Ductless Heat Pumps and Whole Home Electrification (Podcast)

In this podcast, Brett Rogenski talks with John Maher about how ductless heat pumps fit into whole home electrification. He explains how they work and why they’re so efficient. Then, he talks about making your home’s electricity more environmentally friendly.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher. I’m here today with Brett Rogenski, General Manager 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 heat pumps and whole home electrification. Welcome, Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Thank you very much for having me, John.

Heat Pumps and Electrification: The Connection

John: Sure. So Brett, can you start with a little bit of an overview about what ductless heat pumps are and how they fit into the broader concept of electrifying everything in a home?

Brett: Sure. So heat pumps are an alternative source of heating and cooling. So the beauty of heat pumps is they can both act as your home’s primary source of heat as well as a cooling system. So typically if we think of a more traditional home, we think of a furnace and an air conditioning system, two separate things that share some ductwork.

How Heat Pumps Work

A heat pump literally does both in one thing. And how it works is a heat pump’s really self-explanatory in the title is it moves heat from one place to the other. So a heat pump when it’s in its cooling mode is taking the warm air in a room. It’s being absorbed by that heat pump head in the room, and it’s heating up the refrigerant that’s in the lines that go to that head. It’s then taking that hot refrigerant, which is in a gas form, and bringing it out to the outdoor condenser, releasing that heat, which then lets the refrigerant cool down, turn back into a liquid, which is then pumped back in and the cycle keeps repeating. So you’re literally taking heat out of the room and releasing it outside.

In the heating mode, it works in exactly the opposite way. Even on the coldest days, there’s heat in the ambient air outside that’s being collected and concentrated at the condenser, as well as any heat from mechanical heat that’s being produced at the condenser by the compressor running and stuff. And that is then heating that refrigerant, which is then being pumped into the house, into that indoor head and released into the space that you’re warming, and then when it condenses down, or the refrigerant then turns to a liquid again, it’s brought back outside and the cycle repeats.

Heat Pumps Vs. Traditional HVAC

So heat pumps literally move heat from one place to the other, whether we’re moving it out of the house in the summer to make it cooler or into the house in the winter to make it warmer. Compared to a furnace, which most of us can think of, where when it’s cooling, we’re pulling warm air from the room through ductwork and down to the furnace, and there’s a coil in the furnace that is chilled and it’s then absorbing that heat and pumping it outside, and we send the cooled air back into the room.

And then in the heating cycle, it’s very similar in that now we’re burning, let’s say it’s a natural gas furnace, we’re burning natural gas, which is heating up a heat exchanger, and we’re taking the cool air from the room, dragging it across the heat exchanger, and then pushing it back to the room, kind of losing some heat all along the way.

So that’s very inefficient because we’re literally moving air to the heat or to the cold and then pushing it back in the room as opposed to a heat pump where we’re literally taking the heat and depositing it in the room. We’re not moving the air or vice versa. In the summer we’re taking the heat out of the room and depositing it outside. That’s one of the key differences in heat pumps versus traditional heating systems and cooling systems as well.

Heat Pumps Run Extremely Efficiently on Electricity

And how does that contribute towards whole home electrification? Well, there’s no fossil fuel involved. Heat pumps are running, you’re running a compressor strictly on electricity, and they are tremendously efficient. So they are, depending on models and stuff, they’re three to four times more efficient than a gas furnace, for instance, even a high-efficiency furnace. So it allows you to now fully heat and cool your home in any comfort parameter without having to burn fossil fuels to achieve that.

Environmentally Friendly Benefits of Heat Pumps

John: So you said that the heat pumps are more energy efficient. How do they also contribute to an environmentally friendly home? Obviously we’re not burning fossil fuels, but are there other factors that contribute to an environmentally friendly home when you switch over to a ductless heating and cooling system?

Brett: Sure. On one front, with the environmentally friendly, we are improving indoor air quality. We’re no longer burning fossil fuels in our home that can release noxious chemicals or release exhaust, which could obviously… We unfortunately every year hear about people who suffer an ill fate because of a poorly ventilated system. So we’re improving the indoor air quality.

Now, from an overall quality, we’re helping reduce our carbon footprint because to your point, we’re not burning fossil fuels. You can also even bring it further up the scale from that and involve solar in your home to help fuel these. If we think of electricity as fuel, which it really is, to help fuel these by simply taking photoelectric that is driving solar cells and helping drive our equipment.

The other option is that both in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire, people have the right to choose their electric supplier. So the same company’s bringing it to your house, where you can choose the source. And there’s a lot of great options there where you can choose clean energy as well for bringing to your home. So whether it be wind energy, whether it be photoelectric energy, whatever it is, solar energy, that’s all available to you so you can get even greener at the source of the electric if you choose to as well.

Advantages of Ductless Heat Pumps

John: What are some of the key advantages of ductless heat pumps for homeowners who might be considering switching over to whole home electrification?

Brett: Sure. I think the greatest advantage of heat pumps is comfort, to be honest with you. They work on an inverter. I guess, the easiest way to describe this is the difference between stop and go driving, driving from stoplight to stoplight in the city versus maybe getting on the highway and setting your cruise control.

