Can You Cool and Heat Your Home Exclusively With A Mini Split Heat Pump?

Now that the summer heat is setting in we’ve been regularly using our new mini split system to cool our home. We had some questions about how good the system and configuration would work. We only installed one 18,000 BTU unit for the entire parlor floor. Even though it is fairly open, it’s about 800 square feet. Recommendations call for much more than that one unit. After some pretty hot and muggy days we can definitely say that it passed with flying colors! It gives the parlor floor a department store level of cool in just a couple of minutes. We even find ourselves turning it off if it gets too cold. The smaller 7,000 BTU units we installed in each bedroom are doing just as well. It has us thinking: could we exclusively use our mini split systems’s heat pump to heat our home as well?

It might be the last thing you want to think about right now, heating your home, but if you’re planning a new AC system it might be the time to consider it. Manufacturers of mini split heat pumps have been touting new technology that supposedly makes it possible to use as an exclusive heating system, but many people still warn against it. Saying instead that it’s really meant to supplement a traditional heating system with the northeast’s frigid temperatures. So which is it?

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Let’s start with how heat pumps work. We won’t go too deep into the physics of it (because honestly some of the details are even foggy for us!) but unlike traditional heating systems that burn some sort of fuel source to heat water, steam, or air, heat pumps simply (or not so simply‍♂️) pull heat from the air outside to raise the temperature in your home. Yes, even when it is well below freezing outside. That can be hard for some people to wrap their heads around, but even if it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there is still enough heat in the air for the heat pump to operate at 100% heating capacity.

Can It Exclusively Heat My Home?

Depending on the brand and features some mini split heat pumps can continue to operate at 100% heating capacity down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. At some point all of them will provide less heating capacity if it gets cold enough, which unfortunately might be when you need it the most! For those early adopters of the new technology they are betting on temperatures not sinking that low, and it’s probably a good bet. The coldest monthly average low in New York City is 26 degrees. The lowest recorded temperature since 1869 was in 1934 and it was (ironically) -15 F degrees. In the last 10 years, negative temperatures have only been reached once, and it was -1 F. So the bottom line is that if you get the right system you should never experience a situation where you have decreased heating capacity. Also, remember that even if we have a once-in-a-century cold spell it doesn’t mean no heat, just less. Potentially it may operate at 70% heating capacity rather than 100%. If you’re reading this from northern Saskatchewan, maybe a mini split heat pump is not for you.

Other Considerations

One of the advantages a mini split system has over a ducted central cooling system is its ability to be operated in zones. You don’t need to cool parts of your home you’re not using. Obviously that’s much more efficient than cooling potentially thousands of lonely square feet. For heating, we personally feel this might not work as well if you’re using it exclusively. We prefer to have our entire home cozy and warm. It doesn’t really work to heat some rooms and not others (our home is not that big!) So we would likely have all units running to heat the entire house. We also didn’t install units in the bathrooms (nor would most people) so those rooms would need an alternative heating source (heated floors anyone?).

If you’re interested in going green or having a carbon neutral home, a mini split system can be a piece of the puzzle. If you install solar panels and you are able to produce enough amps to run your home and HVAC system you can be a step closer to operating off the grid.

We’ve been stubbornly resistant to considering making the switch to cooling AND heating exclusively with a ductless mini split heat pump, but the better the technology gets (it’s pretty much there), the more we learn about it, and the increasingly positive reviews we hear from those who are doing it is slowly but surely is changing our minds. Maybe we’ll give it a go this winter and report back our own review!

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