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Ducted vs Ductless Heat Pumps

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When it comes to heating and cooling your home, two types of heat pumps are widely available for consideration: ducted (also known as standard or central) heat pumps, and ductless (mini-split) systems. Choosing what is right for you and your family can be confusing. Let’s take a closer look at these two options to explore the differences between them.

What are Heat Pumps?

Don’t let the name fool you. A heat pump is an HVAC system that provides both heating and cooling by moving heat energy from one area to another. They do the same job as a furnace and an air conditioner. There are several different kinds of heat pumps but here we will discuss two types: ducted and ductless.

Additional reading: Heat Pumps 101: How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Heat Pumps vs Mini Splits

There are a lot of terminologies, synonyms, and misconceptions about heat pumps and it can be difficult to determine what exactly is being talked about. Let’s help clear up some of the confusion.

Are ductless heat pumps the same as mini splits?

Yes, ductless heat pumps and mini-splits are the same thing, often called ductless mini-splits. These systems work by having an indoor unit that is connected to a blower or condenser located outdoors. This allows them to draw in air from outside and circulate it inside without needing ductwork.

What’s the difference between ducted and ductless heat pumps?

As the name implies, ductless heat pumps only need small tubing lines rather than ductwork to heat or cool a room and can be zoned so that each room or area is set to its own temperature. Ducted heat pumps are similar to mini-split systems in that they also use electricity to transfer thermal energy between the inside and outside. However, ducted systems have a hidden system of larger tubing or metal ductwork that circulates air throughout the home and are typically controlled by a central thermostat.

Ducted Heat Pumps

An HVAC system is designed to keep your home comfortable. With a ducted heat pump system the air from inside your house passes through a filter and is drawn into the ducts by negative pressure, then heated or cooled as needed before being released back into each room where it continues its cycle.

Do ducted heat pumps have an indoor and outdoor unit?

Yes, ducted heat pumps have both an indoor and outdoor unit. The outdoor unit houses the condenser coils and compressor while the indoor unit contains the evaporator coils and fan to distribute air throughout your home.

What are the types of ducted heat pumps?

There are two main types of ducted heat pumps: air sourced and geothermal. Air-sourced ducted heat pumps use air from outside to provide heating or cooling. Geothermal ducted heat pumps take advantage of the relatively stable temperature beneath the Earth’s surface for their source of heat or cool air.

Mini Split Heat Pumps

Mini-split systems are essentially a ductless heat pump. Mini-split systems can both heat and cool your home, just like a heat pump. When looking at mini-split heat pumps there are a few things to know.

What are the advantages of mini-split systems?

They tend to be quieter than traditional HVAC systems because the blower and condenser are located outdoors. Additionally, mini-split systems are incredibly versatile. You can place them in almost any room you want making them ideal for zones that need separate climate control. That means each room can be set to a different temperature without affecting the rest of the house.

What are the disadvantages of mini-split systems?

The biggest con of ductless systems is that they can be more expensive to install than a traditional HVAC system. Additionally, mini-split systems may not be as effective at heating or cooling large areas or open spaces compared to a ducted system. Also, some homeowners may not like the look of the exposed mini-split ductless heat pump in their homes.

What is the dry mode on a mini-split system?

There’s one noteworthy advantage that mini-split systems have over traditional air conditioning systems. Consider a warm, but not a blazing hot day in October. You don’t feel like switching on your air conditioner at home and freezing. With conventional AC systems, there are only two options available: suffer through the sticky atmosphere or activate the AC and bundle up with extra layers of clothing!

With a mini-split, you can easily switch on the “reheat dehumidification mode” or dry mode -it’s simpler than it sounds. In this setting, you are able to keep your interior temperature steady while also eliminating any humidity from the air.

Additional reading: Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Which is right for you?

Can mini splits be ducted, too?

The wall-mounted ductless mini-split system is one of the most widely known and commonly used systems in existence today. One of the things that keep many homeowners from installing a mini-split system is their appearance. Most homeowners don’t want to see their HVAC system exposed.

To make the air handlers invisible or hidden, manufacturers began producing ducted mini-split systems. These systems have an indoor fan coil situated in a dropped ceiling, attic, or crawlspace and use ductwork to spread airflow into each zone of multiple rooms serviced by one fan coil unit.

