A ceiling with multiple ceiling-mounted mini-split air handler units installed

Mini-split heat pumps are an eco-friendly, efficient way to heat and cool your home. They take up very little space and are a hassle-free form of heating and cooling that millions of people have chosen to use, not just in the US but across the world.

Mini-splits come in various forms that provide suitable options for most homes. This article looks at some of the most popular types and where they can be installed in the house—specifically, if homeowners can install them on a ceiling.

Can Mini-Split Heat Pumps Be Installed In a Ceiling?

Homeowners can install the interior mini-split component (head unit) on a wall, floor, or ceiling. The ceiling variety comes in two primary forms, a ceiling-suspended unit and a recessed ceiling unit, which is called a cassette.

These options offer the homeowner a good deal of flexibility when choosing the best places to install the head units for a mini-split.

To understand the circumstances in which you might want to choose a particular type of head unit installation over another, the rest of this article will guide you through the different types and their pros and cons.

What is a Mini-Split Heat Pump?

A mini-split heat pump is a piece of technology that can be installed in the home to provide year-round heating and cooling. It is called a “split” because the two major parts of the heat pump are divided across two locations.

Instead of being contained in the same box, which is the case for packaged AC units, a mini-split design has the compressor located outside the building, and the head unit (or air handler) on the inside.

The exterior component of a ductless mini-split attached to a home's exterior brick wall

Refrigerant lines and electric cables connect the two units through a 2-3 inch hole in the wall. The electric lines provide power and handle communications between the components, and the refrigerant lines transport the refrigerant between them, which facilitates heating and cooling.

Using the principles of the refrigeration cycle, the mini-split collects heat from the cold side of the system and transports the heat energy in the refrigerant along the refrigerant lines to the hot side.

Hot naturally flows to cold, so how does a mini-split make it move in the opposite direction?

Well, the high-level answer is that it uses electricity to manipulate the pressure and phase (whether it is a gas or a liquid, or a mixture of both) of the refrigerant as it is pumped around the system.

Doing this allows the refrigerant to absorb heat from cool air on the cold side of the system, concentrate it and then release it on the warm side.

In cooling mode, the mini-split collects heat from the inside of the building and dumps it on the outside. A reversing valve reverses the refrigerant flow, so the system switches from cooling to heating so that the same unit can provide heating during the winter.

What Is a Mini-Split Air Handler Unit?

Unlike central air systems, which take conditioned air and distribute it throughout the home via ducts, mini-splits take a different approach.

Instead of blowing the conditioned air itself, the mini-split pumps the refrigerant between the outdoor heat pump unit and one or more air handler units (also known as head units) inside the building.

The refrigerant is pumped through a series of coils in the head unit, across which air is blown. If in cooling mode, the refrigerant in the air handler’s coils will be cold, and if in heating mode, it will be hot.

Having been blown across the air handler’s coils, the air will now be cooled or heated accordingly. It is then blown into the room to maintain the desired temperature.

A ductless mini-split in the corner of a room below the ceiling

This approach to transferring heat energy is more efficient than using a central air approach, typically losing around 30% of the energy used to condition the air due to leaks and friction losses in the ductwork.

Mini-splits are therefore more efficient and have lower running costs than central air.

If you already have central air and are thinking about getting sealing work carried out to fix a suspected air leak, read our article about this for more information.

We also have a guide on home upgrades that can increase your home’s efficiency and save you money.

Types of Mini-Split Air Handlers

Now that we know the importance of air handler units let’s look at the different types available.

They come in a variety of designs, the most common being:

  • Wall-Mounted
  • Floor-Mounted
  • Ceiling-Mounted

The decision of which type to choose comes down to personal preference and the circumstances and design of your specific living space. Let’s consider some of the featus of each one. 

Wall-Mounted Air Handlers

Wall-mounted head units are the most popular head unit type for mini-splits. They are usually mounted high up on the wall and are available in various styles, colors, and efficiency ratings.

They are the most straightforward to install and tend to be the cheapest. It’s essential to make sure that these units are not obstructed by furniture and that they can circulate air around the entire room.

A homeowner installing a wall-mounted mini-split air handler below the ceiling

Floor-Mounted Air Handlers

Floor mounted head units (also known as floor standing units) are a good option if you cannot install a wall unit due to structural or other considerations. They rest on the floor up against a wall and are straightforward to install.

A potential drawback of a floor-mounted unit is that they are more likely to get in the way or be obstructed by furniture. They might also be damaged more easily by pets or children.

Ceiling-Mounted (Ceiling Cassette)

A ceiling-mounted air handler, also called a ceiling cassette, is a sleek, discreet design that fits between standard joints in the ceiling of your room.

A ceiling cassette mini-split head unit installed in a ceiling under construction

These are an excellent option if you have a lot of furniture up against the walls of your room or if you just want an unobtrusive unit that blends into the ceiling nicely.

These units tend to be more expensive, and the installation process can be more intrusive than for wall-mounted or floor standing units because of the need to run lines above the ceiling and form a hole for the unit itself.

Summary

Mini-split heat pumps are comprised of an outdoor heat pump and one or more indoor air handlers. The head units can be installed on the floor, on a wall, or the ceiling.

Ceiling-mounted units are called ceiling cassettes and offer a sleek, discreet design. However, they tend to be more expensive than other types of air handlers.

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