Ductless Vs. Traditional Heating and Cooling (Podcast)

In this podcast, Jared Grier, owner of Cape Cod Heat Pumps, explains the differences between ductless and traditional heating and cooling. He explains why ductless is usually more efficient, but also more comfortable and less humid than traditional HVAC options.

John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher and I’m here today with Jared Grier, owner of Cape Cod Heat Pumps, an HVAC contractor in Marstons Mills, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, specializing in ductless heating and cooling technology and focused on detail, quality, and professionalism. Today, our topic is ductless versus traditional heating and cooling. Welcome, Jared.

Jared Grier: Thanks for having me, John, on a snowy day.

Key Difference Between Ductless and Traditional HVAC

John: Absolutely. Jared, we’re going to talk a little bit today about some of the differences between ductless heat pumps and more traditional fossil fuel-based systems for heating and cooling. What are some of the key differences between ductless and traditional heating and cooling systems?

Jared: There’s certainly a lot of differences when you try to compare the two, whether you’re talking about oil heat, gas heat, propane heat, whether you’re talking about ducted systems in an existing home or baseboard or possibly even steam heat. The one big difference that I really point out to people, and the analogy I like to make, is these systems have an inverter compressor. That inverter compressor is the heart of the system.

A traditional heating system, if you’ve got oil, you hear your oil burner kick on, make a lot of grumbling sounds, run for about five minutes and then shut off, and it’s going to do that several times in an hour. What you end up getting is this sine wave of effect of your heating where it starts throwing a bunch of heat at you, and then, the thermostat says, “Hey, shut off,” but the baseboard has still got a little bit of heat in it that it lets off. We overshoot the setpoint by a little bit, then we got to let the house cool down to a point where the thermostat is going to want to engage the system again. So, you get this up, down, up, down effect of temperature where you’re going to feel hot, then cold and hot, then cold.

Ductless Inverters Maintain Consistent Temperatures

John: That can fluctuate forward five degrees even from the highest point to the lowest point, right?

Jared: Yeah, depending on the thermostat, if you’ve got an old Mercury thermostat, depending on what your heat source is, if you’ve got some maybe the older cast iron baseboard, which is going to retain heat a lot more and let more heat off after the system shuts down. You can absolutely have some pretty big swings.

That analogy that I talked about when it comes to these systems with that inverter compressor is, it’s similar to the gas pedal in your car. When driving your car around, at least with most people, you’re not just hitting the gas and then the brake and the gas and the brake. What you’re doing is you’re going to change how much you’re pressing that gas pedal with your foot to try to maintain your speed.

That’s what our inverter compressor does. It’s going to change how quickly it is spinning to instead of short cycling and turning on and off, which is similar to city driving, it’s more going to change the Hertz rating, the speed that it’s running, to maintain your temperature, which one, is a huge savings in energy, because again, we’re not turning on and off and the inefficiencies of turning on and off. Two, we’re going to maintain temperature a lot better, so you’re not going to get that effect of hot and cold. On the cooling side of things too, what we’re going to end up getting is a much longer runtime.

Down here on Cape, we don’t have 95 degree weather all that often, but we do get in the 80s with very high humidity. Now, we do size to those more extreme temperatures, but when we’re not at those, a more conventional system’s going to cycle on and off more often. In doing so, it’s not going to have time to pull the moisture out of the air properly. So, you’ll get an environment where it’ll feel cool but maybe still feels humid. These inverter compressors, again, with that longer runtime, when we have longer runtime, we’re able to pull more moisture out of the air. When we’re able to pull more moisture out of the air, you’re going to feel more comfortable, it’s going to be drier, and you might even be able to leave your house a little bit warmer and feel just as nice.

Ductless Systems Feature Heating and Cooling

John: When is ductless generally the preferred choice over traditional systems?

Jared: Well, specifically here on Cape, a lot of the homes were never really built with air conditioning in mind. The infrastructure is not there. It was much cooler 30, 40 years ago when the majority of the houses were built. Obviously now, with climate change, we’re experiencing warmer temperatures, longer summers, much higher humidity.

So, those customers that maybe have an existing heating system but don’t have a cooling system, maybe use something more traditional like window units, this is going to be a great option for them that’s going to be relatively… It’s going to be very efficient, it’s not going to have a lot of impact in the home, and they’re going to get multiple zones throughout the house. So, it’s a great opportunity for people who don’t have that existing infrastructure but want to get some sort of cooling in their house.

Ductless: More Affordable Than Oil and Propane Heating

John: Let’s talk a little bit about the big three fossil fuels that people generally use in their homes for heating and compare those to ductless. How does ductless heating compare to oil furnaces in terms of efficiency, cost, and comfort?

