Tricks of the Trade

What's new with ductless technology

Over the last decade, advancements in ductless solutions have catapulted this subset of HVAC equipment technology into the industry’s spotlight and into homes across the country.

Tim Capps, an HVAC professional with more than 15 years' experience in the field, says ductless systems have quickly become the bulk of his business.

“Today, ductless is around 75% of our business and 5 years ago it was less than 10%. We found an opportunity and stayed with it. We now install a little over 200 systems every year.”

6 major advantages of ductless heating and cooling

In their early uses, ductless technology appeared mostly as wall-mounted units, rarely used outside of sunrooms and new additions. In recent years, manufacturers have fought to shake that association and make ductless solutions practical for whole-home heating and cooling.

1. More options for the home

HVAC contractors may already be aware of one of the more drastic improvements to ductless technology—variety. From ceiling cassettes to floor-mounted units and beyond, ductless units have come a long way from traditional wall-mounted units.

Increases in product variety have increased the number of applications within the home and allowed consumers to find HVAC solutions that fit their needs more precisely. More applications mean more business opportunities for savvy contractors to provide custom systems spanning entire houses.

2. Improved energy efficiency

Behind the scenes, ductless solutions leapfrogged their ducted counterparts in terms of energy efficiency thanks to variable speed compressors.

In a traditional ducted unit, heating and cooling compressors switch on when they detect a significant difference between the set temperature and the actual temperature. The standard compressor runs full-bore until the ambient and set temperatures match.

Ductless technology relies instead on variable speed compressors, which make small, energy efficient adjustments to fan speed depending on the heating or cooling needs of the specific area.

3. True zone comfort

Variable speed compressors also contribute to true zone comfort, another significant upgrade over traditional ducted systems. Whereas most ducted systems usually try to maintain one temperature across all controlled zones, a ductless system can make each room in the house a different temperature if necessary.

In some cases, ductless systems can even sense whether a room is empty and adjust the temperature accordingly, saving homeowners from the costs of heating or cooling an unoccupied space.

4. Defense against extreme temperatures

In extreme weather climates, like those in the northeast where winter temperatures can dip below zero, ductless units fight off the bone-chilling weather better. Several major ductless manufacturers boast a full rate of heat even at an outside temperature of -5° Fahrenheit.

In many cases, these expanded temperature resistances require simple product upgrades rather than costly and complication add-on installations.

5. Smart home compatibility

As the connected home, or “smart” home, becomes more common, ductless technology keeps up with the times much more easily than traditional ducted units. Units within this category often feature compatibility with smart home products as part of their base model, making them remotely operable from the moment they power up.

6. Better aesthetics

Innovations in ductless technology also mean more attractive options for consumers.

While the boxy wall-mounted units of yesteryear left much to be desired, newer model designs considered how heating and cooling units fit into a home’s aesthetic.

“Unfortunately, most people picture all ductless systems as the high wall unit and don’t know about all of the options offered in today’s systems,” says Chris Cornett, the president of a North Carolina-based HVAC company. “There are still people who cannot accept a high wall unit, but the newest systems have ceiling mounted units and recessed units that have become very popular.”

Sleek lines and compact sizes help some units blend in with the furniture. Other units—like ceiling cassettes or hybrid systems—can be installed flush with the walls or hidden away in attics and basements.

New advantages of ductless heating and cooling for contractors

These advances in ductless technology have sweeping implications for HVAC contractors.

There exists a small subset of HVAC consumers who understand what they want out of ductless solutions. But even these partially aware consumers may not understand the full spectrum of ductless solutions. In any case, the contractor is the expert and has the authority—and ability—to provide the information and technology solutions the customer does not know they need.

This knowledge gap presents an opportunity for HVAC contractors to dispel the myth that ductless HVAC is a one-size-fits-all solution. The contractor can create a multi-faceted HVAC solution, potentially combining different ductless units, that satisfies the customer’s needs.

To do so, however, HVAC contractors need to maintain an awareness of constant developments in ever-changing ductless technology.

Among these constant developments has been an increasing focus on energy efficient technology. As more homeowners seek to make their homes energy efficient, they rely on HVAC contractors to provide guidance. Contractors can advise customers on improvements to existing systems or implement cutting-edge products from the start.

For many contractors, the simplicity of ductless installations is icing on the cake. Duane Gentry, whose HVAC company installed more than 1,700 ductless systems in 2020, praised the low skill entry required for installation.

“Ductless is really easy to install once you have educated yourself on how to do it.”

That low cost of entry also opens up an avenue for contractors to broaden their skills and potentially transition into ductless-related technologies like Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems.

If a contractor understands the technology and benefits behind ductless applications, they hold the foundations of understanding of a VRF system. HVAC contractors who know how to use multi-zone ductless systems can scale their understanding of zoning with refrigerant and utilizing multiple indoor units to achieve precise comfort cooling for light commercial VRF projects. If residential HVAC contractors can make the transition into 1-phase VRF systems, they can open the door to small 3-phase commercial applications and expand their potential customer base, as well as revenue streams.

As ductless technology continues to become more pervasive and attractive for consumers, growth-minded contractors should seriously consider adding ductless work to their business model.