Why Choose Ductless Heating and Cooling? (Podcast)

Why Choose Ductless Heating and Cooling

Brett Rogenski, General Manager of N.E.T.R., Inc. talks about the reasons why you may want to choose a ductless heating and cooling system.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and 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 choosing ductless heating and cooling, and the reasons why. Welcome Brett.

Brett Rogenski: Oh, thank you, John. I appreciate you having me. 

Energy Efficiency

John: Yeah. So Brett, there’s a lot of reasons why you might want to choose a ductless heating and cooling system, so I just want to go through each one of these and have you respond to each one of them. So the first reason to choose ductless is its energy efficiency. Tell me a little bit about that.

Brett: Sure, absolutely. Ductless systems have some of the highest SEER ratings, and SEER is a measurement of energy efficiency. So without going too far down the rabbit hole there, SEER is an energy efficiency rating. There’s another one called EER, which is an energy efficiency rating, and it has some of the highest SEER and EER ratings, which means that you’re using the least amount of energy to move the most amount of heat — obviously with a heat pump either out when you’re cooling, so taking it out from your home and releasing it out into the environment, or into your home when you’re using it in a heating mode. So it reduces your overall energy cost and helps pay for the system over time through savings.

John: And this is a lot different than your old traditional window air conditioner, right? The way that it becomes more efficient is partly because it can kind of ramp down and only use a small amount of electricity to maintain the coolness in the room. Is that right?

Brett: That’s absolutely right. They use a variable speed compressor that ultimately, exactly that, John, it ramps up and down. So think about the difference between driving stoplight to stoplight, right? So you’re driving from one stoplight to the other, your foot’s on the gas, you go and then it’s brake and you stop. That’s how most traditional heating and cooling systems work. Your furnace is on or it’s off. It’s not running slow. It’s either on or off. Same thing with central air conditioning. They tend to either be on or off. This is a little bit more like the nice new cruise controlling cars, where it actually figures out the road in front of you and the people in front of you and adjusts its speed to keep you comfortable. So it makes it, number one, more comfortable, because you’re not on or off. It’ll go up or down as needed.

John: You’re not getting full blast air, cold air in your face all the time when it’s on.

Brett: Exactly. Yeah. So it helps your comfort, first of all. It keeps it a nice consistent temperature instead of I’m cold, I’m warm, I’m cold, I’m warm. And then by that same token, that exact same technology, helps make it more energy efficient. Because just like your car, again, when you leave the stoplight, put your gas on to go, that’s when you’re at your least efficient. And then of course when you jam on the brakes to stop, that’s the ultimate inefficiency. 

Zoning Flexibility

John: Right. Yeah. So the next reason to choose ductless for heating and cooling is zoning flexibility. What do we mean by that?

Brett: Sure. So zoning is having separate areas of your home that you can control independently. So an analogy that I like to use that most people can relate to, especially here in New England, we have a lot of colonial homes as an example. And, a lot of times, colonial homes have two zones to them, two heating and cooling zones, a downstairs and an upstairs. So if you think of the upstairs of a three bedroom home, you’re picking one temperature that you’re telling the whole family to be comfortable at. So if the thermostat is in mom and dad’s room and they like it at 72, the whole upstairs is going to be 72. And maybe the kids want it cooler, maybe the kids want it warmer or something like that. So zoning allows you to then break that up.

The way ductless systems work is we put independent heads in independent spaces. So for instance, if you had three bedrooms, typically we would put a head in each room and that’s what does the actual heating and cooling in the room, and that would allow…they’re all independently flexible. So if your son wanted it to be 75 in his room, he could set his temperature to 75. Your daughter might like it at 68, and again, back in mom and dad’s room, it’s still 72. So each of those works independently, both in heating and cooling. Same thing in multiple spaces in the home. Frequently, maybe you have a fairly open concept downstairs, you may have a couple heads downstairs, one kind of doing the living room/dining room area, another doing the kitchen and whatever else is associated with that. So you can control those separate.

You can also shut, and this helps with efficiency, you can also shut off any ones that are not in use. So in a traditional heating or cooling system, like we first talked about, that whole second floor is either being heated or cooled or the whole first floor is being heated or cooled. If mom and dad are home and they want the bedroom to be 72, that can be on. The kids’ rooms, that can be off altogether, so you’re not paying and using energy to heat or cool rooms that are unoccupied. 

Easy Installation

John: Right. All right, our next reason for choosing ductless is easy installation. What are we comparing that to?

