Mini-Split vs. Multi-Split vs. Ducted Heat Pumps — Pros and Cons

When we’re talking air-source heat pumps there are three types:

  1. Central or ducted heat pump
  2. Mini-split
  3. Multi-split 

All three work in fundamentally the same way — but how they physically integrate with your home varies.

Read on to learn the strength and weaknesses of each…


Table of Contents

What They All Have in Common

All types of heat pump an outdoor compressor. The compressor gathers heat energy in the winter and dumps it in the summer. Compressors come in two type of boxes — side-discharge or top-discharge.

Top-discharge vs. side-discharge compressors

Compressors contains large fans that push outdoor air over the metal coils inside the unit. None of that air is drawn into your home though — only the refrigerant fluid inside the coils moves between your home and the outdoor compressor.

Different Indoor Formats

All air source heat pumps have a similar compressor outside. It’s how they’re installed inside your home that differs. There are three variations:

  1. Mini-Split — an outdoor compressor connected to a single “head” unit inside the home by narrow refrigerant pipes.
  2. Multi-Split — one outdoor compressor connected to multiple indoor “heads”.
  3. Ducted — a single outdoor compressor connected to a central air-handler which delivers air through ducts.
split "head" better control, worse looks. Duct vent better looks, worse control.

Advantages of Ducted Heat Pumps

Install Simplicity

If you have suitable ducts in your home then a ducted option is typically simpler to install. This is particularly true if you already have central air con — as the wiring for the outdoor unit should be ready to go for a heat pump condensor.


Ducts in the wall or floor are less intrusive than the typical wall-mounted units that a ductless system uses.

Advantages of Ductless Mini-Splits and Multi-Splits


You get some built-in security with a ductless system because there are multiple units sharing the work. If one part of the system breaks down you still have heat or cooling from the remaining units. 

This is especially true for mini-split systems — where the condenser/indoor unit pairs work totally independently of each other.


Heat pumps are generally a very efficient way of heating and cooling. This is especially true of ductless units. 

A ducted unit will always lose some of the heat is produces through duct leaks and radiation. Where as a ductless unit delivers the warmed or cooled air precisely where it’s needed.


The room-by-room nature of a split heat pump system lets you tweak your heating and cooling just the way you want it. Perhaps you prefer your bedrooms a little cooler and plenty of warmth in the living room. That’s easy to do by adjusting the thermostat on your different indoor units.

Comfort Augmentation

Mini- and multi-split heat pumps are a great way to improve the comfort of your home without breaking the bank.

Maybe you have that one bedroom that never gets warm enough with your forced air system. It might be an easy fix to add a mini-split and deliver the heat that room needs.

Perhaps you want to take small steps towards an efficient system while keeping our old furnace or boiler. Add a couple of mini-splits in the most used parts of your home and you can turn down the fossil burner and stay comfortable.

Window Heat Pumps

Most heat pumps are intended for permanent installation. Obviously that doesn’t work for everyone — particularly for renters who aren’t free to modify their homes.

There are some window-mount or freestanding heat pumps — similar in design to air conditioners. Unfortunately they aren’t nearly as efficient as their more permanent cousins. 

There is some light on the horizon though — several companies have announced plans for high quality window mounted units. Closest to launch seems to be Gradient — as of Fall 2022 they are taking pre-orders for their “moderate climate” product. Apparently a cold weather product is under development — probably most Canadians will need to wait for that one.

Subscribe to heat the latest on developments like the Gradient window-mount heat pump.

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The various types of air source heat pumps all deliver great efficiency and comfort. The range of options should let you pick a system that suits your home and budget. Whether it’s a single mini-split in an important area of the house or a whole-home ducted unit you will get the benefit of a heat pump.

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