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Climate change has the odd effect of making many of us inordinately excited about appliances we never used to care about. Suddenly, all the background machines, which have up to now been unconsciously powering our lives, have taken on outsized importance. Some of them have the potential to provide the essential services we depend on while, at the same time, not destroying our planet like the fossil fuel powered machines of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ductless heat pumps are a prime example. In the past, many of us used gas furnaces and boilers to heat our homes and burned fuels that emitted copious amounts of CO2 in the process. Now, with the magical heat pump, we have access to efficient electric technologies for heating and cooling that can be powered entirely by renewable energy, and thus be carbon neutral.

Photo courtesy of The Heat Pump Store

Brief History and Growth of Ductless Heat Pumps

Ductless heat pumps (DHPs) were developed in Japan after World War 2. They were invented and perfected on an island that doesn’t have easy access to fossil fuels, and so they are the ideal heating/cooling system for our modern world given they don’t rely on combustion and are also incredibly efficient.

They condition 90% of Japanese homes, and worldwide their usage is growing like crazy, with an expected doubling of heat pump sales in the next five years. In the UK, sales are projected to increase 20 fold, and in the US, some areas are seeing sales growth north of 40% every year.

My family has used ductless heat pumps for our heating and cooling since 2012 when we bought our house. The gas furnace that came with our house was old, and we made the decision to replace it with new ductless heat pumps. (A major perk is that mounting the units on the wall saved valuable floor space in the garage, formerly dedicated to the gas furnace, which we converted into an apartment). We had seen them used in Europe and figured, even 9 years ago when the electrification movement was in its infancy, that heating with efficient electricity would allow us to reduce our carbon emissions with the solar panels we planned to install on our roof. 

Photo from Joe Wachunas

What is Ductless?

But what is a Ductless Heat Pump (a.k.a. mini-split)? Basically, it is a heating/cooling system that is different from a traditional furnace in several ways:

1. DHPs don’t have air ducts. Rather than forcing hot air through potentially leaky ducts, ductless systems place an indoor device on a wall and an outdoor unit (similar to a typical AC unit) which provides heating and cooling. This means no air escapes through leaky ducts, creating more efficient conditioning. 

Indoor unit. Photo Courtesy of The Heat Pump Store.

2. DHPs don’t burn things. Ductless heat pumps use electricity to provide heating and cooling. Electricity is rapidly moving towards being fully renewable and thus will soon produce zero emissions (the Biden administration set a goal of 2035 for example).

3. DHPs are like refrigerators in reverse. Instead of burning fuel, ductless heat pumps create heating and cooling through refrigeration. This means they capture heat from outside (even when it’s cold) and move it into your house, and vice versa for cooling. It’s pretty magical. The refrigerants used by DHPs can be potent greenhouse gases themselves, but luckily the world is moving quickly to using better, more environmentally friendly refrigerants (check out this website for a new type of refrigerant called R32).

Refrigerant lines from ductless heat pumps. Photo courtesy of The Heat Pump Store.

4. DHPs are incredibly efficient. This is because a) no air leaks through ducts b) they heat the room they are in (rather than the whole house), c) moving heat is vastly more efficient than creating it, and d) they use inverter systems (see below). As a result, they typically use three times less energy than old electric resistance heaters and six times less than gas. 

Demystifying a couple DHP terms 

Speaking of efficiency, let’s demystify a couple of terms associated with ductless heat pumps.

SEER — SEER is a number that measures how well a technology provides cooling. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit. Most new air conditioners have a SEER between 13 and 21, but ductless can often see a SEER over 30, which gives you an idea of how efficient they are. If you’re in a warm climate, SEER is especially important.

HSPF — HSPF stands for Heating Season Performance Factor and complements the SEER rating in that it measures how efficiently a heat pump heats a space. The minimum required HSPF rating in the US is 7.7. An 8.5 score is considered good, and over 10 is excellent. If you’re in a cooler climate, where the predominant energy use is for heating, HSPF is most important.

