Homeowners are often tempted to install ductless heating and cooling systems on their own to save some money. Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R., Inc., discusses why professionally installed ductless heating and cooling systems are superior to those installed by an unqualified homeowner.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R. Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts for the focus on Mitsubishi Ductless Heating and Cooling products. Today we’re talking about how much a ductless heating and cooling system costs. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Cappuccio: Good morning John, how are you?
John: Good. Mike, what is the cost of a ductless heating and cooling system?
Mike: Well, we’ve got a couple of different types of systems John. What I tell people is the single zone system with one indoor and one outdoor unit, those could range anywhere from, I don’t know, $2,500 to $3,000 up to $7,000 to $10,000 depending on what you’re trying to do in your home. There are a multi-zone systems which are devised of one outdoor unit and multiple indoor units. They start at two indoor units and one outdoor unit, and they can go up to one outdoor unit with eight indoor units. Now, those costs get a little bit more costly, that can start at anywhere at around $7,000 depending on what you’re trying to do in your home, and that can go up to $30,000 depending on the type of home, where you live, and what type of work has to be done in the home with that point.
Determining the Right Size System for Your Home
John: Right, and does it matter, I’m sure, how big your home is, how many BTU you need in order to heat or cool your home that sort of thing, and that’s factors into that range.
Mike: Exactly, yes, because you can go anywhere from a 20,000 BTU unit up to a 60,000 BTU unit depending on what we’re trying to do in that home, and also it depends on — I’m I doing a single storey home, I’m doing a three-storey home, am I doing a two-storey home, I’m I doing a triple-Decker in Charles Town somewhere or I’m I doing a single family ranch out in Bleecker or Tewksbury, a lot of that … more ladders, more time, more labor, things like that that go into that job, and the difficulty of the job, too.
Cost Breakdown of a Ductless Heating and Cooling System
John: Okay. When I went online and I looked at some ductless heating and cooling systems, it looked like I could get a unit for $1,500. Where does this $30,000 come from or even the 25 to $4,000 for a single unit cost that you are talking about come from?
Mike: Well, that’s a great question John, we get that question all the time in a home, and I love to answer that question with homeowners because, yes, you can go online and buy a $1,500 unit, you absolutely can do that, but there are a lot of pros and a lot of cons to that. We see a lot of things that happen with the do-it-yourselfers that do go on and buy that, but some things I can explain to you with that is, that that would be a single zone unit, and that would probably cost you probably somewhere at around $4,500 in your home. There’s a lot that goes into that: the additional $3,000 that you’re asking me about is devised of a lot of different things. The first thing is, we need to put manpower out there on that job, we’ve got to probably put maybe two guys out on that job for the course of one day, and that can cost us anywhere from $600 to $750, our cost to put someone out there at your home to do that, the second —
John: — There’s labor and there’s the installation.
Mike: Yes, there’s labor involved in that, and the other thing that you are not seeing online with that is, these units need accessories to be put together from the indoor and outdoor unit, you need electrical, you need line-hide to cover the piping on the outside of the home, you need refrigerant piping, you need additional refrigerant, you need drain holes, you need check valves, you need wall sleeves, there’s a lot that —
John: — All of that doesn’t come with the unit when you buy it?
Mike: No, no, that doesn’t come with that, and the other thing is, you as the homeowner you really don’t know what accessories you need. That’s what we know as the professionals: what size accessories do you need, what size lines do you need, what stands or pads or whips or line-hide, and disconnect switches, things like that that come with that. We are the professional, we know what that needs, that’s up to us to do that when we come out. That’s basically what we call engineering and design. I hate to say this to a homeowner, but engineering and designing is not free. When we say there’s a free estimate, there are costs associated with a free estimate, we have to send someone out to the home to look at it, do design, do a load calculation, determine what size unit you need for that space.
You might think you need a 9,000 BTU unit, in reality, the sun might be hitting a big window in that room that you haven’t even accounted for, and that could be a 15 or 18,000 BTU unit. That’s where we come in as the professionals and say, “Okay, there are some engineering and design cost associated with that.” Then, the comfort consultant that will come out to your home, he gets paid on a commission basis for doing his engineering and designing, there’s probably a $200 to $300 involved in that, that he’s going to get paid to do that.
Issues with Installing a Ductless Heating and Cooling System Yourself
John: And it’s important to do that because you want to have this unit installed correctly, you don’t want to have like you said a 7,500 BTU unit installed in your room, and then find out it doesn’t even cool your room off.
