The Cost of Ductless (Podcast)

In this podcast, the owner of Cape Cod Heat Pumps, Jared Grier talks about the cost of ductless. He outlines the factors that affect cost. He covers the importance of doing a Manual J calculation when sizing your heat pump, and he outlines why DIY installation doesn’t end up saving money in most cases.

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 the cost of ductless.

Welcome, Jared.

Jared Grier: Thank you for having me, John. Glad to be here today.

What Affects the Cost of Ductless Heating/Cooling Systems?

John: Yeah, sure. So Jared, can you walk us through some of the biggest factors that might impact the final price tag of a ductless system beyond just the equipment cost itself?

Jared: Absolutely. And quite frankly, that is a very open-ended question because no two ductless jobs are the same. This equipment is such a wide variety nowadays versus when this originally came to us about 25, 30 years ago. We have everything from wall units to floor mount units, ceiling cassette units, and we even have full ducted systems now that we can adapt into an existing heating system.

Depending on the home, depending on the size of the home, depending on what the customer’s current infrastructure is like in the home, and quite frankly, what the customer wants to see in their home, that’s going to really vary widely. So it’s many factors that this is really going to hinge on, and this is why we encourage all of our customers to have us come out to your home, do an evaluation.

We’re going to measure the home. We’re going to do a manual J. We’re going to talk to you about your wants, needs and desires of the system. We’ll go over budget with you to try to design something that works around your budget. So every system that we put in is a custom system that is designed around that specific home and homeowner’s needs.

Type of Ductless Equipment

John: Okay. So things like, like you said, depending on the type of equipment that you’re installing, that would be one factor how complex that installation might be and how long the lines are that you have to install. If you’re on a three-story building or something like that and you have to have lines that go all the way up to the attic, then that’s going to be more expensive than just a Cape House that’s just one floor, things like that. Right?

Jared: Yeah. Again, and also just the size of the project. Are we talking about that you just want to put a unit in for a sunroom to maybe get a little bit more time out of it throughout the season, or are we talking about you wanting to do a full house conversion to get that $10,000 rebate?

Obviously those two projects are going to differ wildly. So really based on several factors, that’s going to really change the total overall investment for the customer.

Size of Your Home and Number of Zones

John: Talk a little bit more specifically about the square footage and how that’s a factor, and then the system design, like you said, where you might have just a single zone with one outdoor unit running a couple of indoor units or something like that versus a multi-zone system where maybe you’re doing every bedroom in the house and that sort of thing. How do those factors influence the cost of a ductless installation?

Jared: Yeah. I mean there’s so many different things that we need to take into account when we size these systems and design these systems. We here do what’s called the manual J. That’s a heat gain, heat loss calculation. We don’t just do them on every job we install. We do it on every job that we quote. That way we ensure that every time we’re designing the proper system.

And square footage alone doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve had a lot of customers tell me, “I have a 2,000 square foot house. How big of a piece of equipment do I need?” And I say, “Well, it’s really going to matter because you can take two Cape style homes, turn one 90 degrees, give it a lot more exposure to the sun, and that’s going to change what that load is for that home.” You could have a house that was built in the 1970s and then you could have something that’s built to modern code today. Obviously the insulation, the weatherization, and the infiltration of those homes are going to be very different as well.

And then when it comes to design, again, that’s really coming down to what the person’s looking to do. Are we looking to just do one room? Are we looking to do the whole house? Are we looking to do half the house? And so based on the customer’s desires, we’re going to design that around them and size it.

Efficiency Ratings for Air Source Heat Pumps

John: Okay. Are SEER ratings, S-E-E-R ratings a factor in the long-term cost of a ductless system in terms of efficiency and the cost and reducing your energy bill, the fact that these systems are more efficient than maybe some other types of heating and cooling systems? And do certain manufacturers make equipment that’s more efficient than others, that sort of thing?

Jared: Yeah. That’s a great question. And the reason is SEER is actually a very small part of the efficiency of the system. So SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. That’s really our cooling efficiency. So there’s SEER rating, but there’s also HSPF, which is Heating Seasonal Performance Factor. That’s your heating efficiency. There’s also EER, and last but not least, which quite frankly I consider the most important rating, is your COP. That’s your Coefficient of Performance.

