The Cost of Ductless Heating and Cooling Systems in and around Boston

In this discussion with Mike Cappuccio of N.E.T.R., Inc., Mike talks about the cost of ductless heating and cooling systems in and around Boston, saving money by ramping back on power instead of turning on and off, and the factors that go into determining the price of a ductless system.

John: Hi I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner 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 the cost of a ductless heating and cooling system in and around Boston. Welcome Mike.

Mike: Hey John. Thanks for having me in this morning.

Do Ductless Systems Save Energy?

John: Sure. Mike, do ductless systems save energy compared to traditional systems?

Mike: Yes, they definitely save energy. Let me explain a little bit how. Ductless heating and cooling systems are relatively new to the United States right now. When we probably go back 10 years ago, 4% of people know about them. Right now about 47% of people in the United States know about them. But I want to explain to you a little bit about them.

A traditional heating and air conditioning system today in a home, it runs…basically it’s considered an on and off system. When the system runs, it runs as one thermostat in the home, the outdoor unit compressor comes on, you hear it come on outside, and it runs. When the temperature gets to 70 to 72 degrees, whatever you have your thermostat set for, the compressor outside shuts off. Sometimes the fan inside the home turns off, sometimes it stays on, depending if you’re on “auto” or “fan” on the home, and it cools the home down.

Typically, in the summertime, that is the most expensive energy that you’re buying in the summertime, is your heating and cooling system that cools the home.

A lot of times you’re cooling parts of your home that you don’t live in. Examples: you have a home office, let’s say, and you work in that home office today and you might have a computer in there, a television screen, and some things that generate heat. Say you have two children and your wife. Your wife goes off to work, your two children go to school, you’re home in the home office all day, and you’re running the heating and cooling system all day to cool one small space in the home.

Most of the time you’re going to turn the thermostat down even more on the temperature to keep that one space cool. Very big waste of energy to do that in the course of a day.

John: Because you’re heating or cooling your entire house when really you only need that one room.

Mike: You’re in one area for six to seven hours during the day, but you’re cooling the whole entire home and you’re not in that space. With a Mitsubishi system, with a ductless system, it’s a lot different. What we’re doing is we’re creating “zone comfort”.

What we’re doing is, we’re going into each space of the home, each room of the home, or each area of the home, and we’re putting in, basically, its own air conditioning system or heating system, whatever could be in that particular space in the home. When you’re not in certain areas in the home, you can either turn those zones off, turn them down in temperature and be comfortable in the space where you are working. Example: you can put your office at 68 degrees and have the rest of the house at 78 degrees.

We’ve gone into a lot of homes too now that already have a traditional heating and cooling system, and we find that people are hot or cold in certain areas of their home, and that’s where we might put in one zone of Mitsubishi electric heating and cooling system. Or we might do a whole entire system in a home. It depends on the situation. Our systems don’t go on and off, they run on what’s called their inverter-driven technology. It’s almost like cruise control in your car.

Example: when you run out your car onto the highway you push the accelerator all the way down you get up to 70 miles an hour and then you kind of back off the gas pedal and you see the rpm’s drop in your car. It’s very similar with the Mitsubishi inverter-driven technology that we have today. The compressor speeds up real quick. It ramps up real fast, it cools down the room and then it goes into an inverter mode. It kicks the hertz back on the electricity and it just runs at a nice smooth speed. Our compressors speed up and slow down, they don’t run at one speed and then go on and off.

That’s how we maintain the temperature in the room. It’s a very, very efficient system.

John: So that saves energy when you’re not just going full blast and then off and then full blast and then off. It saves a lot of energy that way.

Mike:  A typical amount of hertz that a traditional unitary brand system runs at is 60 Hz. We can run as low as 25 to 30 Hz of electricity when we’re running. All of our compressors are DC volt compressors, not AC compressors. It’s almost like a battery-driven compressor, not a plug in type of compressor.

John: So the two main ways that ductless systems save energy is by ramping back on the electricity usage and not turning on and off, and then also by zoning out your home so that you’re only heating or cooling the specific rooms that you need at that time.

Mike: Exactly. It’s almost like, John, why would you go into your home and — when we were kids our parents are coming back to us and saying, “Hey shut the lights off, shut the lights off in that room, were not in that room.” Well, we’re doing that with a traditional air conditioning system. We’re heating and cooling those parts of the [house] that we’re not in. We only have one big light switch in the house, and it’s your thermostat.

