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Heat Pumps vs. Mini-Splits. What Is the Difference?

8 minute read

Both heat pumps and mini-splits are popular ways to heat and cool homes. They are good at keeping the temperature just right in various settings. Both systems are meant to control the temperature, air, and humidity inside, but they work in different ways and are used for different reasons.

The outside air or the ground can be used to heat or cool a house through a heat pump. It moves heat from warm air from one place to another instead of making heat directly, which is how heat transfer works. This makes it very useful in places where harsh temperatures rarely happen.

A mini-split system also called a ductless mini-split, on the other hand, has one or more indoor air-handling units and an outer coil or condenser. There is no need for ductwork because these units are directly linked to each other by a conduit. They cool and heat specific areas of the building. Mini-splits are liked because they can be used to heat and move warm or cool air in different rooms.

It's crucial for homeowners who are looking at their heating and cooling solution choices to know the differences between heat pumps and mini-splits. There are pros and cons to each method, and some may work better in some homes and climates than others. For example, heat pumps can heat and cool in one system and are best for places where temperature changes aren't too big or too small. On the other hand, mini-splits are easy to set up and let you control the temperature in each room individually, which makes them perfect for homes that don't have ductwork or that need to meet the temperature needs of different rooms.

Homeowners can make smart choices about the best system for their needs by understanding the differences between systems based on energy efficiency, cost, building needs, and personal comfort preferences.

A Quick Look at Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a flexible and effective way to heat or cool a room. It does this by using a chilling cycle, which is the same way an air conditioner or refrigerator does it. A heat pump is a more energy-efficient way to heat your home than traditional systems that burn fuel or use electric resistance. This is because it moves heat from the ground or the air source heat pumps it.

There are two main types of heat pumps:

  • Air-source heat pumps take heat from the air outside to heat the home and cool the home by sending heat back outside. Most of the time, they cost less and are easier to install than other types of heat pumps.
  • Ground-source heat pumps use the steady temperature of the ground or water to heat, cool, and often boil water. Although they are more difficult to install and cost more, they save money in the long run and use less energy.

Usages and Benefits

Heat pumps are used in many places, such as homes, businesses, and factories. They work best in climates where heating and cooling needs are modest, but as technology has improved, they are becoming more valuable in colder places as well.

Good Things:

  • Energy Efficient: Heat pumps are known for being very energy efficient, especially in mild areas. For as little as a quarter of the cost of running regular heating or cooling equipment, they can cool or heat a room the same amount.
  • Positive effects on the environment: Because heat pumps move heat instead of making it, they can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to systems that use fossil fuels.
  • Versatility: Most heat pumps can switch to cooling mode in the summer, so they can be used for all of your other HVAC system needs.
  • Cost-effective: Heat pumps are more cost-effective than traditional systems in certain climates especially when power prices are low.
  • Safety and Longevity: Heat pumps last a long time and don't use burning, which makes them safer and cleaner to use.

Overall, heat pumps are a good investment for people who want to save money on energy costs and help the environment while keeping their homes or businesses comfortable all year.

A Look at Mini-Splits

A ductless mini-split, which is another name for a mini-split system, is a simpler way to heat and cool your home than standard systems that need a lot of ductwork. Because of this, ductless mini-split systems are especially useful in some homes and businesses where adding ducts would be hard to do or cost too much.

What it Means and What's Different?

A mini-split system has two main parts: an outdoor compressor/condenser and one or more air-moving units inside. A conduit holds the power wire, the refrigerant tubing, the suction tubing, and a condensate drain. It connects these parts. Usually, HVAC systems use a single central unit to send air through a network of ducts all over the house.

What Makes Up Mini-Split Systems?

  • Outdoor Unit: This is where the compressor is located. It moves the coolant between air conditioners for the indoor and outdoor units.
  • Indoor Units: These are also called air handlers, and they are put in different rooms or zones throughout the house. Each unit can be controlled separately, so the temperature in each zone can be set to your liking.
  • Conduit: This part links the outdoor and indoor units and facilitates the movement of power and gas between them.

Efficiency of Mini-Splits

Because they are so flexible, mini-splits can heat and cool only certain parts of a house. This zoning feature not only makes people more comfortable but also saves energy because only the places that need it are heated or cooled at any given time. Since mini-splits don't have any ducts, they don't lose the energy that comes with them. Ductwork can waste more than 30% of the energy used for cooling, especially if the ducts are in a room that isn't heated or cooled, like an attic.

Inverter technology in mini-splits lets the generator change speeds based on whether the unit needs to heat or cool. This regulating feature makes them even more efficient because it lowers the big changes in temperature and energy use that happen with regular HVAC systems that turn on and off more often.

Mini-split systems are a quick, reliable, and inexpensive way to heat and cool your home without having to do a lot of work to install them or take up a lot of room for pipes. Because they are flexible, they are great for adding on to buildings, fixing up older ones, or controlling the temperature in places where regular ducted systems can't go.

What Makes Heat Pumps and Mini-Splits Different?

