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Ductless Growing At Twice The Rate of Unitary

If your HVACR contracting company is not selling mini-split solutions, you’re leaving money on the table.
Those are words of wisdom from several HVACR contractors who’ve embraced the technology, including Mike Young, vice president and general manager, Gentry Heating Inc., Swannanoa, North Carolina, whose company has installed 118 Mitsubishi mini-split systems in the last 12 months.

“Ductless HVAC makes up about 30-35 percent of our business, and we anticipate that number climbing to somewhere in the 40-50 percent range over the next several years,” he said. “As a contractor, if you’re not at least considering offering mini-splits, I firmly believe you’ve got your head in the sand.”

MAINSTREAM AWARENESS

Since they were introduced to the U.S. market 30 years ago, ductless solutions have evolved from niche products used specifically for spot comfort to one of the most sought-after and fastest-growing comfort technologies available.

Per MarketsandMarkets,  the global ductless heating and cooling systems market is projected to be worth $78.62 billion by 2021, growing at a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8 percent.

While ductless HVAC systems currently make up about 5 percent of the U.S. market, industry estimates anticipate ductless systems growing to occupy as much as 15 percent of the market over the next five years.

Floyd Nealey, owner, All Weather Mechanical Inc., Jacksonville, North Carolina, credits brand awareness and the government’s endorsement as the greatest driver of All Weather Mechanical’s ductless sales.

“Jacksonville, North Carolina, is home to the Marine Corp.’s Camp Lejeune, and the military uses a lot of ductless HVAC throughout the world,” he said. “We started selling ductless equipment 15 years ago, and slowly but surely, as people have grown more aware of the technology, we’ve transitioned into only selling ductless solutions. I’ve gotten rid of every fossil fuel you can possibly heat with, including natural gas, propane, steam, oil, etc., and replaced them with Mitsubishi mini-split units.”

While cost was an initial consideration for All Weather Mechanical, it’s not a primary concern anymore.

“At first, we only targeted white-collar customers,” he said. “Over the last several years, the systems have gotten a little bit more competitive, and the prices have come down. When you sit down and explain how ductless HVAC has the ability to solve any number of comfort concerns, customers stop worrying about price and start focusing in on true comfort.”

Nealey said about 40 percent of his calls come from customers who are interested in replacing their traditional HVAC systems with mini-split systems.

“Just yesterday I quoted a $16,000 job for an older couple who simply wanted the nicest comfort equipment money could buy,” he said. “They were tired of hot and cold spots, and we identified a mini-split system as the solution to their problems.”

Nealey said if comfort doesn’t do the trick, customers are drawn to the equipment’s exceptional warranties and efficiency levels.

“We offer 12-year parts and five-year labor warranties,” he said. “Over the last 15 years, I’ve had three major issues with our ductless systems, and each one was the fault of our installation team. I’ve even had two units submerge completely under water, and once they dried up, they fired right up. These things can reach SEER levels of 30-plus and are built rock solid. If BMW is the ultimate driving machine, ductless HVAC is the ultimate comfort machine.”

APPLICABLE FOR ANY APPLICATION

Ductless sales at Newbury Park, California-based Southland Heating and Air Conditioning have increased 30 percent over the last three years.

“Just a year ago, we were installing one or two ductless systems a week, and today we’re installing one to two systems a day,” said Dave Molina, co-founder, Southland. “We’re now selling nearly $4 million annually in ductless HVAC solutions.”

Molina said mini-split equipment is a perfect solution for California’s antiquated building stock and rising temperatures.

“Temperatures here used to hover around 75°F, and now they hit 95°-100° regularly. A lot of the homes in California were never designed to have air conditioning. There are lots of residences built in the 1910s or 1920s that were fitted with gravity furnaces, which lack ductwork, and many of the beach houses were built as rectangular brick blocks without attics or crawl spaces,” he said. “How do you retrofit a traditional three-piece HVAC system into a home that was built 100 years ago that lacks an attic, crawlspace, or ductwork? You can’t. Ductless HVAC is the best solution.”

Molina said ductless units are now available in numerous configurations, shapes, and colors, which helps alleviate customers’ aesthetic challenges.

“A few years ago, there were very limited options as far as what you could do indoors, and the most common objection has always been, ‘I don’t want to see that on my wall.’ Today, we essentially have solutions for every application. We can offer wall mounts, floor mounts, hidden cassettes that can sit inside a ceiling, and more. If homeowners have an attic, we have an ultra-quiet unit that is designed to retrofit nicely above a ceiling. We also have a split-duct unit, which is a mini-unit designed for one bedroom and one bath that uses traditional vents.”

Regarding a home’s exterior, Molina said his company’s begun using decorative coverings to hide the refrigerant lines.

“With the decorative coverings, you don’t end up with a big 4-by-4-by-4-inch cover that looks horrendous,” he said. “Decorative covers are available in 2-by-2-by-3-inch sizes and even come in different colors to match the exterior of a building. Customers appreciate the fact that we’re doing what we can to hide those lines.”

UNPARALLELED COMFORT

At the end of the day, comfort is the most important factor when it comes to implementing ductless HVAC solutions, said Young.

“Customers simply want to be able to enjoy different temperatures in different rooms,” he said. “A mother may want it a little warmer in her room, while her son and daughter both want different temperatures in their rooms. With ductless HVAC, everyone gets to control their own environment.

Young believes ductless HVAC will continue to be a force for Gentry Heating and the industry as a whole.

“If people continue to ask for them, we’ll continue to install them,” he said. “The manufacturers have done their job, because people are well aware that ductless solutions exist, and they’re certainly in high demand.”

Molina said the phones at Southland are ringing off the hook.

“People are recognizing the opportunities ductless offers and they’re willing to pay the price for individualized comfort,” he said. “Homeowners no longer have to heat their entire 3,000-square-foot homes to warm up one room. They can simply flip a switch and condition the room they’re occupying. That right there is the future of HVAC.”