We’re all concerned about the lights, but we’re not so concerned about the heating and cooling system, which is using the most energy in the home.

John: It’s like having one light switch that you walk into the house and turn every single light of the house on.

Mike: We could even put it on — and we could even consider it a dimmer too. We can put a dimmer in that room and just turn the temperature down in that one space. It really gets the zone comfort. It’s almost like exactly like I said, do you turn 12 lights on in your home and walk out of those rooms? No. Do you turn on one faucet and does water come out of four of them? No, it’s a zone solution.

Determining the Price of a Ductless System

John: What are some of the factors that go into determining the price of a ductless system?

Mike: Well that’s a good question, John. A lot of factors go into the cost when we look at a home. You can live out in the suburbs, and I can pull my truck right into your driveway, I can take the condenser out, and I can walk around the back of your house. You could live in Boston in a six-story brownstone and you’re going to be on the first floor and I have to get the condenser to the roof. That’s six stories up. I have to have either a crane come out there and lift that up to the roof or I have to have two guys lug that up to the roof.

A lot of those labor costs get involved in that. A lot of height in pipe runs determine the cost. Also, the sizing of the system determines the cost. How many units you’re going to put in your house. When we look at a job, do we need a roofer involved in a job? Do we have to cut holes through your roof and bring a carpenter in and do these things?

One of are the other costs that can affect it a lot of the times is electrical. Do we need to have a bigger electric service go into a house? Examples: we have some homes we go into where there’s still fuse and knobs with the old fuses that you screwed in your home, you might have had a 60 Amp electrical service coming into your house. Well, that’s not going to work with this Mitsubishi electric system. We’re probably going to need to put in a bigger service in your home. The electrical costs fluctuate.

A lot of times when we go outside a home, we have to bring up the home to electrical code. We have to put in GFI breaker’s and outlets and things outside next to the unit. Some of those costs get involved when we go into a home.

How much pipe is going to go into the job where we’re going to be running piping to the outdoor unit, to the indoor unit? How long are these pipe runs? How complex are they? Are we going into a knee wall? Are we going into a basement with piping, then coming outside? Or if we’re going to just put a unit on an exterior wall and we’re going to cut a little three-inch hole and put our piping right down to a unit outside, well, that’s not as extensive as a six-story building in Boston. A lot of things factor into that.

Mitsubishi Ductless System

John: You install a lot of Mitsubishi Ductless heating and cooling systems. Is that one of the more expensive, premium ductless systems?

Mike: Yes, it is the top of the line ductless system. Mitsubishi has been in the United States — they were one of the first manufacturers to come over here to the United States with this technology. They’ve been around for a long time. They have a lot of good support. Us, as a “diamond elite” contractor, we’ve been doing this now for 15 to 16 years. We have a lot of close ties to the manufacturer.

The support network in Atlanta that we have, that we work with, we have a whole staff of people we can call. As far as technical support goes, parts are readily available in the United States. We see different brands are definitely less money — that I can tell you — I’ve seen it a million times. As far as, “Hey, I need this part. This part is no good today and I need to replace it.”

Well, I can’t be waiting 30 to 60 days for a part and leaving you without air conditioning in your home at that point. The reasons why, there’s more people, there’s a bigger network of people. That has a lot to do with the cost. But the quality control is really there. The products are there. Most of the products we’re seeing today are very, very high technology, very, very high SEER ratings on the electrical ratings that we’re getting from these products. They’re not your low-end product.

John: Are some of the lower end products noisier when they run as well?

Mike:  Some are, some aren’t. Some of the lower end products are on-off products, like we were talking about. They don’t have inverter driven systems in them. Some of those products are being made in the third world — a lot of third world countries are making those products. Some of them even get here to the United States and they can’t even be used in the United States. They’re using 50 Hz power. Some of them end up getting shipped over here and you can’t even use them over here.

Is Ductless a Good Value?

John: In general, though, is Ductless a good value for my money, and how so?

Mike: Yes, Ductless is definitely a good value for your money. When you start looking at what you’re doing in your home and putting these in, if you’re going to start to zone your home out, you’re going to see energy savings. You’re definitely going to see energy savings.