Mike: John, I’ve seen many cases where people have bought something online, and they call us and say our system isn’t working, and we go out to the home, and it’s grossly undersized. It wasn’t engineered right, they thought they were buying the right thing, they just bought it on the size of the space, they didn’t account for windows, excessive heat loads, there are a lot of things that come into that, and that’s why you want the professionals at N.E.T.R. to come out and do your engineering and design. Some of the other things that are involved in it too is, you are going to need an electrician to wire this for you, an electrician needs to run power from a main panel to the outside of the building, that cost me $400 to $450 to hire an electrician to do that.
John: I’m not just plugging this into my wall, it’s not that kind of thing?
Mike: No, there’s no 110-volt plug that you plug into the wall, and then as a contractor — as a licensed contractor — we have to get permits to do this in certain towns, we need certain permits to do certain things, and then we have to pay sales tax to the state as well. When you start adding all these things up, you’ve got sales tax, permits, electrical cost, labor costs, accessories. As a company, we incur overhead costs, we have workman’s compensation insurance, so God forbid if something does happen out at your home, a lot of what you do-it-yourselfers … you hire someone online and they slip and fall off a ladder at your home, you are responsible, you are legally responsible for that person if he gets hurt in your yard. The other thing is liability insurance, God forbid something happens, what if a fire starts, what if they wire something wrong electrically, or something like that, and God forbid, and you have to have a liability claim, I don’t know many online installers that have liability insurance. We have liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, when our trucks are parked in your driveway, we have insurance for our vehicles.
That’s all part of buying a system from a licensed and insured contractor. Yes, it’s more money, but that’s what we do, we are the professionals that do that. The other thing is, if there’s a problem six months down the line you call us, we come out and look at it, there’s a one year warranty on the complete system, there’s 12 years parts on it that — God forbid they don’t … an online installer can’t register your system online because they are not a dealer. At some point, we can get the additional five to six years warranty on the parts to do that. In reality, you are saving money in the long run when you look out five or six years down the line, and now some of the cons to this with the online-buying something online. This is going to come on a common carrier to you, it’s going to be delivered to you in truck or trailer, and some of these units weigh a couple hundred of pounds, if are at work and your wife is home, I hope she can lift 200 pounds off the truck or trailer that day, and then not even know what the accessories are, and if there’s any damages to that, that got shipped by a common carrier or something like that.
John: There’s a lot of things that you guys know how to deal with.
Mike: We know how to deal with these things when shipping, in damages, in warranty claims, a lot of stuff too. A lot of people go online and they buy a unit online, we see the do-it-yourselfer, and we hear all these nightmares all the time, and the people say, “Our unit doesn’t run.” We go out to the home, we look at it from a service perspective, and they’ve got a 50 Hertz unit out there, they’ve got a unit that’s trying to run on overseas electricity, they don’t even know —
John: — It’s made for Europe.
Mike: — it’s made for Europe, yes, because a lot of these online sellers are all over the world. They are not selling Unites States branded equipments, it’s not 60 Hertz, there’s a lot of things that go into this. Again a lot —
John: — Stuff that the average person won’t even think of.
Mike: — Won’t even think of. They just see something online and they go and buy it, and they don’t know the accessories, they don’t know all these things.
John: If I wanted to try to do this myself I might be able to save a little bit in the overhead and profit, and things like that that you guys are making, but I’m still going to have to pay for accessories, and labor — not the labor, but the electrician who has to come in, and the permits, the tax, that sort of thing, but then I really run the risk of not putting in the right equipment, not getting it installed properly, not having the right kind of unit for my home that I need, and like you said, in the long term, that’s going to cost me a lot more when I have to completely redo my whole system because it’s not working right.
Factoring in the Price of Labor
Mike: I deal with them every day, and the other thing too … it’s from the labor perspective. Okay, yes, well if you use yourself to do your labor, well, John there’s a lot of special tools that you are going to need, too.
John: That’s true.
Mike: There’s a lot of special tools you are going to need to do the refrigeration flaring, and certain things that we do special. These are special tools you don’t have, refrigeration gauges, vacuum pumps, you as a do-it-yourselfer, are not going to be able to do this if you don’t have air conditioning tools, these are special tools, and again those are tools that our company buys, that are in the trucks, that are covered in the overhead cost. These are a lot of things that homeowners don’t look at, they just think, this is two pipes, and hook it up and go on, it’s not a window that you just plug into the wall and turn the switch on. There’s a lot more involved that. We’re the professionals. We do this every day. We’ve installed thousands of ductless systems. We know how to do this. We do it right. We do it right the first time.