Example of SEER and HSPF ratings

I interviewed Tim Sharp, from the Heat Pump Store here in Oregon, which has installed thousands of ductless heat pumps over the last decade. He said that you’ll want your DHP to be most efficient in heating if you’re in a cold climate, and cooling if you’re in a warm climate. People in the northern US should probably focus on HSPF, while in the southern US, people should focus on SEER. Tim also said that investing in a DHP with higher scores will be more expensive up front, but the additional cost usually pays for itself over time through energy savings.

Ductless Heat Pumps in Cold weather

I also learned from Tim that DHPs were originally developed to provide only cooling (like a refrigerator), yet they have “constantly gotten better for heating purposes in almost every environment.” If you’re in a cold climate, you probably want to think about the “extended capacity” models, which are able to provide more heating. According to Tim, they don’t cost significantly more and offer more BTUs per hour output. Read more on how to use heat pumps in cold climates here

Ductless vs. Ducted

If you have existing ductwork in a space, you may consider a different approach when transitioning to heat pumps.  Not all heat pumps are ductless. You can get central heat pumps that work with a typical central AC system, and provide heating that blows that hot air through ducts. These central heat pumps are not much more expensive than central air conditioning, and many people think that swapping out every central AC system for a ducted heat pump is an important strategy to quickly get us off natural gas and reduce carbon emissions.

Ductless, on the other hand, is a no-brainer when you’re adding heating or cooling to a room without any ductwork. And DHPs also offer greater efficiency as well as economic and environmental advantages over a central ducted heating system. In addition to the efficiencies mentioned above, ductless heat pumps use inverter technology, which means they run at variable speeds. Tim from the Heat Pump Store compares this to starting your car at a red light. Inverters slowly rev the engine when starting and stopping, while typical central AC systems gun it and brake hard, meaning they are much less efficient. All DHPs use inverter technology, while virtually all conventional (ducted) heat pumps don’t, meaning DHPs are much more efficient. 

My family chose ductless heat pumps in our house, rather than a whole house heat pump, even though we had existing ductwork from our old gas furnace because of the increased efficiency. 

Photo courtesy of The Heat Pump Store

Humidity and air quality

Though ductless heat pumps help to dehumidify a room, it is not their primary purpose. In places with humidity problems, a separate dehumidifier may still be necessary. Similarly, DHPs have built in air filters, but can’t generally filter air to the extent that ducted systems do with high rated MERV filters. Tim from The Heat Pump Store said that air filtering is considered a separate system, from heating/cooling, in places where heat pumps are most prevalent, and people typically buy another device for air filtration. 

Brands

There are four leading brands of ductless heat pumps: Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, LG, and Daikin. Most of the top brands are Japanese, given they first developed the technology. This NY Times article has some solid reviews on each of these four brands.

Choosing a contractor

Finding a good installer is important. Many contractors may try to talk you out of electric heating and cooling (and into gas). Plus, you’ll want someone to help you correctly size a system for your needs. That means someone with lots of experience in ductless heat pump systems as well as a good reputation and reviews. Getting three bids is always a solid strategy. One pro tip is to look on a manufacturer’s page for contractors in your area that are certified to install their product.

Photo Courtesy of The Heat Pump Store

Cost and Aesthetics

As Tim told me in our interview, ductless heat pumps aren’t a panacea. Any technology has its downsides. As my wife points out, the indoor equipment that sits high on your wall takes up space and isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world. Ductless Heat Pumps can also be expensive. A system with a single indoor unit can run $3,000–$5,000, but if you’re putting multiple “heads” throughout your house, costs can quickly go over $10,000. 

Yet, for me, after 9 years of heating and cooling our house with ductless heat pumps, and with the climate emergency we find ourselves in, any drawbacks to ductless heat pumps are vastly outweighed by their immense benefits. Heat pumps are the heating and cooling technology for this era of climate change, and ductless heat pumps are the most efficient versions of this technology. They allow us to get off fossil fuels and efficiently heat and cool, in any climate, with clean electricity.

Learn more and do a deep dive into Ductless Heat Pumps with Tim from the Heat Pump Store in a recent webinar I hosted with Electrify Now, and let us know about your thoughts and experiences with ductless heat pumps in the comments below!