Both heat pumps and mini-splits are good ways to heat and cool your home, but they are different in how they are installed, how much energy they use, how much they cost, how well they work in different climates, and how easily and quickly they can control and handle multiple zones. Building managers and homeowners can choose the best system for their needs if they know about these changes.

Needs for Installation

  • Heat Pumps: Most traditional heat pumps need a network of pipes to move air around the building. This can make installation more difficult and cost more, especially if the building doesn't already have existing ductwork around. But there are heat pumps that don't need ducts, and they are installed in the same way that mini-splits are.
  • Mini-Splits: One of the best things about mini-splits is how easy they are to set up. Since they don't need ducts, they can be put in with few structural changes to the building. Each indoor unit only needs a small hole in the wall to link to an outdoor unit. This can cut down on the time and trouble needed for installation by a large amount.

Energy Savings

  • Heat Pumps: Heat pumps usually use very little energy, especially in mild areas. They can also have high-tech features added to them, such as variable speed blowers that change their output based on demand, making them even more efficient.
  • Mini-Splits: This type of air conditioner is also very energy efficient, mostly because it doesn't have any ducts that can leak air. A lot of mini-splits, like heat pumps, use inverter technology, which lets them change how well they work based on the needs of the room. This keeps them from using too much energy.


  • Heat Pumps: Installing a heat pump can cost more at first, especially if new pipes need to be put in. But their running costs may be cheaper, especially in places that need to heat and cool at different times of the year.
  • Mini-Splits: A mini-split system may be cheaper at first, especially in homes that don't have pipes already, but the price can go up as more indoor units are needed for each room or zone.

Suitability for Different Climates or Building Types

  • Heat Pumps: Heat pumps work great in mild to average climates, but they might need extra heat in places where winters are very cold. For homes and buildings that need a complete heating and cooling system, these are the best choices.
  • Mini-Splits: Because each unit can be handled separately, mini-splits are flexible and can be used in a wide range of climates, even those with harsh conditions. They work best in buildings that don't have pipes, in smaller rooms, or to control the temperature in just one room.

Control in Multiple Zones

  • Heat Pumps: Central and ducted heat pumps manage the temperature of the whole building or home. Ductless heat pumps, on the other hand, can offer the same multi-zone management options as mini-splits, so you can set different temperatures in different places.
  • Mini-Splits: Because they are so good at zone control, mini-splits make it easy to heat or cool different areas separately. This is very helpful for multi-story buildings where different areas may need different temperatures.

Both heat pumps and mini-splits have benefits that depend on how they are installed, how much money you have, the climate where you live, the building you have, and your unique heating and cooling needs. Because of their differences, different systems are suitable for different situations. To pick the right system, you need to think about these things carefully.

How to Pick Between a Mini-Split and a Heat Pump

There are a few important things you should think about when choosing between a ducted heat pump system and a mini-split system for your heating and cooling needs. These factors will help you figure out which system is best for you, making sure that you get the most effective and efficient option for your building or home.

Size and Layout of the Building

  • Heat Pumps: A central ducted heat pump system may work better in bigger buildings with more rooms, especially if the pipe is already there. This system can circulate air throughout the whole building in a steady and even way. If there isn't any ducting, a ductless heat pump system could be installed. This type of installation is less invasive and still allows for central control.
  • Mini-Splits: These systems work best in smaller buildings or buildings where only certain parts need to be heated or cooled. They are also great for adding to places that aren't tied to the main heating or cooling system, like garages, sunrooms, or new additions. Because mini-splits are so flexible, they can be used in buildings with complicated plans where installing ducts would be hard or impossible.

The Weather

In general, heat pumps work best in mild to moderate conditions. However, in places with very cold winters, they may need an extra source of heat. Newer types, on the other hand, are getting better at working well even in colder places.

Because each zone can be controlled separately, mini-splits can also work in a wide range of temperatures, even the harshest ones. This means you can heat or cool rooms only when they need it and not waste energy on rooms that aren't being used.

Costs at the Start and Over Time

  • Heat Pumps: Installing a heat pump can be expensive at first, especially if ductwork needs to be built or changed. However, if the system is well maintained, its running costs tend to go down over time. This makes them a good choice for heating and cooling the whole house.
  • Mini-Splits: Installing a mini-split usually costs less at first, especially in buildings that don't already have ducting. But if you need more than one indoor unit, the prices can add up. These costs can be covered by the money you save on utility bills over time because the ducted system itself is very energy efficient, especially if only a few zones are used often.

Personal Needs for Heating and Cooling

  • Heat Pumps: A heat pump is probably the best choice if you need to heat or cool your whole home or building and want the temperature to be the same everywhere. It also works if you want an easier, more centralized system to handle.
  • Mini-Splits: These give you the control and flexibility you need if your heating and cooling needs change frequently from room to room or if different family members have different comfort preferences. Each unit can be run independently, so you don't have to pay for the energy to heat or cool rooms that aren't being used.

What to Choose?

If you need to choose between a heat pump and a mini-split, you should consider your home's features, the weather where you live, and your budget. This will help you choose the best system for your long-term heating and cooling needs, making sure that your home or place of business is as comfortable and energy-efficient as possible.

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