Ductless vs Ducted Heat Pumps: The Similarities and Differences (2024 Guide)

HVAC Logo IconBy Tom MoorMarch 6, 2024
Get a fair quote
The right solution at the right price. Save 20% on average in just 4 steps.

Score an HVAC quote
Our independent team of HVAC industry insiders can score your quote to see if it’s fair.

Sharing your quote takes less than a minute

Man changing the temperature of his mini-split HVAC system

When it comes to choosing a heat pump that’s right for your home, you have choices, including ductless mini-split heat pumps, ducted air-source heat pumps, and geothermal heat pumps. Factors such as your home’s size, layout, existing ductwork, climate, and budget can help you determine which type of heat pump system is right for your home.

The two most popular options are ductless vs ducted heat pumps. HVAC.com explains how the two types work, outlining their similarities and differences to help you make a more informed buying decision.

To ensure you receive a fair deal on a new heat pump system, QuoteScore from HVAC.com will thoroughly analyze your HVAC quotes and tell you what's good, what's not, and recommend clear next steps.

What Makes Heat Pumps Different than Other HVAC Systems?

The biggest difference between heat pumps and traditional HVAC systems is their ability to heat and cool spaces efficiently, making them a year-round comfort solution in many regions.

While ductless systems (commonly referred to as mini-splits) and ducted air-source heat pumps operate similarly to air conditioners during the warmer months, it’s how they operate during the colder months that sets them apart. Instead of using fuel such as oil or natural gas to generate heat, ducted and ductless heat pumps extract heat from the outside air and transfer it indoors to provide warmth.

Similarities Between Mini-Splits and Ductless Air-Source Heat Pumps

  • Technology. Both ducted and ductless heat pumps use similar technology based on the principle of transferring heat from one location to another using refrigerant. Neither system relies on fossil fuels while in heating mode unlike traditional heating systems including gas furnaces and boilers. Their ability to offer both heating and cooling functions makes them versatile home comfort solutions.
  • Efficiency. Ducted and ductless heat pumps are generally more energy efficient compared to other HVAC systems. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pumps can reduce the electricity used for heating by about 65% compared to electrical resistance heating such as baseboard heaters and furnaces. Mini-splits can offer even greater efficiency due to their ductless design. It’s estimated that air ducts lose as much as 30% of conditioned air due to air duct leaks and a lack of sufficient insulation.
  • Environmentally Friendly. Because heat pumps rely on electricity and not fossil fuels, they are a more environmentally friendly alternative than other types of HVAC systems, with the potential of significantly lowering your home’s carbon footprint.
  • Performance In Winter. Although some modern heat pumps can operate in temperatures as low as zero, traditional mini-splits and ducted air-source heat pumps start to lose efficiency once the outside temperature dips below about 40 degrees, requiring auxiliary heating.
  • Outside Condenser Unit. Mini splits and heat pumps both feature an outside condenser unit, which plays a crucial role in their heating and cooling operations.
Mini-split HVAC system

Differences Between Ducted and Ductless Heat Pumps

  • Ductwork Requirements. The biggest difference between the two types of heat pumps is their method of delivering conditioned air into a home’s living areas. As their name suggests, ductless mini-splits don’t use ductwork; instead, they feature one or more indoor air handling units which are installed on walls and ceilings, connected to the outdoor condenser unit by refrigerant lines. Air-source heat pumps, meanwhile, utilize ductwork like a conventional HVAC system.
  • Applications. Ducted air-source heat pumps are a type of central HVAC system used to heat and cool entire homes. In regard to mini-splits, several indoor units can be installed throughout a home, but they are most commonly used to heat and cool rooms that are difficult to keep comfortable or not attached to the home’s main HVAC system. These areas can include bonus rooms over garages, basements, attics, garages, and new home additions.
  • Zoning Capabilities. Ductless mini-splits offer enhanced control by allowing you to create temperature zones throughout the home which can lead to greater energy efficiency. Ducted air-source heat pumps have less precise zoning capabilities unless they’re equipped with a modern zoning system that includes dampers.
  • Installation Requirements. Ductless mini-splits generally have quicker installation times, and the installation process is less invasive. They only require a small hole in the wall that connects the indoor unit/units to the outdoor condenser. They may be a better option for retrofitting older homes or providing heating and cooling to a specific area without requiring extensive ductwork modifications.

Ductless vs Ducted Heat Pumps: What’s the Best Option for My Home?

Choosing between a ductless vs ducted heat pump system largely depends on factors such as your heating and cooling needs, budget, and your home’s existing infrastructure. If you’re looking for a whole-home solution, a central air-source heat pump is the best option, as it will provide consistent, powerful heating and cooling throughout your entire home. However, if your goal is to heat and cool a specific area of the home, such as a refinished attic, a mini-split is the optimal choice.

Before determining which system is right for your home, consult with a qualified HVAC contractor to choose the option that is tailored to your budget and home comfort needs.

Get a fair quote
The right solution at the right price. Save 20% on average in just 4 steps.

Score an HVAC quote
Our independent team of HVAC industry insiders can score your quote to see if it’s fair.

Sharing your quote takes less than a minute

HVAC.com is your trusted advisor for all things HVAC

Chat with an advisor

Available 8 AM - 5 PM Eastern Time