Brett: Sure. That’s comparing to adding duct work in a home. So many homes, especially in older parts of the country here, like New England, many of us have baseboard hot water heat, or perhaps they even have duct work, but the house has been renovated over time. Maybe it doesn’t properly reflect the layout of the house now. So with baseboard hot water heat, the radiators that go around the bottom, you really don’t have a way to use central air conditioning. With ductless, we actually take the heating and cooling lines, and in a situation where there is no duct work, we actually run those refrigerant lines on the outside of the house or maybe through an attic or through a basement, whatever is least conspicuous. And then we put a head, as we said, a heating and cooling head in each of one of those spaces that we want to control.

So in the old days, before ductless, if you wanted to add air conditioning to your home and you had a boiler with baseboard hot water, you would’ve had to add duct work to your home and put it up through the attic and down into rooms and up through the basement. That’s a lot of labor. A lot of times you can’t hide it as well, so you end up having to box it in and create soffits and that sort of stuff. With ductless, we simply apply all that’s necessary either in hidden spaces like the attic or even sometimes through closets or the basement or on the outside of the house. So much, much easier installation. Goes much more quickly. It doesn’t turn your home into a construction project. 

Improved Air Quality

John: Right. Absolutely. All right, our next reason is the improved air quality.

Brett: Sure. Air quality with ductless is great. They actually use a triple filtration method. So there’s a carbon filter, there’s a nano filter, and there’s a bacterial filter in there. So the triple filtering is taking that air in that space that you’re controlling, and constantly as that air is being cycled over the evaporator condenser, it’s being cleaned by those filters. And they’re also very simple to clean. This isn’t like your furnace filter down in the basement that you trudge down there twice a year, pull it out and it’s full of cat hair. These simply reside either in the wall heads, floor heads, whatever it is. It can be removed, washed out, dried, put right back in the unit. So, very simple to maintain that, and it encourages you to have really good air quality by keeping those clean. So it does a great job filtering and they’re easy to keep maintained in that manner. 

Quiet Operation

John: Okay. What about quiet operation?

Brett: Well, that’s one of the things that we hear the most about from people who have gone to ductless is how quiet it is. The average — I’m thinking about Mitsubishi’s product — the average indoor head with Mitsubishi runs at about 32 decibels, which is essentially a whisper. It’s very quiet. Frequently you’ll be in a room with a ductless head and you literally have absolutely no idea it’s running, except for perhaps, depending on the type of unit it is, you may see some of the little veins inside moving to distribute air. You don’t hear it, but you may see them if you’re looking at it. So it’s perceptibly, virtually silent. I think a lot of us have had maybe window units in the past. I have, that were especially pretty big, and either they’re vibrating the window, vibrating the wall, or just they’re loud.

John: Yeah, that compressor just hums.

Brett: Yeah. They actually frequently, especially for a good size unit, but they’ll get into decibels in the high sixties and low seventies, and that’s really pretty loud. That’s like having a car running in your living room.

John: And you’re churning up the TV saying, “I can’t even hear the TV because this thing is on.”

Brett: Exactly. And true story, we recently did some work for a family friend of mine, and that’s the biggest thing. Every time I see her, she comments, “It is so peacefully silent.” And she knew it would be, but it far exceeded her expectations. 

Space-Saving Design

John: Right. Our next reason for choosing ductless heating and cooling is the space-saving design.

Brett: Sure. Well, and again, a lot of that comes with a little bit of the stuff that we talked about, about not needing duct work and our being able to run refrigerant lines, again through attics, through basements or on the outside of the house. So you’re not boxing in big air ducts that are doing that and taking up space in your home or in your closets, in your storage area, your basement, etc.

The other thing is the units themselves, depending on which form factor you choose, a wall unit typically mounts it around seven feet high. It’s up out of the way of everything. It’s not taking up your floor space, it’s not filling up your window. It’s mounted on a wall, usually approximately seven feet high. We have items that are called floor units, which go flush to the wall and fairly low, which is great if you have a knee wall, maybe you have a converted cape or something that has short walls in it. Those go in there, again, tight to the wall. They take up a few inches off of the wall in that short space. So those are great.

And then one of our most popular items that most people aren’t aware of are ceiling cassettes. Ceiling cassettes actually recess into your ceiling between the rafters, if you’re on a second floor, and they take up no space, they just look like a small grill that’s up on your ceiling. They’re white. Most people barely notice them, and obviously they have zero impact on your room. It’s like having an air return duct up there, except it’s actually doing all your heating and cooling. So those are three really popular factors.

