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Mini Split vs Heat Pump: Which One to Choose?

by Lisa Hayden
Mini Split vs Heat Pump

Planning to install a new temperature control system at your home? You might be interested in having a heat pump to cool and heat the indoors. At the same time, mini splits seem like a great option because of various reasons. So what’s it going to be: mini split vs. heat pump?   

While heat pumps can act as a heater and cooler for the entire property, a split mini provides control of individual rooms – and may not work as a heater. Heat pumps often use ducts or air passages for spreading hot and cold air, but mini split devices are unducted. 

So which appliance is just right for your space? Keep reading to find out how they differ from each other!

Related: Heat Pump vs Central Air – Detailed Comparison 2022

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is used for temperature control. It can perform both heating and cooling actions. When you need it to cool your room, it will derive heat from the air inside and transfer it outside. It will reverse the action during colder months and bring outdoor heat inside.  

One of the reasons why heat pumps have become popular is that they are more energy efficient because of their working mechanism. Another great advantage is that a heat pump can replace a heater in winter and an air conditioner in summer, all in one appliance. 

The only downside is that if it’s too cold, like 20-30 degrees, its efficiency will drop – especially while heating the indoors. There are different heat pumps, and most designs use ducts to distribute heated or chilled air throughout the property. 

Pros:

  • Less expensive installation
  • Sleek, built-in look
  • The uniform temperature in the whole building
  • Efficient heating and cooling 

Cons:

  • Custom control unavailable
  • Ducted system necessary

Related: Heat Pump vs. Gas Furnace Calculator

What is a Mini Split?

A mini split is a temperature control device for heating and cooling purposes. However, not all mini-split devices are engineered for heating –  but are used only for cooling the indoor air. A mini split performs its task on the principle of heat transference.  

This device does not need a duct system to spread cold or hot air inside the property. It only uses small openings in the side walls. An attractive feature of a mini split is its size. It can be mounted anywhere inside the house –  like the wall, the ceiling, or even the floor.

A mini split is energy efficient, which is why it is a popular choice nowadays. It can be used to control the temperature of separate zones. In other words, you can tackle and manipulate the heating and cooling levels of a single room or multiple rooms individually.  Check the 5 Best Mini Split Heat Pumps for Cold Weather.

Pros:

  • Ductless system
  • Customized control
  • Energy efficient
  • Flexible installation

Cons:

  • Costly installation
  • Bulky appearance

Related: Related: Best Space Heater for a Large Room – 10 Models to Consider in 2022

What are Ducts Used For?

One of the primary differences between a mini split and a heat pump is the use of ducts. While a mini split does not use air ducts to spread air, most heat pump systems need them. So before you install a heat pump, you must find out if your property has a duct system. 

But what exactly are air ducts? Heating and cooling systems in any property need to be connected to passages made of sheet metal. These act like veins that are required to disperse heated or cooled air to different parts of the house for commercial buildings. 

The air ducts open into different rooms through small vents in the floors or walls. Air from the heat pump travels along these veins and enters the room through these openings. Thus, a heat pump can act centrally to control the temperature of the whole property simultaneously. 

Despite this advantage in a space with ductwork, this system has some drawbacks. Not all parts of your property need the same level of heating or cooling. The heating needs of your kitchen will differ from those of your bedroom. Ductworks also cause energy loss. 

Additionally, a ductwork system can be complex and intrusive if your property does not already have it. Many homeowners prefer ductless mini split systems to ducted heat pumps. But if every part of the property has the same traffic all the time, a heat pump is highly efficient. 

Related: Best Kerosene Heater For Indoor Use – 5 Top Choices in 2022

How Does Zoning Work?

Different heat pumps or AC models exist for zone-based temperature control without ducts. It can be a multi-zone system that lets you control multiple areas independently. It can also be a single-zone system that caters to a single zone individually. 

A multi-zone system has two or more indoor units. These are set in various rooms to help you match the different comfort levels of individuals. A single-zone system has one indoor in a particular room or zone. Both systems have a single outer unit. 

Both these systems allow you to maintain a different temperature in every room. Heating and cooling systems that do not offer zoned temperature control allow you to maintain uniform temperatures throughout properties such as business centers. 