Jared: That’s a big question there, and we have these conversations daily with our customers, “If it’s a 40 or 50 degree day, I’m going to be more efficient and not cost you as much to heat. On those really cold days that we might experience in January and February, I am going to cost you a little bit more to heat.” So, what we tell people is, “You need to look at the seasonal costs, not just your January, February bills. If you turn your heat on sometime in October, you’re shutting it off sometime in March, you need to look at your utility bills through that entire six-month season. If you could compare what you paid in oil in those six months versus what the extra cost in your electric utility bill is, I’m actually going to cost you less.”

Ductless: More Environmentally Friendly Than Natural Gas

John: Okay, and then what about natural gas? Some people use natural gas and have a natural gas furnace for their heating. How does that compare to ductless?

Jared: We have that conversation quite a bit. Natural gas is pretty prevalent on Cape. Oil and propane are also very prevalent, but we do have a lot of natural gas down here. So, we do get a lot of customers that are calling that are looking to do potentially a conversion from natural gas to a heat pump system. We’re very upfront with them, “We are going to cost you more.” That’s just the honest truth.

But if you’re using window units in the summertime to cool your home, again, we’re going to be more efficient there, which is going to help your overall utility bills throughout the year. So, to natural gas customers, it’s not as much of a win as it might be other fuel sources. But we do have plenty of people that they’re looking to get off fossil fuels. They understand that they’re going to have an increase in their utility bills, but they’re doing the right thing for the environment.

John: Propane is similar to oil in terms of cost, right? Is that another situation where you could potentially lower your bills a little bit from propane?

Jared: Yeah, we actually have an even bigger win when it comes to propane versus oil, or propane is relatively expensive, similar cost to get oil heat, but actually contains less BTUs per gallon. So, we actually win even better when it comes to propane heat and we see a lot of people converting from propane heat. The number one win is going to be electric heat. That’s pretty obvious. Number two would be propane. After that’s oil, and then as we discussed, there’s not going to be much of any savings with natural gas.

Ductless Vs. Traditional Air Conditioning

John: You mentioned traditional air conditioners that you might put in your windows, and then some people might possibly have central AC systems. I don’t know how prevalent those are on the Cape, but compare ductless cooling to those options.

Jared: On the cooling side of things, we get rated on what’s called a SEER rating, seasonal energy efficiency ratio. The higher that number is, the more efficient the system is. Twenty years ago, when people were putting in air conditioning, there were 8 SEER units, the size of a little lunch box. It’s actually pretty comical seeing the size of the units that used to get installed versus what we have now. Our systems nowadays are upwards of 20 SEER. So, over two times the efficiency of those systems. We’ve really greatly reduced our energy uses to produce the same amount of cooling with those inverter compressors then that ductless technology.

If you are looking to replace your air conditioning system, this is a great option to not only save a ton of money on the cooling end of things, but maybe even get some supplemental heat or even a new primary source of heat and utilize the mass save $10,000 rebate to do that. Again, when you’re comparing to older conventional systems, we’re going to be much less… Or much more efficient, I apologize. We’re going to be much more efficient. As we talked about earlier, we’re going to have those longer run times. Those longer run times with the more mild days are going to make you feel more comfortable.

I personally actually keep my house in the summertime at 76 degrees and I get a lot of customers that say, “Wow, that’s really warm.” I say, “Well, with the proper humidity level, it’s actually very comfortable.” The analogy I try to make for people on that is think about an 80 degree day and you’re at the beach, but it’s relatively dry. That is a perfect summer day. Take that 80 degree day and have a thunderstorm that just rolled through and it’s really high humidity, totally uncomfortable. So, humidity directly affects how we feel and if we’re able to dry out the home, you’re actually going to feel more comfortable even at a higher temperature.

John: The other thing too is you don’t want to be at the beach with your shorts and your flip-flops and then come into your house and have your house be 68 degrees and freezing and then have to go put pants and a sweater on inside during the summer or something like that. 76 with dry air inside the house actually is pretty comfortable when you’re in your shorts and T-shirts.

Jared: Yeah, and we have a lot of customers, that’s what they have to do with their older systems. They’ve got to make it freezing cold in there just to get that comfort level they’re looking for. You get that cool but muggy feel in the home. Again, talking about efficiency, if I’m able to keep your house more comfortable at 76 degrees versus 68 degrees, well, there’s obviously a savings right there.

Contact Cape Cod Heat Pumps Today

John: Absolutely. All right, well, that’s really great information, Jared. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Jared: Thank you, John.

John: For more information, you can visit the Cape Cod Heat Pumps website at ccheatpumps.com or call (508)-833-HVAC. That’s (508)-833-4822.