Multiple Unit Discounts
John: All right. If I wanted to put multiple units into my home, can I get a cost savings on if I buy five of them or something like that at once? Do I get a little bit less per unit than if I just bought one?
Mike: Yes. Absolutely. Well, at that point, you’re not buying multiple outdoor yards, you’re only buying one outdoor unit versus the indoor unit. You’re not buying all of these outdoor units to put outside of the house. You’re just basically just paying for the indoor unit and the labor to hook up that indoor unit to the outdoor unit.
John: That’s probably important to think of too, that if you’re going to do this and you think down the road that, “Well, I really only want this in one room right now but maybe in a year or two I might want to do it in my bedroom to maybe the kid’s playroom or something like that.” You really should do [it] probably right upfront rather than waiting and having to upgrade your system later?
Mike: Well, there’s a couple ways you can look at that. We can put in a example. So you wanted to do three zones now and you want the possibility of doing that fourth zone later. We can give you a four port condenser that you can go do that with later on. Again, that’s going to be another trip out to the home, so it is going to cost you more to get that fourth unit installed but sometimes that’s up to the home. Yes, we can give them the capability of doing that but, God, I can’t tell you how many times we sold someone a three-zone system without the fourth port because they were trying to save money in the beginning and then they’re like, “Oh, jeez, we want to do that four-zone.”
I can’t tell you how many ductless systems we go back and add more zones into a home with because the people just love the product.
John: Now you have to replace that whole condenser and that’s something … from the outside.
Mike: You have to replace the whole condenser or you have to add another condenser.
John: And they might have two outside.
Mike: Now, you might have two outside. These are some things you really need to think about when you’re going to install a ductless system in your home.
Loans and Financing Opportunities
John: Okay. Can I get a loan to cover the cost of installing a ductless system? It can get fairly expensive like in a heating, cooling system?
Mike: Yes. We have 0% interest loans for 18 months. We have loans up to five years. The other thing, too, with the loans are there’s a lot of programs going on with Mass Save right now. There’s a Mass Save loans for certain systems so you can get 0% for up to seven years in a home through the state. It’s a little bit of a time constraint program that you have to get involved in. We have to come out to the home, look at the home, size the home.
Then you have to present our proposal. You have to pick your contractor, present your proposals to Mass Save, they approve the system, and then they have a series of small banks in Massachusetts that you can work with as a homeowner to go get the 0% loan for seven years. There’s a lot of good programs that are going on out there along with the programs that we offer too.
John: Do you help homeowners to go through that Mass Save program?
Mike: Absolutely. That’s part of what we do. We’re a Mass CEC contractor so we have the ability to — we get that approved with you. We’re working side-by-side with you getting the paperwork we need for you to get that. We do this every day with homeowners. It’s a complete packet and process that we work with. We know all the steps to how to get you that loan. There’s some things you’re going to need to do on your part too. We can’t go the bank for you to apply that loan. You know what I mean?
John: That would be nice.
Mike: You can try.
Energy Cost Savings of a Ductless Heating and Cooling System
John: What about cost savings in terms of energy cost? That plays into the overall cost of installing a ductless heating and cooling system would be maybe the energy savings that I might expect over the next certain number of years. If I have window units that I put in my home now, air conditioning units, and I have you come in and installed a ductless system instead, what kind of cost savings should I expect?
Mike: Just think right out of the gate. If you have eight window units, John, you have eight compressors running. If we put one ductless unit outside that runs eight units inside the home when it’s an inverted-driven system that speeds up and slows down as needed. We only have one compressor outside. On average, I’ve seen homes anywhere from 40% to 60% on energy savings on air conditioning.
On the heating side, if you have an oil heated home or a gas heated home — gas heated home you’re probably going to use your gas on the cold, cold days but you can zone your home with this and just run your Mitsubishi system for your heating system on days where it’s down to 20 degrees at points in times if you don’t have the hyper heating product. We’ve seen gas savings of up to 30% on people’s gas bills, oil bills. We’ve done a lot of oil heated homes and basically put in Mitsubishi systems in there. We see anywhere from 40% to 60% savings on oil bills in the winter time with our system.
John: Both on the air conditioning and the heating?
Mike: Yes. You’re saving on both sides. God, sometimes that could even be paying the loan that you have for the seven years.
John: You could actually save that much that you’re able to be able to pay the loan off with it. Amazing. All right. That’s really great information, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Mike: Thanks, John.