And again, with all that refrigerant line stuff going on the outside of your house or in other hidden spaces, it’s not impacting your storage. You’re not boxing in a big duct in the corner of your room or through your closet.

John: I think a lot of people might be a little bit nervous about putting the indoor units on their walls up above their windows or whatever, like you said. But they’re up so high, and how often do you really look up there? I think you get used to those so fast and you just don’t even notice them anymore after a little while.

Brett: They blend away. And the other thing is, most people don’t realize, they also come in a multitude of colors with different manufacturers and different types of heads. So you can get them in…some people actually kind of make them a little bit artistic. You can get them in these glossy mirror finishes, whites and blacks. You can get them in much more matte finishes in a white or off-white. There’s even a product by one manufacturer that looks like a big picture frame, and you literally can put art in it. You can open it up. It comes with its own, but you can open it up and put whatever artwork image you would like in it, and it kind of blends away into your wall. So you’re right, I think that they aren’t big and gaudy. They blend away and they’re made to blend away into your environment. And lots of different options, more than people think. 

Improved Comfort

John: Right. What about improved comfort? And why would a ductless system offer more comfort than say a central air conditioning system?

Brett: Sure, great question. It’s also one of the things that we get the most feedback on, and it’s exactly what I was speaking about before, that scroll compressor that can go up and down instead of being on or off. The way it works is you’re setting that ideal temperature, and let’s say you’re trying to cool the room. The room, let’s say you just got home, you’d had your system off and you’re trying to cool it to 72 degrees. It’s going to work really hard when that gap is big. So let’s say the room is 80 and you hadn’t had your ductless system on. It’s going to work really hard rapidly to bring that down. And as it approaches that comfort level that you want, 72, it slows down, slows down, slows down, slows down until it actually parks itself at that number, and then it kind of just goes up and down just a little bit.

So you’ll have a room that the high gets up to…you set it at 72, the high might hit 73, the low might hit 71. It’s very narrow band of what you choose, as opposed to our traditional heating and cooling systems. And the heating works the same way. The traditional heating and cooling systems, again, are on or off. You hear the blower on your furnace or air conditioner kick on, and a big gust of hot or cold air comes out until the thermostat says, “Okay, I’m all set”, and then it shuts off. Then it’s a few degrees too hot or cold.

John: You’re right. You’re constantly going, “Oh, now I’m hot because that hot air is blowing on me, or the cool air is blowing on me, now I’m too cold.” And then it shuts off and then it goes the other way. So you’re just constantly cycling between being uncomfortable in one way or the other, whereas with the ductless system, you’re just comfortable all the time.

Brett: That’s it. It brings you to that set point that you’ve chosen where you’re comfortable, and then it just hovers there. The variance is very small. And again, with it being virtually silent, you don’t even know it’s doing it. It’s just putting out a little heat or a little cool as you need. 

Heating and Cooling in One

John: So, you mentioned just a minute ago that these systems can do heating as well, many of them. And so talk a little bit about the heating and cooling being all in one unit.

Brett: Sure. That’s something that a lot of folks aren’t aware of. So when you’re talking about a heat pump, what makes today’s heat pump special is one little thing. It’s called a reversing valve. And when they’re in a cooling mode, you have a condenser outside. Well, you’re taking, in a cooling mode, you’re taking the warm air, it’s passing over those coils, being absorbed and being dumped outside. What a heat pump does now, a mini-split does now, there’s a reversing valve. When you put that into heating mode, that valve reverses, it now is absorbing warm air outside — which you don’t think there’s warm air out there at negative 13, but there is — it’s absorbing that, putting it into the refrigerant and bringing it back in your home.

I think the really neat thing, as a homeowner, is you typically have two systems. You have a furnace or boiler, whatever your heating system is, that has its own infrastructure, it has its own costs and it must be maintained. And you typically have a cooling system. So you have a central air conditioner that is your cooling system. These combine into one. You have one set of equipment that needs to be installed, maintained, etc., as opposed to two.

So number one, fewer points of failure. And then number two, there’s economies of scale because you’re now no longer paying to install and maintain two completely separate systems. A lot of times if you have a furnace, you’re not thinking of them as separate, but no, you have an air conditioner and you have a furnace, they happen to just share some duct work. In this case, it’s literally all, everything’s combined into one system, one family of equipment. 

No Ductwork Maintenance

John: Okay. Our next reason for choosing ductless is no ductwork maintenance. Talk a little bit about that.