Photo courtesy of The Heat Pump Store

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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

An oil pumpjack is shown near the Callon Petroleum vicinity on March 27, 2024 in Monahans, Texas. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency on Friday downgraded its forecast for 2024 oil demand growth, citing “exceptionally weak” OECD deliveries, a largely complete post-Covid-19 rebound and an expanding electric vehicle fleet.

In its latest monthly oil market report, the IEA said it had revised down its 2024 oil demand growth forecast by around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.2 million bpd.

The global energy watchdog said that it expected the pace of expansion to decelerate even further to 1.1 million bpd next year “as the post-Covid 19 rebound has run its course.”

The IEA’s report comes amid a rebound in oil prices on elevated Middle East tensions, with energy market participants closely monitoring the prospect of supply disruptions from the oil-producing region.

Iran, which is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has vowed to retaliate after it accused Israel of bombing its embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this month.

The attack has ratcheted up tensions in a region already grappling with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

International benchmark Brent crude futures with June delivery traded 0.8% higher at $90.45 per barrel on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in London, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures with May delivery rose nearly 1% to trade at $85.84 per barrel.

“We’re seeing the surge in [electric vehicle] sales, especially in China and also in Europe, really taking into gasoline demand, but also in the United States,” Toril Bosoni, head of oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Friday.

“There has been a lot of talk about sales not increasing as much as maybe was expected, but EV sales and increased fuel efficiencies in the car fleet is lowering gasoline demand, at least in advanced economies and particularly in China.”

Asked about some of the main concerns relating to oil supply security, Bosoni replied, “We are watching, obviously, the Middle East very closely. The continued tanker attacks in the Red Sea is of key concern, but also escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, and then we’re seeing tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue, with attacks on Russian refineries.”

“So, there are several tension points in the oil market today that we’re watching very closely that could have major impacts … if there would be any significant outages,” she added.

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid’s insane power

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid's insane power

Tesla has unveiled new Sport Seats for the Model S Plaid to absorb the electric supercar’s insane power better.

While it’s in the form of a family sedan, the Model S Plaid could easily pass as an electric supercar with its 1.99-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration.

That’s more power than anyone would need, but it is fun.

Some Model S Plaid owners even like to take the fun to the racetrack. When cornering, you can really feel the Gs on the racetrack.

Tesla’s Model S seats are comfortable, but they are not designed for super-spirited driving, which the rest of the vehicle enables.

Today, Tesla decided to address the issue with the release of new Sports Seats:

They obviously feature much more pronounced side support. Here are the main features of the seats:

  • Increased lateral support
  • Modular seat architecture for comfort & support, plus same 12-way power adjust, heating & ventilation
  • High performance suede for increased grip & reduced weight

Here’s another look at the new seats:

The seats are now standard for the $90,000 Model S Plaid and included on all cars built since the beginning of the month.

Electrek’s Take

We had known new sports seats were coming to the new Model 3 Performance, which is expected to be unveiled any day, but it makes sense that the Model S Plaid would get them first.

The vehicle’s level of performance deserves sports seats.

I am surprised that Tesla is making it standard rather than a paid option, but we’ll take it.

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Daily EV Recap: China looks to export EVs by the hundreds of thousands

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Listen to a recap of the top stories of the day from Electrek. Quick Charge is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyTuneIn and our RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players.

New episodes of Quick Charge are recorded Monday through Thursday and again on Saturday. Subscribe to our podcast in Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast player to guarantee new episodes are delivered as soon as they’re available.

Stories we discuss in this episode (with links):

Formula E again delays debut of 600kW mid-race charging

This lamppost EV charger just went commercial in the US

Tesla releases more details on Powerwall 3, confirms cheaper stack coming

Electric cars are saving Americans billions — even people who don’t drive them

China is exporting so many EVs that it needs more ships – a lot more

Listen & Subscribe:

Share your thoughts!

Drop us a line at tips@electrek.co. You can also rate us in Apple Podcasts or recommend us in Overcast to help more people discover the show! 

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You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.

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