When it comes to manufacturers, we’re all relatively close in our efficiencies. We use LG products. What I will tell you is LG has probably one of the most robust lines that qualifies for the Mass Save program, and they actually look at a heating ratio. So they’ve actually got even different things that they’re looking for to qualify for the Mass Save program.

The Impact of Climate and Regional Factors on Cost

John: How do climate and regional factors affect ductless pricing such as here in Massachusetts and on Cape Cod specifically?

Jared: Yeah. Cape is a relatively unique area. We tend to stay a little bit warmer in the wintertime. We’re surrounded by the water. So the average winter, we’re about 40 degrees. Here it is the end of January and we were just 50 degrees yesterday. We’re about 40 degrees today. But this past weekend we were 15 degrees. So that can obviously factor into it.

Code here on Cape is sized to 17 degrees, designed temperature outside. We actually size down to zero. We mostly do that ’cause we will reach those temperatures. Quite frankly, last year we got to about negative 15 degrees here on Cape. It was historic for us, but we didn’t have one heat pump customer call us and say their house wasn’t nice and warm.

So really obviously the sizing is going to be a big factor. Cape Cod has a high cost of living down here, so labor is definitely hard to come by here. We got a relatively small pool of workers down here. The average age in Brewster, I just read an article the other day, I think it was somewhere around 50% of the population was above 45 years old. So we do skew much older here, and with the cost of living, for the younger generation that’s going to be working in the trades, it can be relatively hard for them to find housing here.

John: Okay. So that’s definitely a factor in terms of the overall cost of getting a ductless system installed on the Cape.

Jared: 100%, yeah. I mean we offer great benefits here for our employees. We offer top pay, even starting employees well over $20 an hour. And that’s ’cause we want to make sure that we get good, reliable, skilled labor to put this product in and put it in a quality manner for our customers.

Is DIY Ductless Installation a Good Idea?

John: Okay. Can a homeowner install a ductless heating and cooling system on their own to save money? What would be the potential risks and hidden costs associated with going the DIY route?

Jared: So the DIY route is definitely gaining in popularity. Quite frankly it’s actually illegal ’cause you need a license to handle refrigerant and equipment that contains refrigerant. I’m not sure how these various manufacturers are getting around that, but they are, and I certainly would obviously not encourage you to do it. Refrigerant can be very dangerous. It can burn you and it can burn you really badly if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.

There’s also proper practices and procedures for putting this equipment in. Pressure testing, 550 PSI, letting it sit, make sure that it holds nice and tight. We use zoom lock tools. That’s going to ensure that we use or we have good connections between all of our equipment. And then properly vacuuming the system down. We do what’s called triple vacuuming. So we vac it down into a good vacuum, add dry nitrogen back into the system, vac it down again to a good vacuum, and then one third time add dry nitrogen. So that way we ensure that we get a good, clean refrigerant system ’cause that is absolutely critical with these systems because that’s what’s heating and cooling your home is the refrigerant. So if our refrigerant system is compromised, the whole system’s going to be compromised.

John: Would going the DIY route also affect your warranty on the equipment that you purchase?

Jared: Yeah. Most of these manufacturers, they’re able to track down with their serial number where the equipment went. And if they find out that it was sold through the internet, they will not warranty that equipment.

John: So that’s definitely a factor then as well. If you’re going the DIY route, if you have a problem with it during installation, you’re not going to get support from the manufacturer or be able to rely on a manufacturer’s warranty or something like that.

Jared: Yeah. And quite frankly, you’re not going to get much support from contractors like myself when you call because you put it in yourself. We’re not going to be familiar with that equipment, what was done correctly, what wasn’t done correctly. At least generally, if I go behind another contractor to make a repair, usually I’m going to assume and can assume that they did proper practices and procedures.

If a homeowner did it, now I’m getting there and I’m just going to assume nothing was done right and I’m going to have to tear everything apart. So if you’re able to get somebody to come and troubleshoot and fix that system, it’s going to be a lot more costly because we’re probably going to want to start from a blank slate.

Contact Cape Cod Heat Pumps to Get a Quote on Ductless

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

Jared: Thank you, John.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Cape Cod Heat Pumps website at or call 508-833-HVAC. That’s 508-833-4822.