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In this podcast, Johan Maher talks with  Joseph Wood, President of New England Ductless, about ductless air conditioning. They explain how it works and provide an overview of its benefits.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Joseph Wood, President of New England Ductless, specializing in residential and commercial ductless heat pumps, and air conditioning in Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about ductless air conditioning. Welcome, Joe.

Joseph Wood: John, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Can Ductless AC Cool a Single Room?

John: Sure. So Joe, is a ductless air conditioner a good way to cool a single room in your home?

Joseph: It’s probably the best way. Yeah, that’s the entry of all of the Mitsubishis and LGS into the U.S. market was for that reason back in the eighties. And now, it’s changed to whole home solutions and then some these days, but that was the origin of a lot of this product, was to serve a particular space in a room that might be an addition or a sunroom that was converted over, or maybe just some place where the existing system didn’t work well. So yeah, it’s probably the single best way to do cooling in a room in a home.

Installing Ductless Vs. Connecting Extra Rooms to Your Ductwork

John: Right, and a lot easier than trying to add that room onto your existing heating and cooling system, or something like that. It’s in many cases a lot easier to just put in a ductless system to take care of the heating, like you said, in an addition or a room over a garage or a basement that’s been converted into a living space or something like that.

Joseph: Yeah. And I think it’s even funny. Five years ago, there was more of a hesitancy from general contractors to use this product and that application, because they too were unsure of it, the way homeowners were at that period in time. And now I think if you called a general contractor about an addition that you’re putting in or that basement fit out, this is probably the very first thing that they would recommend. And that demonstrates the level of comfort that they’ve achieved with it because it’s a simple and excellent solution and so much so that people are no longer using them for the single room. They’re using them for the entire home.

How Can Ductless AC Cool Your Whole Home?

John: So let’s talk a little bit more about that. In terms of using a ductless cooling system for the whole home, does a ductless system really work well for that?

Joseph: I think it’s its best application and it’s not that the single room is not good, but we sometimes have that single room application where we did a little bonus room addition or something like that. We’ve got the system, that’s like the Ferrari of heating and cooling, sitting next to the old Yugo of whatever they had for the rest of the home.

Customers who do that sort of job wind up calling back in a short while later and redoing the rest of it because the way a ductless system works and the way that these heat pumps work, it’s not something that most folks have ever owned before and once they have it, they fall in love with it.

So yeah, we see a lot of whole home applications and that could be for a customer that already had duct work, but had an old on-off air conditioner as we commonly call it. It knew no weather, it knew no speeds. It just fired all the torpedoes or it fired none at all. And the disadvantages to those classic types of cooling systems would be that they don’t manage humidity very well. They don’t clean the air very well. And the temperature, if it was 70 degrees you wanted, it falls to 70, it rises to 74, it falls to 70. A ductless system just sits and hovers at exactly the place you want it to be, really nice systems.

Ductless AC Versus Central AC

John: Talk a little bit about the advantages of a ductless air conditioning system, as opposed to what we all maybe thought of as being the Mecca of air conditioning, which was a central air conditioning system.

Joseph: That’s the way I grew up. I didn’t grow up with central air. So I thought central air was the bees’ knees as well and ductless, it has this variety about it, that makes it like license plates where you don’t have to put in one system that does an entire floor or entire home. And that’s where the beauty of it really comes into being.

And to a lot of homeowners… this is still a quote unquote “newer product” to a lot of clients. They don’t know that. They think of only that item on the wall with a remote control. They’re not thinking about the way they can mix this up. And you could take one outdoor unit with up to eight varieties of indoor units and just totally change the way your house works. So take something like a classic colonial. You may have a zone all to itself down in the basement, which with duct work, it’s very hard to do that.

There’s dampers and bypasses and other stuff like that. Even if you did it all with the duct work, the equipment doesn’t like it. It’s groaning when it runs that way, it doesn’t want to run what we call micro zones, but a ductless system, you could set up a small little area that serves a basement, another one that serves a common living room, dining area, and then something else is private just for the master and that capability, getting it off the a central air system, the juice wouldn’t be worth the squeeze. You’d have the most complex control systems. You would have duct work running all over God’s green earth and a ductless system is purpose built for that application.

How Does Zone Technology Increase the Efficiency of Ductless AC?

John: Right. So talk a little bit more about that, the ability that you have to put the air conditioning or have the air conditioning turned on, in just those areas of the home where you’re spending your time, so that maybe it’s not on, in the bedrooms during the day, it’s only on in the living room. And then when you go to bed, it’s not on, in the living room and it is on, in the bedrooms, that sort of thing. How do you gain efficiency out of that?

