why a homeowner might want to install a ductless heat pump or air source heat pump as it’s sometimes called. Let’s talk about each one of these. The first one is replacing existing electric baseboard heating in the home. Why would somebody want to replace those with a ductless or air source heat pump?

Mike: Well, electric baseboard heating, John, is probably the most expensive way to heat your home. Basically when we look at how we measure and how we rate air source heat pumps, it’s based on the co-efficiency of power. And when we rate baseboard electric heating, it’s basically one to one. So when we look at an air source heat pump of how that would heat your home, it’s like it’s upwards of four to one on the cost.

So I want you to imagine, it could be about 75% in savings at probably around 45 degrees outdoor temperature. When we get down to 20 degrees and 15 degrees, and we’ve done stats on this… on how many hours we have at certain cool temperatures in the Boston area. And you see that when you start measuring these hours, it’s probably somewhere around 20 and 40 degrees is the bulk of the winter hours. So that’s around two to three to one on the co-efficiency of power.

So what we usually see when we install an air source heat pump into a home with electric heat, there’s about a 50% savings. And you also get the air conditioning as well. So electric baseboard heat, it was more of a fad in the 70s. I’m going to say when they built a lot of homes in the 70s, there were a lot of homes that were built with all electric baseboard heat, because electricity was extremely cheap from like the 70s to the early 80s. And it also is super inexpensive to install upfront. Maybe you might pay $300 or $400 for an eight foot strip of electric baseboard heat that can heat an area and probably give you around 30,000 BTUs of heat out of that particular strip of electric baseboard heat.

But it is super expensive to operate. It’s like turning your toaster on all day long. When you look at it, it gets very hot. Sometimes they actually glow red, to be honest with you… it’s just not an efficient way to heat a home. You see that more now and we see that in like a three season room or something like that, where someone adds electric baseboard heat to the room to heat it in the winter time. And then, they’re not using the space all the time. You still do see some older homes that are full electric.

Replacing Forced Air Heating With Ductless

John: Right? Absolutely. So the next one is very similar, replacing electric resistance, forced air heating. I think what we’re talking about here is those like coils, you might have in your duct work, where the air is flowing over them and it’s heating up. And again that toaster analogy that you said, I think those coils are just heating up. Why would you want to replace those?

Mike: Well, you see this more in properties like condominiums. We see a lot of condominiums that had heat pumps that were built in the 80s and 90s, where there was no gas available or there was gas available but again, its cost was high. When the builders were building these condominiums, they put in heat pumps and there were heat pumps that only heated to around 30 degrees.

At 30 degrees, they started to lose a ton of capacity. And what were they going to do below 30 degrees? They couldn’t heat your home. So they put electric resistance heat in the duct work. It was basically a duct heater or backup electric heater that would be installed with the heat pump and that would come on when the temp dropped below 20 degrees. You would start seeing this little light come on the thermostat that would say emergency heat. And he was saying, okay, well, what’s the emergency?

What does that mean? And that means that the electric resistance heat is on all the time. And you see this a lot too, when sometimes the unit is low on refrigerant, it can’t heat the home and the electric resistance heat comes on. Now, we have systems that do not need backup electric heat to work. We have ducted heat pumps that heat at minus five degrees with no problem at all. They’ll give you the 40,000 or the 48,000 BTUs that’s required to heat your home without any backup electric resistance heat, because they’re inverted driven heat pumps that can heat at those low temperatures. They’re hyper heating systems that do work. So you remove the electric resistance heat, you remove that system, and replace it with a new system and it becomes much more efficient. Also the SEER rating is a lot higher.

Most of the SEER ratings… when you look at the seasonal energy efficiency ratio on that, those will probably 10 SEER  or maybe eight SEER when they were installed. And now, you can get those up as high as 25 SEER where the efficiency on them is just so much greater and they’re not on and off systems where they’re going on and off with the temperature. They’re more inverter driven where the compressors in the units are speeding up and slowing down to give you the efficiency and what the home needs. That’s a very, very common thing that we see a lot now, where a lot of that resistance heat’s being removed. It’s the most inefficient way to heat your home, I can be honest with you.

Using Ductless Heating Systems in Additions

John: So the next application for a ductless heat pump is heating and air conditioning and bonus rooms and additions, which is I think a very common place for ductless units to be installed.

Mike: Yeah, you see, and this is not a trend. This is happening every single day. We probably do one or two of these a week, where contractors or homeowners have put an addition onto the back of the home and it needs heating. Maybe we see so much construction going on today. Again, we’re into this new construction phase where the room’s being built a lot tighter. We’re not using two by four construction anymore. We’re using two by six construction with that. It’s got new windows. It’s probably got a very low heat loss in there. So most times you’re seeing… not most times… all the time, you’re seeing that no one is adding a zone of forced hot water to this with a plumber coming out there, just adding heat to that room, because most people want to have heating and air conditioning in that space, because they already have air conditioning in the home.

And you can’t add a 400 square foot addition to a home and then expect, oh, put a vent off the existing system and just put a vent in the room. Well, that’s not going to work because you’re taking away from the system that was sized right for your home, you might have a 2000 square foot home and it’s sized properly with the air conditioning for 2000 square feet. Now you’re asking for another 400 square feet to work with that same air conditioner. It’s not going to work and you don’t have any heat out there as well.

So it’s the ideal application for a ductless unit at that point. And the good thing about new construction as we’ve spoken about in another podcast is that, piping and drains and everything can go into the walls. You can get in there when the rough is going on. Keep it nice and neat. So you don’t have any piping on the outside of the addition and away you go with a great, nice way to heat and cool the space.