Improved Comfort

So your traditional furnace typically is like stop and go driving. So the thermostat gets to a low enough point, so you’re starting to get cool, maybe a little uncomfortable. The furnace kicks on, it then goes until it satisfies the thermostat and then it kicks off and maybe you end up a little warm. We’ve all felt that in a home where it’s getting a little cool, the furnace comes on, oh, it runs for a while, and now I’m like, Ooh, I’m getting a little warm up. It kicks off and it’s on off, on off, very binary.

A heat pump works on an inverter, which basically goes up and down, and it allows a very low margin. So instead of being like a big sine wave, it’s actually just a little wave. So if you have the temperature, for instance, set at 72, it might go up to 73, it might go as low as 71, but it’s going to hover very close to 72 at all times, and it will speed up and produce more heat when it has to work harder, and it’ll slow down and produce less heat or cooling when it has to work less, as opposed to a furnace or traditional air conditioner, which is either on or off until it satisfies that thermostat.

Increased Efficiency

So comfort is one of the biggest things that you actually gain with the electrification as well as the increased efficiency. And for most people, there’s a savings versus their fossil fuel costs as well.

Heating and Cooling With Whisper-Quiet Operation

John: Yeah. And then another consideration too, or another advantage would be, like you said before, we’re replacing not just maybe a fossil fuel heating system, but also an air conditioning system as well. And a lot of people still don’t have central air in their homes. They might still be throwing window air conditioners in their windows of their home during the summer, and those things are very inefficient. And not just that, but very loud as well, and annoying. And these ductless heat pumps and air conditioners are just whisper quiet, right?

Brett: They literally are. So yeah, that’s a great point. So first of all, there’s the efficiency, a lot of times when folks are thinking about a heat pump system, you do have to remember exactly that, John, from an investment point of view, you’re putting two systems into one.

You’re not just replacing a heating system or a cooling system. This thing’s going to do both of them for you with a very long lifespan and exactly that. Now, you may not have central air and putting it in, maybe you have a boiler in your home so there’s no ductwork to put in. Central air would involve a pretty significant construction project to put ductwork all over your home.

John: Sure.

Brett: With heat pumps, we use the refrigerant line, typically encased either in spots in the house or on the outside of the house, and we run it to that space, and you can now have heating and cooling in every room without needing ductwork. So yeah, you actually gain that additional comfort with that. It’s really tremendous.

And the whisper quiet part is probably the single largest compliment that we get is, to your point, a window air conditioner gets kind loud. So you got this big old window air conditioner in your living room and it’s loud. So now what do we do? We turn up the TV so we can hear it over the air conditioner, and suddenly your house is just loud. Okay?

The indoor heads for a heat pump are typically between 30 and 40 decibels. And to give you an idea of that, a whisper is literally 30 decibels, a human whisper. So 30 to 40 decibels, so much, much quieter than that window shaker air conditioner, as well as the fact that you’re now not turning up the TV to hear over it.

Cost of Installing Electric Ductless Heat Pumps

John: Absolutely. Yeah. So what about in terms of cost considerations? What kind of cost is associated with installing ductless heat pumps in a home, and how do these costs compare to traditional heating and cooling systems?

Brett: Sure. The costs compare quite favorably. I mean, it’s really the cost of the equipment and the cost of installation. The beauty of ductless is that the installation compared to putting in ductwork or anything like that, or pipes for boilers and that sort of thing, it’s much less labor intensive than putting in a traditional central heating or cooling system or a boiler system. So the cost is typically on par or lower than the cost of a conventional system, and then the cost of operation is lower over time as well.

Now, combine that with incentivization, with Mass Save, there are rebates and incentives up to $10,000 to move to a completely air source heat pumped based heating system in your home. As well as there’s federal tax credits available through the Inflation Reduction Act that homeowners can claim as well. In addition, in Massachusetts, if you do move to a heat pump based system for your home, you can also qualify for an 84-month zero-interest heat loan as well. The costs are very much on par, and then there’s a lot of incentives available to you that help make heat pumps a really great decision.

Why You Should Work With an Expert

John: Okay. Any final advice or tips for homeowners that might be interested in exploring ductless heat pumps as part of their journey toward whole home electrification?

Brett: Sure. You know what? The biggest advice I have is to work with people who have a lot of experience in doing heat pumps. Not every company is the same. We certainly pride ourselves on what we do, and we’ve been doing heat pumps for decades now.

But take a look at any contractor that you may choose to entertain, see how long they’ve been specifically doing heat pumps, see what their certifications are with the manufacturers, and go to the reviews. Go check out their Google reviews and see do they have five people who said they did an okay job, or do they have hundreds of people who said they did a wonderful job? But look at who you choose to partner with. Don’t just base it on price because there’s a lot more to it. There’s price and there’s value, and a good contractor can bring you value.

Contact N.E.T.R., Inc. to Talk about Ductless Heat Pumps

John: All right, well that’s great advice. Thanks again for speaking with me today, Brett.

Brett: Thanks, John.

John: And for more information, visit the N.E.T.R. website at netrinc.com or call (781)-933-NETR, that’s (781)-933-6387.