Is a mini split an air conditioner or a heat pump?

A mini-split can technically be AC or a heat pump but we need heat in the Portland area so it doesn’t make sense to have a AC only mini-split. Heat pump mini-splits can both cool and heat making it a great option for when the seasons change.

Heat Pump Zoning

The struggle over the thermostat setting is real. Someone is always too hot or too cold. Installing a zoned HVAC system gives you control over both the energy savings and the comfort in your home, but most importantly it can put an end to those ever-present thermostat battles!

What is zoning for heat pumps?

Zoning refers to a system of individual thermostats that control the temperature in various areas or zones of your home. This allows you to set different temperatures in each zone, allowing all family members to have their own comfort level while still achieving energy savings.


If you need to climate-control one space of your dwelling, then a single-zone HVAC system is the ideal solution. By using a single-unit system, you can easily and effectively adjust the temperature of any area to suit your needs.

What are single-zone heat pumps?

Single-zone heat pumps operate with one thermostat to control the temperature in either your entire home or in one smaller room. In a centralized HVAC system, warm and cold air is moved from a central location and delivered through ducts within in the home. This type of system is common with ducted heat pumps delivering comfort with only one thermostat. Mini-split systems can also be single-zoned for additions, garages, or ADUs.


Multi zones are good for multi-level dwellings, homes with high ceilings, or large windows that often make it hard to keep comfortable and consistent temperatures for all occupants.

What are multi-zone heat pumps?

Multi-zone or ductless mini-split heat pumps have multiple air handlers connected to one outdoor unit, giving you the ability to control the temperature in different parts of your home independently. As a result, each room is cooled/heated based on its own thermostat settings. This allows for better energy efficiency and comfort for all occupants.

Heat Pump Technology

While heat pumps run on a pretty simple premise – moving heat energy from one place to another – there are newer technologies that help both ducted and ductless heat pumps work more efficiently and save you money. In fact, residential heat pumps can help reduce home energy costs by 60%.

Do ducted and ductless use the same type of technology?

Yes, ducted and ductless heat pumps use the same basic technology. Both are powered by electricity, both use a compressor to move refrigerant through a closed-loop system, and both provide either cooling or heating for your home depending on which mode is selected. The difference between them is in their design and the way they distribute air throughout your home.

Inverter Technology

Heat pump technology has been around for a long time. The first heat pump was invented in the 1850s and has continued to improve. One of those improvements is inverter technology.

What is inverter technology? 

Heat pumps offer two different types of solutions for your home: inverter and fixed output. Fixed output heat pump systems work at 100% capacity when they are on. Once the thermostat reaches the desired temperature, the HVAC system will cycle on and off to maintain the temperature.

Inverter heat pumps are much more energy-efficient than standard heat pumps. They can vary their output based on the temperature needed in order to maintain comfort levels, eliminating long cycles of running at full capacity and wasting energy. Ductless is always inverter technology while traditional heat pump systems can have inverter technology but it is not standard in every model.

Choosing the Right Heat Pump System

When considering whether to go with ducted or ductless heat pumps, the main factors you should consider are efficiency, your budget, space needed, and ease of installation. Heat pumps are a great option for the Portland area so picking the best options for your home comes down to what is best for your home.

When should I choose a ducted traditional heat pump?

The first consideration is if you already have existing ductwork. It makes sense for dwellings with ductwork to look at ducted heat pumps as they already have the necessary infrastructure. Other things that would make a ducted system a good choice:

  • An open-concept home that makes zoning harder
  • Low ceilings make it hard for a mini-split to be installed
  • Improving whole home air circulation

When should I choose a ductless mini-split heat pump?

There a different reasons to choose a ductless mini-split heat pump. Here are a few:

  • Older home with no ducts
  • A desire for zoning
  • You have single area like an addition or garage that needs heating and cooling

Heat Pump Solutions in Portland

When it comes to heating our homes, you want the most cost-effective option that keeps your family comfortable. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are ready to make sure that you have the best system for your home and lifestyle. We will guide you through the decision so you can avoid extra costs, fewer repairs, and enjoy a long-lasting system. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away.

About the Author

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Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.