So, We're Going Ductless | What That Means & Why We Chose It
Happy Holiday Friends! Ok, ok, we have SO much to catch up on! And for starters I know I've left a lot of you hanging on our bathroom renovation! I've got a whole lot to explain and share about that...but for this particular post I'll give you the cliff notes version. Earlier this fall we finally started our current house renovation. And thought our downstairs bathroom would be the easiest and most practical place to start. Get in, and get out. Well, right before starting that, we were out of town for a few weeks and came home to a soggy bathroom. Some of you saw all that on Instagram Stories and we shared our discovery of some mold, that also led straight into our kitchen. Well, the bathroom is completely gutted at this point, and the mold under control. What I haven't shared is that our bathroom ended up being command central for our homes hvac, plumbing and electrical. Meaning that before we actually renovated that space we had some MAJOR decisions to be made about the future of our homes primary systems. We've consulted many experts, Brian and I have spent many nights talking into the early hours, and at the end of the day, the delay's really come down to me not able to make final decisions. Now, I'd like to think I'm a pretty good and quick at decision making, but this situation has had my head spinning. Because, as you all know, hvac, plumbing and electrical all tend to add up really quickly, especially when you're talking about updating / replacing. And also, to give you some background, we bought this 1950's house two years ago. When we purchased, we were told all those major systems were updated about 11 years prior. Obviously, not new, but we thought all the major things had been properly updated and done so in a practical manner. Well, in opening up our bathroom, it became really clear that, that remodel had been done with plenty of shortcuts and shortcomings, and frankly done in a manner that didn't always make sense for the layout and size of this home. So, here we are, the past months talking to experts and going round and round about what is best for our house, our family and our wallets. I'll get to the details of plumbing and electrical in another post, but for today, I'm happy to share that progress has been made and a decision reached in terms of our homes HVAC. And truth be told, we went with an option, that I originally said, I'd never do!
WARNING! THIS POST IS SUPER LONG & SUPER BORING! I GAVE ALL THE DETAILS FOR THE WHY OF OUR SPECIFIC HOUSE, BUT FOR THE QUICK READ SCROLL DOWN TO THE BOLDED TEXT "PROS OF GOING DUCTLESS" AND "CONS OF GOING DUCTLESS" AS WELL AS TO THE PHOTOS AT THE END OF THE POST FOR A BRIEF OVERVIEW!
Ok, so rewind one more time. We bought our 1400 sq. ft. cape cod in Atlanta two years ago, and while we knew the homes HVAC system had been replaced 11 years prior, we knew the system (compressor and furnace) was getting up there in age. It should also be noted that we never bought this home due to it's 'remodeled' claims. We knew we still had a fixer upper on our hand, and while we love the challenge of that, the real reason we bought the house is because we were in love with the location. So, we knowingly went into this house knowing we would need to do some major changes. We bought during the winter months and what we quickly realized is that our upstairs (a converted attic space), would get smoldering hot, while our downstairs would be quite chilly. In the summer, the upstairs wouldn't cool at all. Like at all! So, we naively thought our home just needed a more powerful compressor (that big thing that sits outside the house). And thought at most it would be a few thousand dollar upgrade. Well, we couldn't have been more wrong. About a year ago, we had an HVAC specialist come out. It was then that we understood that getting adequate heating and cooling to both the downstairs and upstairs of our house, wasn't that simple. Initially we thought we could do one of three things.
1. Buy a new condenser, and install a damper (which would allow us to zone upstairs and downstairs). Pro, it meant only one condenserneeded. Con, it meant we would need to install a new air handler which would be more money.
2. We could separately zone upstairs and downstairs with individual condenser. Pro, this would allow separate thermostats and individual control of both spaces. Cons, two condenser meant double the cost, in addition re-ducting would need to happen which meant even more money. Plus, our homes upstairs (approx. 500 sq. ft), realistically was too small for this option to financially make sense.
3. Keep our system downstairs and install Ductless upstairs.
Ok, are you confused yet? Because I sure was!
