The compressor unit of a mini-split next to a central AC unit outside a home

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to heating and cooling your home. For many, it comes down to what you can afford, what’s suitable for your house, and what will best meet your and your family’s needs.

However, another question you may ask yourself is: which system will reduce my carbon footprint? 

Ductless mini-split heat pumps have less environmental impact than traditional air conditioning systems because they are more energy-efficient, use a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant, and require fewer raw materials. 

If you’re considering installing a ductless heat pump system in your home and are curious about the environmental impact of doing so, keep reading! 

Are Ductless Mini-Splits Environmentally Friendly?

Ductless mini-splits are a more environmentally friendly heating and cooling option than traditional HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems. They offer greater energy efficiency, which saves you money and reduces your carbon output. 

Gas and propane furnaces have efficiency ratings of 78-97%, compared to mini-splits, which have an efficiency rating of 400%!

There are several factors contributing to this heightened efficiency.

Air Is Not Lost Through Ductwork Flaws

One reason these heat pumps are more energy-efficient than their traditional alternatives is that the ductless system doesn’t allow air to be lost through flaws in the ductwork. 

Ducting near the ceiling reinforced with metallic tape to cover leakage

It is a tremendous waste to condition air only to have it seep through ducts instead of warming your home. Ductless heat pumps eliminate this issue.  

A Mini-Split System Provides Added Energy Efficiency

Additionally, because this system can split buildings into different zones, homeowners can control which parts of their house are being heated and turn off the heating to other areas, which requires less energy than heating an entire building. 

You will still be using energy, which isn’t great for the environment, but with a mini-split, you’ll be using only what you need instead of wasting energy heating rooms no one is in. 

Ductless Heat Pumps Use Ozone-Safe Refrigerants

These systems use a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant called R410A. This feature means that the heat pump negatively impacts the environment throughout its lifespan less than traditional systems. 

Traditional Furnace Construction Uses More Raw Materials

Finally, mini-splits require fewer raw materials than traditional furnaces. 

Traditional furnaces require a lot of ducts and vents, and the materials to make these bulky contraptions must be transported by air or boat. This means the system already has a large carbon footprint before it is installed. 

Alternatively, ductless heat pumps are a lot smaller than traditional furnaces and do not require as many materials to make. 

Now that you’re familiar with the features that make mini-splits eco-friendly, let’s look at exactly what these systems are and how they operate.

What Is a Ductless Mini-Split? 

A ductless mini-split heat pump is a heating and cooling system that doesn’t require ducts, making it more convenient for buildings that don’t have ductwork. Instead, it conditions a home’s air using supply and return refrigerant lines.

An illustrated diagram of how a ductless mini-split system functions

A mini-split has two parts—an indoor air-handling unit and an outdoor compressor. 

The Indoor Unit of a Ductless Mini-Split

The indoor unit is the part of the system that sends conditioned air into the room. Known as the air handler, evaporator, or head unit, it is typically mounted high on the wall, so it isn’t as visible.

A mini-split system's internal air component above two doors near the ceiling of the room

This component is attached to the outdoor compressor (or condenser) with a refrigerant line, power cable, tubing, and a drain line. This way, a duct system is not necessary. 

Larger buildings generally have multiple indoor air-handling units in different rooms but are all attached to the same outdoor unit. Still, building owners can independently control them because each unit is assigned to a specific area. 

The External Compressor of a Mini-Split Heat Pump

One outdoor compressor can support up to four indoor units or indoor areas. This capacity is usually enough for most residential properties because one area can be the first level, the second level can be another, a third area can be the garage, and the fourth area can be the basement.  

Two mini-split compressor units outside a home in snowy conditions

The Difference Between Ductless and Traditional Heat Pumps

Ductless mini-split heat pumps work the same as traditional heat pumps, except that the indoor unit is installed into the room without ducts. 

Heat pumps use existing heat energy to generate heat with refrigerants. This process differs from traditional air conditioning units, which remove heat from indoor spaces and transfer the heat to the condenser unit.

Heat pumps can still absorb heat even in extreme cold, but once temperatures drop below freezing, they become less effective. 

Advantages of Ductless Mini-Splits  

Environmental friendliness isn’t the only benefit of ductless systems in your home.

Some other advantages of using a mini-split include: 

  • You won’t lose conditioned air in ductwork – systems that use ducts tend to lose 20-30% of the air through flaws in the ductwork, so people don’t get to enjoy as much of the conditioned air they are paying for and want to use. 
  • No need to install complicated ductwork – installing ductwork can be expensive and time-consuming, and using a mini-split allows you to avoid this nuisance. 
  • Monetary savings by only conditioning spaces that need it – since homeowners can control each area independently, you can condition only the air in areas of the building that people are using. So, for example, if you live in a large house and the third floor is primarily unoccupied, you don’t have to waste money warming that space. 
  • You may be eligible for rebates or other financial incentives to switch from a fossil fuel system to a heat pump – depending on where you live, you may qualify for a reward for switching to a heat pump. 
  • They are easier to install than some other systems – usually, a ductless mini-split requires only a three-inch (8 cm) hole through a wall to connect the indoor and outdoor units. 
  • A lower operating cost than other systems – since heat pumps are more energy-efficient, the operating cost is lower than traditional heating and cooling systems.  
  • Less maintenance required than combustion heating systems – typically, they only need to be checked by a professional once every three to five years.
A technician adjusts the indoor component of a mini-split
  • They provide long-term heating and cooling the average lifespan of a ductless heat pump is fourteen to fifteen years, so you won’t have to worry about upgrading or replacing your system for a long time. 
  • Improved indoor air quality of your home – traditional heating and cooling systems typically blow a lot of dust and allergens into the room. Ductless heat pumps have a multi-stage filtration system that reduces the amount of dust, bacteria, and pollen that gets into your home. 
  • No toxic gas leaks – mini-splits run on electricity, not gas, unlike traditional furnaces. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about gas leaks that could cause a fire, explosion, or carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • Mini-splits are quiet – ductless systems are designed to produce little noise when operating, whereas some furnaces and air conditioners can be pretty loud. 

There are many benefits of a ductless mini-split heat pump, especially when it comes to protecting the environment.

However, as with most things, they also have their drawbacks.

Disadvantages of Ductless Mini-Splits 

These heat pumps are a great way to heat and cool your home in a more environmentally friendly way than traditional heating and air conditioning units. Still, they aren’t suitable for every home.

Some disadvantages to this system include: 

  • A higher installation cost – it isn’t cheap to install this system, and for some, the initial investment may be too high. 
  • You may not like the look of the indoor units – air handlers are often placed very high in a room, so they aren’t very noticeable. However, they are still there and aren’t the most aesthetically-pleasing addition to a room. 
  • Finding a qualified contractor may be challenging – the installation process is complicated, and if you don’t have qualified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technicians in your area, getting your heat pump set up could be difficult. 
  • Mini-splits don’t work well in frigid temperatures – people in moderate climates won’t have this issue. Still, if you live in an extremely cold region, you may experience issues with your heat pump when the temperature drops below freezing.

Ultimately, it is up to you and the structure of your house or building to determine which heating system is right for you.  

Final Thoughts 

Ductless mini-splits are more energy-efficient than traditional furnaces and other HVAC systems, and they use a refrigerant that doesn’t deplete the ozone. Finally, they require fewer raw materials to make because of their small size. 

Mini-splits have many other benefits beyond their more negligible environmental impact. If you’re considering changing the heating system in your home, ductless mini-split heat pumps should be on your radar.  

Sources 

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