Architects and Interior Designers Warming to Mini Splits

Written By: John Jeppesen

Performance Point has long supported energy conservation and green technologies.
We are always looking for ways to support those initiatives. In fact, we are in the
process of replacing our service vehicles with electric-powered vehicles as existing vans
and escapes age out. We see it as our contribution to clean air.

That said, we featured mini-splits as one technology that can make a difference in our
last blog post. There is a growing trend in that direction, but there’s a sticking point.
Architects and interior don’t like the aesthetics of an air handler on a wall that affects the
“look” of their designs.

The good news is that even those skeptics are coming around and have created ways to
minimize or conceal air handlers in a room.

We talked to Justin Fulford at Fulford HVAC (www.fulfordhvac.com) again. He has
noticed an uptick in architect and interior designer acceptance but there’s still room for
growth. “We’ve talked to architects and interior designers but we also talk to contractors.
If you believe in the product, we’re the ones that bring it to the table as options. Some
people are acceptable to the new technology while others are still on the old
bandwagon and don’t like change and with some houses, there is no other option other
than mini-splits. A lot of people are acceptable to the new technology. I’ve got a
homeowner right now with a house that was built in the mid-sixties and on one floor
there’s no way to run ductwork to it. I proposed mini splits and the builder is old school
minded and is afraid that it might not work, but it will work and he keeps saying: ‘gotta
find a way, gotta find a way to use ductwork.’” Even so, Fulford will continue to propose
this technology to his customers.

Next, we did some digging. We found ideas on how to squeeze air conditioning in
century-old brownstones. This “how-to” provides ideas on ways to incorporate mini splits
in a renovation. Note: you might have to cut and paste this link into your browser.


Jodi Laumer-Giddens is the President of LG Designs, an Atlanta architectural firm, posted a “confession on homeenergysaver.com:

“GUILTY! Once upon a time, I would have scoffed at mechanical engineers and contractors if they’d ask me, as the design architect, for a bigger room to put the HVAC (heating and air conditioning) equipment in.

“Are you crazy? And give up valuable storage space???”

They might have also asked me for dropped soffits and vertical chases to run the ductwork through. To which I would reply:

“What?!?! That’s not consistent with my innovative and beautiful design! The audacity!!!”

OK, so maybe I wasn’t quite THAT oblivious and arrogant, but I was definitely not as aware of the importance of the HVAC systems and integrating them into the design of a home as I am today.

My, how the tables have turned.

I’m still an architect and I’m still designing homes, but I’m also designing, specifying, and integrating the HVAC Systems for those homes. I also design them for homes that other architects or designers have done. Sometimes it’s the architect that hires me, and other times it’s the HVAC contractor or the home’s builder.

No matter who it is, most of the time it’s too late to influence the architecture and interior design to smoothly integrate the equipment and ductwork because the house is already framed up. The HVAC system is typically one of the last things to be installed in a home, just before insulation, drywall, and finishes. Oddly, it’s also one of the last things to be designed, and it’s done on the fly. Too often the architecture and interior design did NOT account for the integration of a mechanical system and its ductwork, so installation becomes a challenge.”

More details follow. You might have to cut and paste this into your browser:


We also found an interior design perspective on mini-splits:

“Ductless mini-splits are the in-thing these days because of their reduced electricity bills and a wider cooling coverage. Maybe, mini-splits were not around when your house was constructed, hence it was not included in your design. But these units are great for reducing electricity bills and cools a wider area.

Build a false beam to surround the unit and you won’t notice the appliance. Combine this with sunken lighting or mount it above the window to make your space look great without sacrificing functionality.

Great spots for mini splits are above the doorway, bookshelves, cabinets, or bed. Housing this in an open shelf integrated into the wall creates a visual interest that harmonizes with your interior design.

Keep the design simple and cheap by matching the color of the wall with the unit. Install a decorative element for a smart and chic accent to enhance the existing decoration.”