Brett: Yeah. Ductwork, when you start talking about air quality, ductwork is…we all just live our lives and we have pets and there’s dust in the world and stuff. Ductwork, first of all, it has to be properly sealed, otherwise it can be pulling in air that may not, number one, it may be warm or cold when you don’t want it. Also, number two, it may be pulling in contaminants.

And even if it is properly sealed, especially in return ducts, we build up dust, dander, fur, all these things that come from just being human, having pets and living in a home in there. So you actually do have to maintain your ductwork. You have to hire someone to come in and do duct cleaning every few years. It’s very different depending on each household. If you have six dogs or you have one person, it’s different.

There’s none of that with ductless. Again, we’re filtering there. We do recommend every couple of years…we have what’s essentially like a little pressure washer for cleaning the indoor units. And of course we ask you to maintain the outdoor units as well, but you don’t have any duct work to maintain. You simply have the indoor head, which requires some deep cleaning every few years, and you have an outdoor [compressor] that you simply maintain on an annual basis, much like you would a furnace or an air conditioning system. 

Enhanced Home Security

John: Right. Our next reason for choosing ductless heating and cooling is the enhanced home security. And I think this is comparing it to one of those window air conditioners that you might have, especially on the first floor.

Brett: Yeah, absolutely. So window air conditioners, I think any of us who’ve ever had one realizes that pretty much anyone off the street can walk up to that and push it into the home and follow it into the home, or push it out. And a lot of folks, I’ve had this conversation with people and they’re like, “Oh no, I’ve got screws in there.” No, that’s holding it in. They’ve got screws that actually hold the window, but I’m talking about someone literally, whether you’re home or not home, hopefully you’re not home, walking up and just pushing that thing in and now they have an open window into your home.

I’ll tell you, John, I once upon a time did work in the security industry and we saw that more times than I care to speak about where someone…it’s the easiest point of access. Why should I smash a window or door when I can simply take this air conditioning unit that I can reach from the ground and deposit it in the home and follow it or yank it out? Either one.

John: Right. And like you said, those little screws that you’re putting in are not really going to do much if you give that thing a good shove or a kick or something like that.

Brett: Not at all. And again, with our system, it’s a permanently mounted system. This isn’t a temporary system like a window air conditioner. We have our infrastructure on the outside of your home or through your attic or through your basement, and then the units are mounted on the inside walls. There is nothing to pull through. It’s a sealed system, so there’s no gaps that someone could use to push it through and follow it.

John: Right. Even if they were able to somehow shove it through, the hole is like three inches wide or something like that.

Brett: Yeah, I was just going to say, if you find anyone who can get through a three or four inch hole, I’d like to meet them. 

Improved Energy Management

John: All right. The final reason for choosing ductless heating and cooling is the improved energy management. Talk about that a little bit.

Brett: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of smart features available with mini-splits with ductless. So first of all, on simpler systems that you’re controlling with a remote, there’s a whole lot of presets on there. So you can actually preset it to shut down at certain times. You can actually put high range and low range temperatures on there. That way if your son walks by and tries to make it 22 degrees in your house, it won’t happen. So you can set ranges.

You can also integrate it with what’s called integrated controls. So you can take your mini-split system and integrate it with…perhaps if you kept a furnace and you weren’t using it for your primary heat, you can actually integrate it, where you say, “I’m going to rely on my mini-split to do my heating to a certain outdoor temperature. And then after that I’ll have my furnace or boiler kick on.” It’s typically a boiler that we’re talking about in that situation.

So there are also neat individual comfort settings that come on the remote. So if you think about the cars that have the presets for the seat where, because my wife’s about a foot shorter than I am, so when I go and get in the car after her it’s a painful event. They have independent comfort settings. So you can actually take your mini-split, or at least your head in a certain area, and there can be presets where you say, “Hey, I want the temperature to be 72, I want the humidity to be this, and I want the fan to act like that on it.” And you just simply walk up to it, choose it, and there’s John’s preset. And immediately it starts acting in the comfort mode that you would like. And there’s other sets. So for instance, if your wife wants it different, you’re gone for the day, she can go choose hers and she’s comfortable with just the click of a button.

John: All right. Well that’s really great information. A lot of great reasons there to choose ductless heating and cooling. So thanks for speaking with me today, Brett.

Brett: Thanks a lot, John. We appreciate it.

John: And if you want to learn more about ductless heating and cooling systems, go to the website at netrinc.com or call 781-933-N-E-T-R. That’s 781-933-6387.