(Duct)Less IS More

(Duct)Less IS More

Tough comfort challenges? No room for ductwork? Fear not: ductless split systems can save the day.

Sanyo's recessed ceiling unit

Mitsubishi's City Multi

LG's Art Cool

Carrier's StreamLine

Quietside/Samsung's Silver Nano

Daikin's VRV


Ductless split systems allow you to offer an effective solution for a wide variety of difficult comfort challenges. Contractors who are capitalizing on the growing popularity of these units praise them for their versatility, dependability, and "hero factor": the contractor who provides one for a customer may be solving a comfort problem that a customer had long thought of as " unfixable."

Here's a look at how contractors across the country are using the ductless split systems offered by some of the industry's leading manufacturers.

Selling Solutions in Massachusetts
"People come to me looking for solutions," says Scott Collins, owner and president, Collins HVAC, Weymouth, MA. "That's why ductless splits are an important part of what I offer." Collins estimates that 15% of the systems he installed in 2006 were ductless.

Collins, who sells and installs Sanyo ductless units (www.sanyohvac.com) says that his company does most of its business in the high-end residential market. In this market, homeowners may have taken the time to educate themselves on the options available to them. However, they still look to him for specifics.

"People may have heard of ductless split systems, but even those who have still look to me for a recommendation as to what's going to fit their specific application," he says. And, of course, satisfied customers often get the word out and educate their neighbors, who also come calling.

Commercial applications also abound. Collins HVAC just completed a project at a local private school that has been a long-time customer, in which 20 ductless split systems were installed in classrooms and the school's auditorium.

"The customer is very happy," Collins says. "The units are quiet and unobtrusive, and easy to control." Collins has particular praise for Sanyo's recessed ceiling units, which mount easily in regular drop ceilings and look like a simple concentric duct grille. "We put eight of those units in the school, and I was extremely impressed with them," he says. "They basically blend right into the ceiling and do their jobs very well and very quietly."

Rebuilding in Post-Katrina Mississippi
Darrell Suber is president of Southland Heating & Air, Inc., Long Beach, MS. The company does a mix of residential and commercial work, and Suber uses Mitsubishi's Mr. Slim and City Multi systems (www.mehvac.com).

"On the residential side, we're using the ductless splits for single rooms, game rooms, garages, additions, basically any spot where the customer needs heating and cooling and there's no ductwork," Suber says.

"On the commercial side we're finding a lot of applications in office buildings," he adds. "For example, in many cases, what was a single office is turned into a room to house the company's computer hardware. A duct system that was adequate for an office generally isn't enough to cool a server room, so we recommend a mini-split on top of what they already have."

Suber says in addition to the versatility and value of these systems (the City Multi system, for example, delivers Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits in three categories), they're also extremely dependable.

"We've had almost zero callbacks on them, and customers like them because they're remote-controlled and easy to use."

Suber's advice to contractors who aren't selling ductless split systems is simple: "I'd tell them to send their customers to me. All kidding aside, they're missing out on an important part of the market."

Suber estimates that since Hurricane Katrina, about 20% of all the air conditioning systems he sells are ductless splits. "We've just been awarded a number of contracts to put in new City-Multi systems, so it's obviously an important part of our business down here on the Gulf Coast."

Creating Satisfaction in The City
In exclusive Westchester County, NY, just outside of New York City, many older homes don't have ductwork, and their beautiful architectural features make it impractical to try to add it. That's when Tom Monahan, president of Yost & Campbell, Mt. Vernon, NY, steps in.

"Ductless splits are definitely something savvy contractors should be looking at," Monahan says, adding that the Bryant (www.bryant.com) units he sells and installs allow him to offer a wide range of options to his customers. "I particularly like Bryant's dual zone and heat pump models," Monahan says. "They really allow me to offer customers a lot of flexibility."

Monahan's company is well-positioned to offer the split systems to customers, as it has more than 6,000 residential service contracts. "We have a relationship that allows us to educate customers before anyone else can even get their foot in the door," Monahan says. "We sell by the application —whatever is best for a particular house. We also have started a 'brag book' on our website that shows customers all the applications their neighbors are using these units for."

Monahan adds that customer satisfaction with ductless split units is very high. "Our customers love that these units so easily allow them to control the temperature just in a certain room or a certain zone of the house. Especially in many of these large, older homes, customer love the fact that they can get a little spot heating from the heat pump model without having to run a big boiler and heat their entire house."

Keeping Things Quiet in Florida
While contractors make a lot of noise about the benefits of ductless split systems, the units themselves are exceptionally quiet.

Steve Smyth, president of Smyth's Air Conditioning, Lake Worth, FL, recalls the first time he installed an LG (www.lgusa.com) ductless split unit in a home in Boca Raton.

"We applied the power to the outdoor unit, and the fan turned on. I was standing directly over the unit, and I couldn't tell that it was running," Smyth says. "I looked at my gauges and the pressures were starting to drop, so I knew that it was running, but I had to put my ear on the cabinet to hear it."

