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In this podcast, John Maher talks with Joseph Wood, President of New England Ductless, about the cost of ductless air source heat pumps. They explain the basic costs and they explore installation factors that affect the total cost.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. 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 the cost of ductless. Welcome Joe.

Joseph Wood: Thanks John. Thanks for having me. Sure.

How Much Does Ductless Equipment Cost?

John: So Joe, how much does a ductless system cost just for the equipment itself?

Joseph: You know, it ranges if you’re going to be looking at something that’s a single zone versus something that’s a multi zone. And it also ranges on brand. There are some brands out there that are catering to the more entry level, with less features. You can find some of those just for the equipment, probably under a thousand dollars, $800, maybe $900.

And then you can get into some more higher grade pieces of equipment where you’re pushing on $2,500, I’d say, for a single zone and I’m thinking about something in a residential setting, of course. And then if you move over to the multi zone side, most of those are playing at the higher caliber product space and it’s easy to see those in the $5,000 range to $10,000 range for the equipment.

John: Okay. And a multi zone system, like you said, that’s where you have an outdoor unit that can handle multiple indoor units.

Joseph: Correct? Yeah, one of the beauties of ductless or air source heat pumps and all the various words they’re called is that you can have a single outdoor component that can run up to nine indoors. And the indoor units can be different flavors or varieties, which is really nice. Maybe one for a master bedroom, one for a basement central air and things like that. So this its kind of like license plates, there’s a lot of combinations.

What Other Factors Affect the Cost of Ductless Systems?

John: So what else plays a role in the overall cost of a ductless system besides just the equipment itself?

Joseph: A lot of things. That’s a really good question. The electrical is a component because these are components that use electricity and though they’re very efficient, they need space inside of an electrical panel. And operating in the greater Boston area, we have a lot of old housing stock where the electrical panels were maybe 60 amp or a hundred amps. So that’s a big component that we find ourselves doing more and more, electrical panel upgrades.

But also there are considerations like the architecture of a home. If we were to deal with a home that has scalloped shingles and hip roofs and slate and things like that, those sorts of things add to the cost. Whereas maybe a single level ranch would be probably a cheaper job, generally speaking, because the housing style is simpler to work upon.

John: So the more complex the house and the style of the outside of the house and the inside of the house, that sort of thing, that can all play a role in increasing the installation cost.

Joseph: Yeah. We do jobs in the Back Bay or the South End sometimes, brick brownstones, where we have to use cranes to put equipment on roofs. There are a lot of variables, but we do a good job, I think, about spelling all that out for our clients before anything happens.

What Installation Factors Increase or Decrease the Cost of Ductless?

John: Why don’t you go into some more detail on that and talk a little bit about some of the factors that might increase or even decrease the cost of an installation.

Joseph: Yeah. So I think one of the ideal scenarios that everyone loves to think about is this little single zone job where there’s an outdoor unit. I often call them briefcase condensers. They’re small, narrow and they’re designed for a single zone.

And that could sit on the exterior of a wall and then right on the other side of the wall, up eight feet in the air would be the indoor unit. That’s probably as simple as it gets. That sort of installation, if you can support that in your home and if it works for your needs, puts you at the lowest cost end of the spectrum.

Versus other jobs where, again, greater Boston housing stock, the flat rubber roofs on these brownstone and triple deckers, there are times where that third floor person has to use the roof and penetrate through the roof. And each penetration, we have a professional roofing company come seal and flash and make weather tight, just that alone can add hundreds to each penetration. So a lot of those securing equipment to brick, cranes, police details, if we’re in the city and we’re going to shut down a street and do a job, those are all things that add pretty significantly to the cost. We’ve had staging, for example, we had a job where we could not use a bucket truck, could not use a train and we had to put scaffolding up the entire rear of a four story building. I think that alone was north of $5,000.

John: Just for doing the scaffolding?

Joseph: Yeah, just to set it up so that we could safely work on the job. Because that’s a big component for us is making sure our team is going to be safe on the initial install, but that they can then service it safely down the line.

