Heat Pump vs. Mini Split: Knowing the Difference
The biggest difference when considering a heat pump vs. mini split is how each system moves warm and cool air. Heat pumps use ducts to compress and redistribute air, while mini splits use an indoor air handler and outdoor compressor to control interior temperatures.
Our indoor comfort is something we often take for granted. Your dinner table conversation topics probably don’t include debates about the differences between a heat pump vs. mini split—at least, not until you need to update or replace your air control system.
If temperatures drop too low or rise too quickly, dangerous situations arise. It’s important to know which type of climate control your indoor spaces use so you can make educated decisions about necessary updates, installations, and renovations.
Our heat pump vs. mini split guide can help you understand the differences between the two systems, weigh the benefits and challenges of each, and choose the right option for your home or office.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a climate control system that uses a series of ducts to compress air, which then cools or heats and redistributes it. Unlike traditional AC and furnace systems, ducted heat pumps use one system to produce both warm and cold air.
There are different types of heat pumps available, including:
- Air source: Air source heat pumps use ducted systems to transfer heat between the air outside and inside a home.
- Geothermal: Geothermal heat pumps use underground piping to transfer ground heat into a home and expel internal heat back into the ground.
- Hybrid: Hybrid heat pumps create a seamless heating and cooling experience using traditional heating sources and modern climate control systems.
- Absorption: Absorption heat pumps, also called gas-fired heat pumps, use alternative energy sources, including natural gas, propane, and solar power.
Benefits of a Heat Pump
No matter which type of heat pump you invest in, you can expect to see a few common benefits:
- Durability: The materials used to create heat pump systems are designed to withstand wear and tear and elemental decay.
- Design: Heat pumps are compact and can be installed in homes and businesses with small storage spaces.
- Budget-friendly installation: In buildings with duct systems, heat pumps provide budget-friendly heating and cooling solutions.
Challenges of a Heat Pump
Despite their benefits, heat pump users may also be affected by various challenges:
- Ductwork: Ducted heat pumps require expensive duct installation, which can be complicated to install.
- Less customizable: Heat pumps can only heat or cool spaces to a singular temperature, which makes it impossible to zone or adjust individual rooms.
- Maintenance costs: Commercial-grade materials are expensive to replace and upkeep, which means maintenance costs can be substantial.
What Is a Mini Split?
A mini split is a ductless heating and cooling air control system. These systems can be installed in individual rooms or zones and are great for private residences and businesses. They're known as split systems because they consist of an indoor air handler and an outdoor compressor, so the system is physically split and allows for greater temperature control in individual rooms.
Benefits of a Mini Split
Ductless heating and cooling systems provide a few unique advantages:
- Precise temperature control: Mini splits can be installed in different rooms or zones, which allows users to easily control temperatures in specific areas.
- Quick installation: Without the need for duct systems, mini split systems can be installed quicker than other climate control systems.
- Flexibility: Mini splits allow for HVAC customization specific to each customer’s preferences and air control needs.
Challenges of a Mini Split
Despite their flexibility, mini split systems also produce challenges that users need to be aware of:
- Operation costs: For customers using multiple mini split air handlers, heating and cooling costs can quickly skyrocket.
- Substantial size: Mini splits can’t be hidden away in storage spaces. Instead, every room or zone requires a visible air handler.
- Maintenance needs: A mini split system needs frequent maintenance, especially for systems with more than one handler.
Heat Pump vs. Mini Split: Key Factors To Consider
With many options to consider, choosing a central climate control system can be difficult. Keep these factors in mind when comparing heat pumps vs. mini split systems.
With the price of electricity soaring—even for individuals on fixed-rate energy plans—it’s important to consider the cost of your air control system before investing in either a heat pump or a mini split.
Consider the average cost range for both systems:
- Heat pumps: Average installation costs between $2,500 and $10,000.
- Mini splits: Average installation costs between $2,000 and $14,500.
Heat pumps are usually more expensive to maintain, but their initial installation costs are cheaper than mini splits. Depending on your needs, these costs should be a contributing factor when choosing a heating and cooling system.
