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Ductless heat pumps offer bountiful benefits

Last week we talked about a variety of other heating devices that we tend to use in the Pacific Northwest and how to check them out now for efficiency and safety concerns before the heating season kicks in.

There’s nothing like cooler weather – and the first heating bill of the season – to get one thinking about alternatives.

Today we’re going to talk about the benefits of one of our favorite heating system – the ductless heat pump.


In this climate, a regular outside heat pump and inside air handler furnace is often an efficient way to heat a house. The technology of a heat pump basically recovers any heat from outside air and transfers it via a closed-loop refrigerant gas to the inside air handler – furnace inside your house. The air handler blows circulating air through a radiator coil that was heated by the gas and that is what is delivered through the house in your ducts.

In the summer, it will do the reverse – drying out the indoor air and pulling the heat out of the air inside the house and blowing off outside at the heat pump. The returning air feels cool providing you with a nice air conditioned space either way.

In the 1970s and 80s, when fuel prices shot up and environmental concerns came to the fore, oil furnaces went out of favor. Some were converted to natural gas or propane. Now you hardly ever see oil furnaces in new construction.

It was about that time that the better heat pump technology, home-sized air handler systems were developed and priced to be used in residences.

Ductless heat pumps – which are just as they sound, not needing duct work to covey the heating or cooling– were the next iteration of this technology, coming strongly onto the scene some 20 years ago.

Their benefits are many. Here are a few:

  • They do not pollute.

  • They are relatively easy and inexpensive to install and sometimes come with a rebate from the PUD.

  • They provide clean air – good for folks with allergies and health concerns.

  • No ductwork in or under your house, saving that floor space for what you want it for and saving you money on installation cost.

  • They are inexpensive to operate – paying for themselves in just a few years and lasting 20 years!

  • They are easy to maintain.

  • They help to keep your home healthy.

We think the drawbacks are few, but we do need to mention them:

  • The heating units are visible so the location of both the exterior and interior units might initially be a practical or aesthetic concern. However, we’re seeing some attention to this lately, with newer units a bit more attractive.

  • If the electrical power goes out, you lose your heat – unless you have a compatible generator or another backup source.


To be most efficient, you will want the inside ductless heat pump unit located where it can see the most main living areas possible – living room, dining room and kitchen – where the space is more open and where you spend most of your time. If it can also see down a hallway it may also heat it and the rooms connected when doors are left open.

A house that’s chopped up with lots of little rooms will not benefit as much as one with a more open concept. However, either way you may want to have some kind of backup heat in the bedrooms.

Figuring ways to recirculate the air back to the unit is worth it. One little trick to help heated air get to where you want it is to open a window a crack in the room which relieves pressure and draws in heated air. Some homes benefit from multiple indoor units or more than one setup. Your contractor will know which is best for what you want to achieve.

The indoor ductless air heating units are about 3 feet wide and a foot tall and protrude from the wall about one foot. Using the remote control, they have control features so the air flow can be pointed just the way it is needed in your house for maximum effect.

While you may not have conceived of having a nice looking heating unit on your wall, after about a week of clean, consistent, cheap heat, you won’t even notice it’s there.

To maintain a ductless heat pump, you just need to open the unit and rinse the reusable filters in the sink, dry them and put them back in the unit. If treated correctly the filters shouldn’t wear out. Can you tell we really like this heating device?



Maybe your oil or gas furnace, cadet wall heaters, electric baseboard or pellet stove or ducted heat pump is nearing retirement age. If that’s the case, before you replace it with the same, try researching a ductless heat pump.

In our experience, most homes need just one unit and the cost is substantially less than other heating/cooling types. Larger units or complicated installations will likely add to the cost of installation, but these units pay for themselves by having a much lower heating bill.

Most heating contractors on the Harbor can install a ductless heat pump. We suggest that you get three bids, for like-equipment, before choosing which contractor to go with – like you would on any major home-improvement project.


A ductless heat pump will provide most of what you need to keep your home a comfortable temperature 90 percent of the time.

However, if we get a long-lasting, deep cold snap, there simply isn’t enough heat in the air for it to extract, so some sort of backup heat is suggested. Keeping your old system as backup could make up the difference for short term needs.

You may want to have something like a furnace rated propane or gas fireplace or pellet stove for those very, very cold days instead. We prefer the (non-electric) gas flame type starter for when the power is out. Regular fireplaces are the last resort and never heat with a BBQ or other non-vented appliance. Be safe – install a CO detector on every floor level of your home.

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