Heat Pumps for Whole Home Heating and Cooling

John: Speaking of new construction, the next application for a heat pump system would be in a newly constructed home. And that might be more of a whole home heating and cooling system. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Mike: Yeah, it is a whole home heating and cooling system. I’m going to call it a zone comfort system at that point, because you’re going to come in there, look at the home, break it into zones, break the bedrooms into zones, break the living areas into zones where you’re doing a lot of living and break out, okay, what are we’re going to do wall units, ceiling units, ducted units. How are we going to break this home down?

But new construction is… again, it’s going to be something that is a booming area now of this air source heat pump trend with everything that we’re moving to with zero carbon neutral footprints and everything and electrification. It’s coming in. It can absolutely be done. We do it every day, but it’s a good way to heat and cool your home.

Replacing Gas Furnaces With Ductless Heat Pumps

John: The next application is replacing or supplementing existing gas furnaces. So if you have a gas furnace system and you want to either supplement that or replace that with a heat pump system, how does that work?

Mike: This is a trend that we’ve seen come up, John, over the last four to five years where the supplemental of a gas furnace is being worked with, or even an oil furnace or people who have oil boilers in their home and stuff where they’re putting supplemental air source, heat pumps into their homes.

And what’s happening is with the rebate companies, now with those offers, and if you’re putting in integrated controls…

John: What is an integrated control?

Mike: An integrated control does exactly what I just said. It integrates with the existing system and you use the air source heat pump to heat above 30 degrees, and below 30 degrees, you use the existing gas furnace to heat the home. Now these are older homes that aren’t as tight as a new home and the system isn’t big enough to heat the whole entire home, you could put a system to do that.

We have removed furnaces and oil tanks from homes to do that, but you would need a larger capacity BTU system to heat the whole entire home, which can be done. This might be half of what you’re trying to do, but again, at those 47 degrees and 30 degree marks outside, you can use your air source heat pump, which is probably going to be less expensive over the next few years with the rising costs of natural gas. I’ve spoken about this in some other podcasts where natural gas has gone up 50%. And I think you’re going to continue to see it go up in price. And the heat pumps are going to cost less to heat with that at that point.

So what you do is you integrate it with the system and let the heat pump do most of the heating. But you’ve got to be careful with integrating with this because you’ve also got to consider the basements of a home and where a boiler might be. You’ve got a lot of water pipes of these older homes in a basement and things like that, where the boiler in the basement was giving the basement residual heat to heat the actual space. So you’ve got to be a little cautious and really look at the applications because you don’t want pipes freezing all over the place. So you got to get that boiler running every now and then to get the water circulating, get the basement warm.

Replacing Window or Central AC With Heat Pumps

John: Alright. And then our final application for heat pumps is replacing existing window air conditioning units, or even replacing a central air conditioning unit. Talk a little bit about that.

Mike: Yeah, well, I want to start with the central air conditioning one first. Well, I mean most central air conditioning is installed in homes that have another source of heat. So that’s usually a wet source of heat. That’s usually baseboards or radiators and someone has added central air conditioning to the home. They don’t have a furnace. They’re not using the furnace to use those ducts to heat and cool; they’re just using them to cool with.

By adding an air source heat pump that is a ducted unit and replacing that central air conditioning system. Now you have supplemented the system that you have with an air source heat pump using the existing duct work. And you can integrate that too as well with integrated controls. So that’s a very common thing that we’re seeing now a lot where you’re going out to replace a central air conditioning system where it might be, whoa, wait a minute, time out.

Let’s just go, let’s look at this a little bit different because now with these rebates and the things that you’re seeing, you would probably want to heat your home with this, especially if from the cost perspective, it also cleans up the air. That’s a good application to look at that for. And then moving to the window units, that’s a common thing that you see every summer. That becomes the big push in April, May and June, when people look at, oh, I don’t want to go get my window units, take them out of the cellar or get them out of the basement, and put them into every window and every room in my house. And that’s probably the most inefficient way to air condition your home. It’s loud, and it’s shaking the windows. They basically ruin your window frames.

We go in and put in ductless in these homes… that’s usually a ductless application where you’re putting wall units in place of where window units would go, or you could be replacing a ducted system as well. It really depends on how the home lays out, but it’s a very common application of where you would install an air source heat pump. And then think of it from the perspective of the heating side. Now I’m installing air conditioning, but I’m also giving you a supplemental source of heating too, as well.

And we find a lot of people end up using those to heat their home a lot because they might just be living in one area. For example, they put a ductless system into their home and they might put a unit in their master bedroom and they decide, oh, I’m going to heat my bedroom with that at nighttime, when I go to bed and I’m going to turn the heating system down in the house, or I’ve got one thermostat, I might turn that down to 50 degrees at night, keep the house on a programmable thermostat, set that back from maybe 10 or 11 o’clock at night when you go to bed till five or six in the morning in the coldest time when the house is really heating, using as when it’s dark and cold, the sun’s not out. That’s when your furnace and your boiler uses the most heat.

So you can cut that back at night, reduce that cost and just put your air source heat pump on in your bedroom, keep that at 68 degrees, close the door, stay comfortable in one zone. It’s very inefficient to heat the spot. And you can do that with a unit. I don’t want to get into the complicated details, but there’s a unit, you can do that with, that is very inexpensive.

John: Alright. Well, it’s amazing how many different applications there are for air source heat pumps.

Mike: Lots of different things, John, when you look at how you can use these, we’ve seen it all in all different types of applications.

Contact NETR to Talk About Ductless Heat Pumps

John: Well, great. That’s great information, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Mike: Thank you, John.

John: And for more information, you can visit the N.E.T.R. website at or call 781-933-6387.