Our pick: Tie
Installation and Ductwork
Ductwork is required to effectively install a heat pump. While this type of installation is usually more budget-friendly than the requirements of a mini split system, it requires more extensive labor. On the other hand, a mini split can be installed quickly and nearly universally across most homes, offices, and other buildings.
Our pick: Mini split
Are there rarely used areas in your home or business or do you regularly need to heat and cool separate spaces to different temperatures? If so, you need to carefully consider which type of air control system to install. Heat pumps have no zoning abilities, so they adjust spaces to the same temperature, but mini splits are able to heat and cool areas to different degrees—even if your temperature needs are drastically different.
Our pick: Mini split
The layout of your building will impact your heating and cooling needs, especially if you have unused spaces that need less consistent air control. Larger homes and offices may need to install more than one air handler, increasing installation and potential upkeep costs, while it’s possible for a single heat pump to control the climate of most single-zone homes.
Our pick: Tie
Depending on the type of system control your building needs, either a heat pump or a mini split could be a great option. Mini splits have customizable zone control capabilities, but they can be difficult to control if a unit is remoteless. On the other hand, heat pumps use a centralized system to deliver consistent heating and cooling to large spaces, but they are less flexible when it comes to zone or room control.
Our pick: Tie
Mini splits avoid the energy losses associated with leaky or faulty ductwork, which can account for over 30% of a building’s energy consumption. Mini splits also allow users to control the temperature of individual zones, which means less-used spaces can be kept at higher temperatures or not climate-controlled at all. Without potential losses from faulty ductwork and more flexibility with heating and cooling, mini splits are more effective at increasing a building’s energy efficiency.
Our pick: Mini split
If you’re looking for flexibility in your central climate control system, it may be best to invest in a mini split. With multiple indoor air handlers connected to outdoor compressors, it’s possible to create multiple zones within one building, which increases temperature flexibility and can help regulate energy consumption.
Our pick: Mini split
If your home or business’s interior design is important to you, your central air control system is an important decision. Ducted heat pumps use systems hidden behind walls and insulation, while mini splits are always visible within rooms or zones. These mounted units can disrupt the aesthetics of your space, even though many have adopted sleek and modern designs.
Our pick: Heat pump
Choosing a Central Climate Control System
When comparing heat pumps vs. mini splits, you won’t find a one-size-fits-all answer. You need to choose the right air control system for your individual needs and budget. Each system produces various pros and cons, which impact each individual’s situation differently.
In summary, heat pumps are best for:
- Properties where temperatures should be uniform
- Buildings where ductwork is already installed
- New construction homes or commercial buildings
- People in need of a budget-friendly system
- Individuals who want a built-in look
Meanwhile, a mini split is best for:
- Homes needing individualized zones
- Properties with rarely used rooms or spaces
- Individuals who need systems with simple and quick installations
- Buildings without ductwork
Before deciding on your central climate control system, make sure to consider all the options and your building’s heating and cooling needs.
Heat Pump vs. Mini Split FAQ
Below, we answer a few frequently asked questions about heat pumps and mini splits.
Are mini splits cheaper than heat pumps?
Mini splits can be cheaper than heat pumps, but it’s not guaranteed. Installing a heat pump is usually less expensive than a mini split, but mini splits tend to have fewer maintenance costs associated with their upkeep.
Is a mini split system better than a heat pump?
Mini split systems can be better than heat pumps, but one might be better based on your needs. Modern ductless systems are often the most affordable central climate control system, and they can provide users with various benefits, including energy efficiency and installation flexibility.
What are mini split heat pumps?
Mini split heat pumps are central climate control systems that combine mini splits and heat pumps into a single air control system. These types of pumps allow users to benefit from the convenience of ductless systems and the energy efficiency of traditional heating and cooling systems. Mini split heat pumps have become an incredibly popular HVAC option for both heating and cooling purposes.
Lower Your Energy Costs With Arbor
In the heat pump vs. mini split debate, you should never have to compromise on or accept high electric bills. Whether you decide to use ducted air control to heat and cool your home or invest in a zoned climate control system, Arbor can help lower your energy costs. With decreased rates and no energy interruptions, you can choose the right air control system for you—without sacrificing ongoing affordability.