Installation Complexity Affects the Cost of Ductless

John: Right. So you said that the most inexpensive type of installation would be one where you have that outdoor unit, maybe, right underneath where you’re putting the indoor unit, inside the house so you just have a very short run of the pipes and things like that, that have to go between the two units. What are some of the other situations where you might have to have longer runs of those pipes or more difficult to run the pipes between the inside and outdoor units.

Joseph: So an example of that might be that you’re that third floor occupant and the ground level was deeded to your neighbors, for example, and you’re not allowed to place the outdoor equipment at ground level and climb the side of the building, so to speak. Having to put that to the roof, whether it’s a heavy lifting crew or a crane, those are sorts of things that add to it.

Also the pathway. So the outdoor component has to be wired to your electrical panel. And if, same example, say you’re in a multi-family home and your panel is up in your unit, you may need to get back down and across the ground or across the basement to reach your outdoor unit. So there’s a lot of those little variables that can sneak up and add up on you. But a lot of those, we can also roll into great financing and things like that.

How New England Ductless Makes Installations Cost-Effective

John: Do you find yourself sometimes with installations having to sneak pipes through an attic or a basement, that sort of thing.

Joseph: Yeah. We’re trying to always find a cost effective pathway, something that’s aesthetically pleasing and something that’s going to work well mechanically because those things can be at odds with one another. Doing the cheapest thing might look terrible or doing something that looks the best might not work mechanically. Because there’s limits to how far a pipe can run, so on, so forth. So we try to marry all that stuff together and make sure the customer’s getting a good solution at the end of the day.

Should Homeowners Install Their Own Ductless Systems to Save Money?

John: Okay. Should a homeowner attempt to purchase and install a ductless system on their own, maybe in order to save money? Maybe they look online and they see, like you said, “Oh, this is only $2,000 for this and I could probably install this myself.” Is that something that somebody should attempt?

Joseph: It’s generally frowned upon, but it’s not something that I personally frown upon. But I do issue that buyer beware sort of thing. Almost all of the leading manufacturers, your LGs, your Mitsubishis, Fujitsu’s and so forth, Daikin, they all basically have a warranty disclaimer that says if it’s not purchased from an authorized distributor, that you could have your warranty rejected. I don’t think anyone’s in the business of rejecting warranties, but that’s always one component.

The other component is relying upon Amazon to ship a pair of shorts back that you don’t like is a lot different from shipping back an air conditioner that happened to be the wrong fit. You can wind up with shipping costs. You could wind up with outdated equipment. Some of the websites that are out there don’t necessarily help in the design phase, the way they may appear to. And I think everything online is designed to drive more and more leads.

So you get on there and they say, “It’s easy. Everybody does it.” The reality is I would say less than 2% of our clients do it and it’s not because we have an aversion to it. I think there’s something about the trade channel. Meaning, you buy from a supply house, you buy from a vendor and they come perform an installation. And when there’s a problem, which you hope there aren’t, but we live in a world where there are, you get to use that trade channel again.

Whereas, calling an online service provider probably points you back to a manufacturer who then asks you to go back to your installer and it could become a vicious cycle for some clients. Really an unfortunate scenario if it happens and it’s not that it happens all the time, but it’s possible.

John: Right? And I mean there are some pretty difficult things with installing a ductless system yourself, right? There’s lots of other parts and things like that you might need that don’t come with it. There maybe are some tools and things like that are specialized that you don’t have. So I think the costs could add up anyway.

Joseph: You’re very right and I didn’t even touch on that. There’s even legality components of it. And I think some trades people place themselves as rocket scientists next to the homeowner. I think anyone could physically do the work with the right tools and the right support, but that’s what we call an apprentice, someone who has that support and has those tools available to them.

Most average homeowners, I think, banging a nail into a piece of wood, you could maybe build yourself a little deck. But what we’re doing has toxic refrigerants, EPA laws, electrical laws, the list goes on. And it’s not to say, it’s rocket science, but for most folks, it’s a cut above what a DIYer would want to take on.

Contact New England Ductless to Learn More

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

Joseph: Appreciate you having me.

John: And for more information, you can visit the website at newenglandductlist.com or call (781) 995 2665.