Mini Split vs Heat Pump – Points of Differences

As you must have understood, the definitions of mini split systems and heat pumps might overlap. For the sake of this discussion, let us consider the differences between a ducted heat pump and a ductless mini-split system. Take a quick look at the chart below: 

Mini Split vs Heat Pump: Comparison

Features Mini Split Heat Pump
Heating/Cooling Abilities May or may not provide both heating and cooling All models capable of both heating and cooling
Unit Control Ductless system for customized zoned control Centralized system for a single temperature control
Installation Expensive and complex installation More common and less pocket-friendly to install
Design Flexibility Can be installed in any zone with/without ducts Operates as a centralized system through ducts
Energy Loss Ductless system to prevent unnecessary energy loss System of ducts that allow loss of energy
Operational Cost Customizable usage for less energy use More energy usage for the entire property
Final Appearance Bulkier units visible in multiple zones Single unit with a more built-in look

Now, let’s look at the points of difference and analyze them individually. 

a) Heating/Cooling Abilities

You must have understood by now that there are different types of heat pumps –  including the ductless mini splits heat pump models. You should also note that when we talk about mini-split systems,  it can be a heat pump or an air conditioner. 

A heat pump is engineered to provide heating and cooling effects on the indoor air. However,  not all types of mini-split devices can provide both. This is especially true if it is a single-zone system. Remember that an AC can only provide cooling effects in a single zone.

b) Unit Control

A centralized system, i.e., a ducted heat pump, pushes heated or cooled air into every part of the building through air passages. So, if different parts of the property need to be uniformly cool or warm, a heat pump will give quick and easy control to the entire building. 

But a mini-split system is ideal for individual and customized temperature adjustment. A single-zone system lets you handle a single zone or room while leaving other parts of the property alone. With a multi-zone system, you can separately heat or cool different zones.    

c) Installation

Mini split systems need little or no ducts to spread air. So if your property doesn’t have its ductwork in place, you do not have to worry about plumbing it into the building. But a ducted heat pump needs a network of ducts or passages to distribute hot or cold air.

We should also inform you that mini split systems are comparatively new in design and need expert installation. Heat pumps, though complex, are easier to install. And the installation cost is also much lower than that of a mini-split system.

d) Design Flexibility

The versatility and flexibility of a mini-split system’s design are undeniable. Whether you have existing ductwork in your property or not –  you can always install this system. The systems are customizable and can fit your existing interior design without complication.

You can place various models anywhere – on the wall or the floor. On the other hand, a heat pump cannot be placed just anywhere. First of all, you have to think about installing ducts. Secondly, they have a more concealed placement, needing extra work. 

e) Energy Loss

Heat pumps are highly energy efficient. They gain preference over other heating and cooling solutions due to this reason. But if we look at ducted heat pumps, we can’t ignore that ducts can lead to energy loss. Studies show that they cause 20-30% of energy loss. 

So, if you have ducts, you must pay close attention to their sealing. With ductless systems, there’s no problem of losing energy unnecessarily. So, a mini split is considered much more energy-efficient than heating pumps because of its ductless design.  

f) Operational Cost

A ducted heat pump is a centralized system that controls the temperature of the entire building in a single go. That means that if you turn it on, it will heat or cool the entire property. Thus, it will burn more energy, which cannot be adjusted. 

However, mini-split systems are designed to cater to individual zones. So, you can operate the system to match your specific needs in individual zones or rooms only. A single-zone mini split’s operations are even more zone-specific, thus reducing energy use. 

g) Final Appearance

Heat pumps are placed so that their final look has a more built-in appearance. So they are less noticeable. Plus, if you need only a single heat pumpIn your building,  it will be even less prominent. That is why many property owners prefer it.

In comparison, mini-split systems are more difficult to ignore. The aesthetics of the ductless indoor system can be quite a disadvantage. You can, however, choose sleek modern designs. Don’t forget that ductless systems also need space to drain the condensate.

Mini Split vs Heat Pump: Which is Better for You?

Now you have a fair idea of how a mini-split differs from a heat pump. But which is the right choice for you? The answer depends on where you will install the system and the kind of control you want over the temperature. Consider your property to zero in on the right system.   

When to Buy a Heat Pump:

You should use a heat pump if you want to place it in – 

  • A commercial building where all zones should be uniformly hot/cold
  • A property that already has a ductwork system installed

When to Buy a Mini Split:

A mini-split system is ideal if it is for – 

  • A family home with different zones used by people with different needs
  • A property with no ductwork or with a duct system that needs a new heater/cooler

FAQ

What are the disadvantages of a mini split?

A mini split system has a new design. So, its installation can be slightly complex – even though it doesn’t need a ductwork system. However, you’ll likely need an expert – and the installation process is expensive. Plus, it appears bulky and catches attention.   

Does a heat pump or a mini split use more electricity?

Both heat pumps and mini split systems are energy-efficient. But a heat pump’s duct system causes more energy usage. Plus, it heats or cools the entire property. But a mini split doesn’t use ducts and reduces energy use through custom temperature control.

Final Words

The mini split vs heat pump argument can get confusing. It primarily depends on whether you want to customize control in individual zones – or prefer to maintain uniformity throughout the property. So consider the temperature control needs of your property.  

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