Smyth says he uses ductless splits for his high-end residential work, including garages, and also in commercial applications such as car dealerships, churches, and country clubs.

The wide variety of the LG line appeals to Smyth, and he has installed the company's free-standing, ceiling mounted, and wall-mounted units in the 80 to 100 installations he has done. He particularly likes LG's ArtCool line, which has square units that look like famous works of art, or rectangular units that have a front panel that can be made to match a room's paint color or wallpaper.

Ease of installation is another feature that wins contractors' hearts. "On the LG units I install, the interior unit operates on 36V DC, and that's provided from a power inverter in the outdoor unit," Smyth says. "You just run the high voltage power to the outdoor unit, and then 18-gauge low-voltage wiring between the outdoor and indoor units. There's no bulky disconnects or high-voltage power switches to mount."

Accessories and options such as variable speed fans and dehumidification complete the "picture" for Smyth and his customers. "We have a very demanding customer base here in the West Palm Beach area, and they love them," Smyth says.

Educating Customers in New York
Is selling ductless systems a challenge? When a customer is educated about what ductless split systems can do, these systems virtually sell themselves, says Carrier (www.carrier.com) dealer Jim Padavan, president, Air Design, Valley Stream, NY.

"I'd say about half of our customers have heard about ductless split systems, or have seen them in certain applications," says Padavan. "So they're aware of them, but aren't familiar with what great problem-solvers these units are. That's where we come in."

Padavan recommends the units any time there are constraints — either physical or financial — to getting ductwork into a space. They're also great on the commercial side in applications such as computer rooms or phone rooms. "Many buildings renovate their telephone systems, and create rooms or closets filled with telephone equipment that needs cooling 24/7, even in the winter," Padavan says.

Padavan, who says about 8 to 10% of his company's installations are ductless split systems, advises other contractors not to overlook the opportunities presented by the units. "Any time you can say you were there to help a customer solve a tough problem, it's good for your business," he notes.

Although the units are easy and straightforward to install, Padavan recommends ductless system-specific training for your technicians. "Given the wide range of applications these units are appropriate for, it helps if your field personnel are very familiar with the technical end in a variety of situations."

Meeting a Sizzling Demand in Arizona
Steven Moody, president of Westemp Air Management, has specialized in ductless split systems for more than 20 years in the burgeoning "Valley of the Sun" around Phoenix, AZ. During that time he's watched both the Phoenix metropolitan area and demand for ductless split systems grow.

"The most common applications out here are four seasons sunrooms and garages, and these units do a wonderful job," Moody says.

Moody points out that ductless systems are also an excellent solution to the all-too-common"hottest or coldest room in the house," and even benefit the rest of the house when used in such applications. "I have a ductless split system in my master bedroom," he says. "Not only does it keep that room cool, it actually enhances the job my primary system can do on the rest of the house, because it allows me to block that supply out."

A Quietside/Samsung dealer (www.quietside.com), Moody adds that the demand for ductless to date in the U.S. is likely just the tip of the iceberg, and contractors are wise to promote the fact that his company offers these versatile solutions. "These systems are very common and popular in Asia, Europe, and Mexico," he notes. "People go on vacation and see these units and think, 'Boy, have I got a spot for that.' Then they come back home and call me."

Taking the Business Home in Rhode Island
Despite the numerous benefits of ductless split systems, Jon Jarvis hopes no one else sells them.

"Leave all the ductless business to me," he says. "These units are easy to install, they don't break down, and for customers they're a real bang for the buck."

Jarvis, president of High-Tech Engineering, Inc., Pawtuckett, RI, sells and installs Daikin units (www.daikinac.com), primarily in commercial applications. Daikin's VRV (variable refrigerant volume) unit is "one heck of a machine," Jarvis says.

"It's very quiet, and it has what they call an inverter drive, which is like an accelerator pedal in a car," he explains. "When you need a lot of cooling or heating in a space, the unit ramps up. As the temperature starts to come down — or up, in heat pump mode — the unit responds. It uses the energy that's necessary to take care of the space, rather than simply being 'on' or 'off.' You can also tie multiple evaporator coils to one condenser, which is a nice feature."

On the residential side of the business, Jarvis sells strictly heat pumps — a notoriously-tough sell in the Northeast. How does he pull it off?

"I take customers to my house," he explains. "I have a dual-zone Daikin heat pump ductless system handling my study and one bedroom. It's incredible; quiet and extremely efficient."

Despite his earlier kidding about no other contractors selling ductless split systems, Jarvis sees a bright future for this industry segment.

"End users love them, and introduce them to their friends and family," Jarvis says. "I don't know why ductless systems have been relatively slow to catch on here, since they're huge in Europe and other parts of the world. But I do know they're going to be around. I think they're just getting started here and they're going to invade the country."

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