Now, until this time, we hadn't really heard a lot about Ductless HVAC. When we were looking to buy our second house, we saw similar cape cod homes with a ductless 'minisplit' upstairs and regular / traditional ducted hvac downstairs. At that time I HATED the look of these ductless units. They were big, clunky and aesthetically not pleasing. I made the choice then and there that ductless was not an option!
So, at that time (about a year ago), we decided to put the issue on the back burner. Our current system was still working. Obviously, not efficiently, but because we really weren't using the upstairs (really only when guests visited), we figured this was a problem and cost for another time).
Fast forward to our bathroom renovation. Once the walls were gutted, we came across an 8" duct that brought air from downstairs to upstairs. That thing was placed in such an awkward place (ideally where we would put new plumbing) and was taking up much needed room in the walls. But, moving it elsewhere proved to be a challenge. Plus, we were told it was actually too small and needed to be at least 10" in order to properly bring enough air flow to upstairs. That meant we would need to widen the wall, and in a room that we were trying to expand, that really wasn't an option we wanted to hear.
So, that's when Brian and I really started looking into ductless as being a solution for upstairs. We would get the heating and cooling we needed up there, plus it would allow us to remove this 8" duct from the bathroom wall. Win! Win!
Well, again, not so fast! First it should be noted, that at this point, I thought Ductless was truly that. A large wall unit that plugs in and ta da ~ you're done!
So, here's the thing with ductless mini-splits. The heads cost anywhere from $1,000-$2,000+ each, but they still need a condenser (which can cost anywhere from $2,000-$6,000+). And access to it. Meaning, they still need a power line, refrigerant line and drain line to come out of the main head and connect to the condenser.
So, WHY EVEN GO WITH DUCTLESS MINI SPLITS?
Well, for starters, they're VERY Energy Efficient. (Our power bill averages at $150 a month, by replacing our entire house to ductless, we've been promised that our bill will drop to $35-$50 a month. That's some BIG savings!) And while ductless minisplits still need a condenser and lines to run to it, those lines take up minimal space (they nicely pack into a 4-6" tube) and go on the outside of your house rather than in the walls. Meaning there's no need for ANY ductwork in your walls, house, basement and or crawlspace.
Also, these ductless minisplits, offer both AC and Heating, and don't need a furnace to provide for that! Again, that's another unit and cost that's not needed to operate these things!
So, about a month ago, we decided we'd upgrade the upstairs to a ductless unit ($4,000-$5,000 total) and leave our current situation downstairs...hoping to get a few more years out of it before needing a new condenser and furnace (which would be approx $6,000 to replace). All in, we were hoping to have our entire house updated for around $10,000.
Two weeks ago, is when we called in HVAC specialists (we ended up using HomeDepot's recommended service provider ARS, and have been so happy with the install and customer service!) They first came over to specifically quote the job and get the ball rolling.
Right out the gate our specialist was pushing (and I mean pushing) for ductless minisplits throughout our ENTIRE house. Now until, then, I really only thought we'd do it for upstairs. He kept telling us our house was the PERFECT candidate for using ALL ductless minisplits. His reasons...
PROS TO GOING DUCTLESS, USING MITSUBISHI MINI SPLITS FOR HEATING & AIR
1. Energy Efficient (again, our average power bill was $150 a month, he promised by switching it would be down to $35-$50 a month, even more if we replaced our old 1950's windows to something better insulated in addition to adding insulation to our walls, our house currently has none.)
2. The size of our home was perfect to justify the upgrade. At only 1400 sq. ft., it meant we could get away with one condenser, and needed just 4 heads to heat and cool our entire home. One in our downstairs living space, one upstairs and one in each bedroom downstairs.
3. Peace & Quiet! He promised these units to be so much more quiet than the traditional system we were use to.
4. Ductless! Mini splits meant no more ducting needed. Which for our small floor plan meant the option for much needed space! For example our current intake has ducting right next to our front door. By removing it, we could easily DOUBLE our current coat closet! DOUBLE! And of course this meant that in the upstairs, all the space used to conceal the ducting, could be used for much needed storage / closet space!