So there you have it. Hopefully, this will help architects and interior designers get over the resistance to mini-split systems. They are creative people by nature and all it takes is a bit of creativity to integrate mini-splits into their repertoire.



What are Mini Splits Good For?

Written By: John Jeppesen

The short answer is A lot. Mini Split, also called Ductless HVAC systems have been around since the ’80s but have not been popular until the last five years. At Performance Point, we have discovered several reasons for the increased use.

We talked to Rob Howard, a Charlotte, N.C. Sales Manager at Yandle-Witherspoon Supply, and a Mitsubishi Mini Split dealer. He compared them to conventional central HVAC systems. “It does a good job of keeping a portion of your house comfortable, usually close to the return and where the thermostat is located but the extremities are not as comfortable as you want them to be. It’s not uncommon to see those areas drift three to five degrees off what the thermostat is set to.” He called that “custom comfort.”

Second, he says Mini Splits improve indoor air quality: “Everywhere you have an air handler or a Mini Split you have filtration in that zone because it has a filter built into it.” Central systems have just one filtration point for the whole house.

Then there’s increased efficiency. Most central heat pumps have a mid-range 14 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Higher efficiency systems can push to 17-20. Mini-Splits can have a 20-30 rating. Contractors and developers use this as a key selling point.

Some builders and developers say Mini Splits are too expensive. Not so says Howard: “While the equipment may be more expensive, it (Mini Split) requires little or no ductwork to install. The labor and materials for installation should be significantly less.”

Justin Fulford, Fulford Heating and Cooling in N.C. has installed Mini Split systems all over the world. He too has noticed a significant uptick in Mini Split systems and agrees with Rob Howard.  He also notes that these systems are significantly more expensive in a total retrofit or remodeling. That said, Mini Split systems can provide air conditioning to older homes with hot water or boiler heating systems. In those situations, they are the most cost-effective, inobtrusive solution to adding air conditioning compared to window units. They make a lot of sense in an addition or bonus room.  Fulford cited his own home: “I put four of them in my house and increased the square footage by 1200 square feet. By increasing footage, putting high-efficiency systems, my power bill went from $270 down to $120.  I went from a small house to a big house and saw a huge drop in my power bill.”

Both Howard and Fulford say their customers are amazed at how quiet Mini Split systems are.” The biggest thing I like to talk about is how quiet they are,” says Fulford. “The indoor unit and the outdoor unit are practically silent. You don’t hear moving parts or compressors. That’s a really good feature for people that have a patio or go outside and they’re tired to hearing a loud unit rattling away.”

It has been noted that some architects and interior designers don’t like the aesthetics of a unit hanging on a wall. Fulford says this about that: “I have several architects that are promoting it (Mini Splits) because there are ways to be creative to hide the indoor units and have a lot of indoor options. They need to find a way to hide the equipment. We’ve got several building high-end beach houses and that’s all they want to put in.”

Commercial buildings are yet another application of this technology. “When you get to the commercial level, they don’t call them Mini Splits, the call them VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow),” says Howard. “You’ve got two levels, VRF heat pumps and true VRF which offers simultaneous heating and cooling. That’s where you get into your highest cost and highest efficiency. This technology takes heat from one part of the building and moves it to another. Maybe you’re in a commercial space where you want cooling in the offices but they want heating in another part of the building. Rather than making the heat, you’re just moving it from one space to another. You’re paying for the cooling and getting the heat for free or vice versa.” Howard shared a Mitsubishi case study on this topic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeEDFVmvtsk

There are a lot of design considerations with ducted and ductless Mini Split systems, especially in low-load new homes or renovations requiring Manual LLH.  Even conventional equipment can benefit tremendously from professional design expertise.  In future articles, we will talk about some of these design considerations!  This is where Performance Point can help. We are fully up to speed on this technology and can consult with your team if you’re considering a Mini Split system or having trouble squeezing conventional ducts into your house plan.


Visit our website www.theperformancepoint.com or call 704.563.1030 to get started.