Joseph: Partial load as that’s sometimes called, is not really a feature of central air. Most of those things, if it was a three ton or a four ton or whatever it was, it is that size at all times. They are starting to tip their toes in the water there, but that’s not really the way central layer systems work. They’re either on or they’re off.

And so if you try to take a system like that and start shutting off sections, the system sputters and chokes, so to speak, and it doesn’t reap any great benefit for your efficiency or the longevity of the equipment. But a ductless system, they use a type of motor called an inverter, which is like a volume knob, and it can detect the temperatures across its coils and all this stuff at all times, very smart products and they’ll ramp the compressor down through the use of that inverter.

And they’ll basically serve only the amount of cooling or heating needed to the zone that’s asking for it at the time requested, because it’s literally checking the temperature in the room. It’s checking the temperature of the refrigerant. It’s even checking the temperature outside. And then how far away you are from where you want to be.

And that’s where these things really pull ahead of other technologies… because much of our season, especially here in New England, it’s not that hot and it’s not that cold. It’s not running in like that Florida high humidity for three months or something like that. And even in the wintertime, we have a reputation for being cold, much of our season, I think something like 80% of our heating season is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit. So we’re really running what we call partial load for much of the year. And that’s where the ductless systems come out swinging. And they do really great in that environment.

How Do You Control Whole Home Ductless Systems?

John: When you have the single zone system that maybe, again, you put in like an addition on your home, you might have a handheld remote control that you’d point at the unit and turn it on or off or turn the temperature up or down. Is that the case with a whole home ductless air conditioning system where maybe I have to go walk around my house to eight different rooms and with remote controls and shut things off and turn things on? Or talk a little bit about the control systems.

Joseph: The control systems are pretty important because they’re what you interface with, every day. And for, I’d say 95% of our clients, the equipment comes with a remote and then the remote goes in a drawer and then it’s not opened again. We give them a wifi app that runs off their tablet, computer, or cell phone, and you can group together zones. Say it was the master, the basement, and the great room. You could put those all on the same controls. It’s really easy, which is cool.

Because if you’re going to be running out for the weekend and you forget to walk around with a remote and shut off all the various zones, that’s a bummer. You could be using energy unnecessarily. So the products out there are great. Mitsubishi uses kumo cloud and LG uses something called ThinQ and everyone’s got something. They’re all designed to make the controls really intuitive and very easy.

How Quiet Is Ductless AC?

John: And how quiet is a ductless air conditioner compared especially to one of those old school window air conditioners that you might put in?

Joseph: A lot quieter. It’s funny that you ask that question because we speak about that. And I think that clients have become used to loud ACs… They sound like a lawnmower, whether it’s the outdoor unit, if it’s near your patio, you got one of those things, they’re loud.

The ductless products that are on the market, I’ve gone in and read decibel scales, to try to get comparison points and they use all these weird things, it sounds like leaves rustling at six feet away. What does that sound like? Or a whisper in a library I’m like, “Well, you’re not supposed to whisper in a library.” But they’re very quiet. I have ductless at my home now, my prior home and my home prior to that. I remember with our little puppy at the time, our system that served our home, we had just a big open concept in a big single zone there.

Sometimes standing outside with our puppy in the yard, throwing the ball, I couldn’t see the blades moving because they were moving so fast. The only way I could tell was that the stems on the hostas were wiggling. There were hostas that were getting blown by the wind coming off the unit. That was the only way I could know or I’d have to walk up and put my hand in front of it. So they’re extremely quiet.

John: That’s even the outside unit.

Joseph: And the inside, most customers when we turn them on and it’s this big reveal like, “Move that bus in that extreme home.” And we finally turn on the indoor unit for them because we want to make sure they can’t see the bride till the wedding day. We turn it on and then they’re like, “Is it on right?” Oh yeah. It’s on.

John: Is that it? I was expecting more.

Joseph: There’s high speed. And I like to sleep with a fan on, because I like a little bit of white noise. If you wanted that off of a ductless unit, you’d have to turn the fan speed to high because you wouldn’t otherwise really hear them.

John: Right. Amazing.

Joseph: Very quiet.

John: And compared to the old, the window units that you might have, I know that when we had that, my wife just wouldn’t even allow me to have the air conditioner on at night, because it was just too loud. I can’t sleep with it going like that.

Joseph: The window shakers or window rattlers as they’re called?

John: Big difference.

Joseph: Agree. Totally.

Contact New England Ductless to Talk About Ductless ACs

John: All right. Well that’s really great information, Joe. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Joseph: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

John: For more information, you can visit the website at newenglandductless.com or call 781 995 – 2665.