Example: if you’ve got six window units and you’re taken them in and out in the summertime and you’re constantly pulling them in, pulling him out, then maybe you’ve just bought new windows for your home and you’re going to do this. From the value standpoint, you’re going to ruin those windows probably.

The second part of that is you’re going to definitely gain the energy efficiency from there. If you have to plug in six window units versus one ductless unit, that’s going to be a lot less money to operate that.

Example: if you’re looking at putting in central air conditioning in your house, why would you want to air condition parts of your home that you don’t live in? You can do this with his own comfort system from Mitsubishi electric and from a value standpoint, it’s going to increase the value of your home, probably more than the central air conditioning system because you have zoning in your home.

We try to zone things off as best we can in the home, but some of these things, we just don’t zone off of the air conditioning system. So from a value standpoint, you’re going to definitely get a lot less operating costs.

Energy Savings with a Ductless System

John: Talk a little bit about some of the energy savings that you that you see with some of your customers where you’ve installed ductless system.

Mike: Typically, what we see is if a person was using window units in their home and we go in and we install Mitsubishi’s zone comfort system in their home, we usually see anywhere from 30% to 60% in energy savings when someone installs our system from an air conditioning standpoint. From a heating standpoint, depending on the type of fuel that you’re using to heat with, I’ve seen anywhere from 20% to 60% on savings and heating costs as well. It can get up there as far as cost goes and there’s some payback in that too.

Cost of Ductless Systems in and around Boston

John: Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit more specifically about the costs of ductless system in and around Boston in terms of installing that.

Mike: When we look at the cost in Boston versus the suburbs. Obviously, it’s going to be more in the city to install, because we have a lot more things to deal with in and around the city. A lot of your homes in the city are older homes, a lot more challenging systems to install than a straightforward type home. A lot of the times we’re going up putting condensers on roofs. Have to get roofers involved. Cutting holes through roofs. Providing pitch pockets through roofs. Running electrical up to the roof to the outdoor unit is always more of a challenge in the city.

As far as the costs go a single zone system, a one zone system like one outdoor and one indoor, that could start at anywhere as low as $2,500 and that could go up as high as $10,000. Without seeing the situation and really knowing what it is and what is going to be involved in that, we have to really come out and look at that situation to determine, how complex is this job to do? Because there is a lot of complexity in a lot of jobs. A lot of jobs are easy, a lot of jobs aren’t. That’s what goes into the cost of the job.

When we start getting into these bigger systems like multizone systems, where we might be installing anywhere from four to eight zones in your house, those costs can range anywhere from $12,000 to $13,000. I’ve seen jobs as high as $30,000 depending on what has to get done in there. Are we putting pipes inside the walls in interior walls before construction might happen, before dry walls going up? Are we having to do a rough installation and then go back and do the complete installation? Sometimes we just go in and put units on and drill a hole and go right outside with the pipe and go right down to those jobs.

A lot of costs get varied into that price.

John: But you go out and you talk to the homeowners and figure out what it is that they’re trying to get out of the system, how many units they need, how many zones they need, that sort of thing, what kind of complexities there are in the installation, and then you give a good estimate?

Mike: That’s what we do, we go out, we look at the home. We’re going to sit down and ask you a series of questions. What are your needs? First off, where do you live in the home? Where do you spend all the time in the home?

A lot of times we go into a home and we have what I consider it’s called the empty nest scenario. It’s the Mr. and the Mrs. and the kids are gone. They’ve got a four bedroom house. They have two air conditioning systems that they’re running. Their energy costs are through the roof and they live in three rooms in the home. They live in the living room, the kitchen, and the bedroom. But yet they’re cooling four bedrooms and they’re spending enormous amounts of money on energy and this hot and cold spots throughout the whole entire house. We see sometimes they take the central air conditioning system out and put this Mitsubishi system in.

Other times, we go into homes and, like I said, we see people who might be looking to replace the central air conditioning system. We try to determine, where do you live, what do you do, what are you doing with your home? We have to figure out first what you’re doing with the home. Then, we can determine the solution for the home when we go out there.

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

Mike: Thanks, John.

John: For more information, visit the N.E.T.R., Inc. website at or call 781-933-NETR. That’s 781-933-6387.

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