5. Low Maintenance. While the filters on each head need to be cleaned regularly, they're reusable and are easy to remove and clean! Rinse with water and dry, then put back in. Easy! No more having to buy and replace those big bulky filters for traditional systems.
6. Zoned Heating & Cooling. Meaning that each individual head could be set to a different temperature for maximum comfort and energy savings. Each one is controlled by an individual remote, meaning I can have our bedrooms turned down during the day, and the one in our living space turned up and vice versa!
Now, these were some HUGE promises and honestly sounded, too good to be true. So what was the catch and why did I hesitate to jump on board.
CONS FOR GOING DUCTLESS, USING MITSUBISHI MINI SPLITS FOR HEATING & AIR
1. Cost! While these units promise energy efficiency and money savings in the long run, they typically cost a lot more in the upfront than traditional systems. For us, the initial quote was $15,000 for the entire house. (spoiler alert, due to off season savings we ended up paying $13,500, in addition we will be getting an additional $1,200 back in rebates. Making our final price $12,300).
2. Aesthetics! Call me crazy, while I'm all for energy efficiency, I'm not wanting to do so at the cost of the look. These mini split heads are clunky, and frankly easy eye sores in the design of a room! Not to mention, if you google them online, you see plenty of bad installs shown. Inside the home as well as in the tubing that goes on the outside of your house. Nothing like having a bunch of random pipes and tubes snaking on the outside of your homes exterior!
3. Placement. Again, I had thought you could put these on any wall, plug in and done. Not that easy. Each need to be placed on an exterior wall ~ the drainage and coolant lines need to be placed on the exterior of your house. Should they ever leak, you wouldn't want them to be hidden from view in an interior wall. For us, in a smaller home, this meant limited options for placement in each room. Also, I wasn't keen on having more than one of these exterior pipes on the front of our house - which again, meant getting creative on interior placement.
Now, let me remind you, at this point we really had only budgeted to spend $4,000-$5,000 to put a minisplit upstairs. So, initially, I help my ground and insisted that's all we wanted to do.
Now, here was the catch. We could absolutely add a mini split upstairs, BUT in order to do so, we would have to downgrade the size of our downstairs system. Yep, that's right! We would HAVE to downgrade our current homes condenser and furnace to a smaller size to accommodate a smaller square footage. WHY?! Well for one, we would be out of code, and secondly, counter-intuitive to my thoughts, having a system with too many BTUs for the square foot could lead to mold and mildew in the long run.
So, in order to simply add a minisplit to upstairs, we would also have to buy / replace a new condenserand furnace for downstairs. Making the grand total for this option $14,500!
WHAT! By adding ONE minisplit to our home, it would make it cost MORE than adding ALL minisplits to our home?!
So, BACK to the drawing board we went. Ok, I didn't love the look of mini splits, plus they were super costly. So, back to traditional ducting hvac we talked. In order to keep ducted, and upgrade our system in a purposeful, meaningful way, we would need to replace the condenser, furnace, add a damper to the system, and replace and re-route all the awkward ductwork in our home. The grand total to properly replace our ducted system was quoted at $15,000-$20,000!!!! The high cost really came down to the need for new ducting and the need to re-route it, to make it make sense for our homes floor plan.
At this point, our specialist told me it made more sense financially for us to tear our house down and re-build it!
Now, I know that sounds harsh (and a bit rude), but truth be told he's not the first one to tell us this! Our plumber and electrician have mimicked the same sentiment. The problem for us comes down to the simple fact that this house's remodel was done in such an impractical way (with lots of shortcuts), that to simply upgrade systems wasn't an option. Our entire house, ideally would be started over. And to do so, it's cheaper in new construction that it is when you're dealing with a structure that already exists!
So, now are you understanding why I've had such a HARD time moving forward on our bathroom?!
So, in this instance, it was actually CHEAPER for us to convert entirely to ductless mini splits!
Honestly, I think two weeks ago, I was just exhausted mentally and physically from all the options and the expenses, and I so desperately wanted to finally get to our bathroom's remodel, that I knew a decision HAD to be made. The budget would have to be re-adjusted no matter the final choice and at that point, ductless minisplits seemed like the most practical (and frankly cheapest) option.
So, on the dotted line we signed. And off to work we went to decide on the most practical and ascetically pleasing placement of these units for our home!
Somehow, in the chaos of the past week (our household had everything from pink eye to bronchitis), we got our entire system replaced with new, energy efficient, ductless minisplits!
Mitsubishi Minisplits to be exact. Heating, Cooling & De-humidifiers in one!
AND just 48 hours in, I couldn't be happier!!!!
First of all they're SO quiet! Like super super quiet! They heat our home so quickly! And having the option of zones is a luxury I didn't know I was missing! The kids room and our room can be totally different temperatures. Upstairs, for the first time EVER in the winter months is set and controlled at a comfortable heated temperature. And the fact that we can now take out all that old, dirty duct work is so exciting!!!!
I mean look at that!
That's just what came out of our crawl space (and that's not even ALL of it)! This stuff was old and gross and filled with dust and rodents! Seeing this, makes me SO excited to remove it from all of our walls!
Now, obviously, with only 2 days into this switch, I still can't comment on energy savings (and power bill savings), but I do know that these things aren't running nearly the time our old system would. And surprisingly, I'm shocked at how one of these heads, keeps our entire downstairs living space evenly heated and comfortable!
Now, for the aesthetics. I'd be lying if I didn't admit I had to make some MAJOR compromises in adding these to our space. With that said, I'm happy with how they turned out. I put a lot of time and energy in really deciding placement of these (both from an interior and exterior point of view). And thank goodness, I had the most patient installers of all time! The really listened to my concerns and demands and really went out of their way to brainstorm creative solutions to make me happy. I know I wasn't an easy client to work with, but in the end, I'm so happy we worked as a team to ensure these things were placed in a practical manner while also being as understated as possible!
And one idea I really want to note that we came up with was, instead of wrapping the exterior tubing all along the exterior we dropped in down straight, then routed it through the crawlspace to the condenser(which we located on the side of the house that is hidden from eye sight) to ensure the least amount of visibility. Can you see the tubing?
What About Now?
Still, need help finding it?
It should also be noted that these tubes can easily be painted to match the exterior paint color of your house.
So, in all honestly I'm super happy with the investment! I'll give you guys updates once we start getting our new power bills and I'll also put a post together with exact placements of each of our units. Along with my ideas to help these things 'hide' in a room. Spoiler Alert: A few years ago, a lot of people started boxing their units in, in bookshelves, decorative displays, etc (you can see these examples on Pinterest). And while that's fine when the unit isn't turned on, it really cuts down on the efficiency and effectiveness of these units. And with us living in Atlanta, our units will be used most of the year, meaning that probably won't work for us from a design and practical point of view. But if any of you have these and have figured out a cover that doesn't effect its efficiency, please let me know!!!
Now, do I think these are for everyone. No. But for those of you looking to upgrade, especially those of you in smaller homes, I think it's worth looking into! And if you're considering adding heating / cooling to a part of your house that doesn't already have it (like a basement or an addition), I think these are also worth considering.
Who do I think it's not a good idea for? If you have a very large home with traditional ducting already installed and you have a lot of bedrooms (again, the recommendation is one unit per bedroom and living space with a reasonable sq. ft), the initial cost may outweigh the benefit. But with energy efficiency the future and a zoned approach to heating and cooling a major benefit, I think we'll only see more of these installed in years to come!
Ok, longest, most boring post ever...right! BUT, do any of you already have ductless? Thoughts, review? And how many of you are looking at updating or replacing your current system in the near future? Always love your thoughts in the comments below!