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VRF Vs. Mini-Split Vs. Multi-Split Heat Pump Systems - Explained

VRF Vs. Mini-Split Vs. Multi-Split Heat Pump Systems - Explained

Understanding the Difference Between VRF, Mini-Split and Multi-Split Heat Pump Systems

Air source heat pumps are an energy-efficient heating and cooling solution for homes and buildings of all sizes—but different types of systems offer distinct benefits for certain properties. Mini-split, multi-split, and variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems all have advantages and ideal use cases. Which one is right for your needs?

If you’re considering a VRF system vs. mini-split or multi-split heat pump systems, BlocPower can help. Our experts specialize in heat pump system design, and we’re ready to recommend a solution that delivers improved comfort—and significantly lower utility bills compared to inefficient heating and cooling systems. 

Find the perfect heat pump system to get improved comfort and indoor air quality while saving 20% or more on energy bills compared to inefficient HVAC systems. Get started by answering a few questions about your building.

VRF Vs. Mini-Split Vs. Multi-Split HVAC Systems: What Building Owners Should Know 

All these heat pump systems use the same basic process to deliver energy-efficient heating and cooling, but their application may be different based on project size. Below, we’ll explain the terminology and discuss the advantages of the three most common heat pump technologies.

Mini-Split Heat Pump Systems

A mini-split is a single zone heat pump system that consists of a single indoor unit and a single outdoor unit. Either unit can act as a condenser or evaporator to draw heat energy from ambient air. (Read more about how air source heat pumps function here.)

Mini-split systems circulate air through the coil of their indoor unit to heat or cool a space. There is no need for ductwork. They’re an excellent option for buildings with a limited number of thermal zones (areas with distinct heating and cooling requirements), such as a basement or an individual office that aren’t connected to their building’s larger HVAC system. 

Some property owners install a mini-split heat pump system for each room in a building. However, this can become expensive; if a building has more than one space to condition per thermal zone, a multi-split system usually provides a better return on investment.

Multi-Split Heat Pump Systems

A multi-split heat pump system consists of one outdoor unit serving two or more indoor units (up to 6 indoor units depending on the manufacturer). Multi-split systems are ductless systems, though some indoor units can use short ductwork to serve a small space. An average-size home typically has two zones, so two multi-splits are generally installed. In small to mid-size multifamily buildings, each apartment may have its own multi-split system—a way to individualize heating and cooling consumption. There are, however, some design limitations for larger multifamily buildings, because finding space for a large number of outdoor units may be a challenge.   

While multi-split heat pump systems have individual thermostats for each thermal zone, the system cannot handle use cases that require both heating and cooling simultaneously. Unlike a VRF heat pump system with heat recovery, a multi-split system can only operate in heating mode or cooling mode at a given time. The individual thermostats simply control whether the indoor air handler is on or off. 

This multi-split heat pump system from Daikin serves multiple zones from each of its outdoor units.

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) Heat Pump Systems

Unlike multi-split or mini-split, VRF systems are commercial devices that can handle differentiated loads. They continually adjust the flow of the refrigerant to each indoor unit to provide heating or cooling. This improves the system’s overall efficiency, but since VRF systems are considerably more powerful and complex, they carry higher upfront costs. VRF manufacturers generally offer outdoor units with sizes that vary from 5RT (refrigeration tons) to 30RT. VRF outdoor units can be combined together to accommodate larger loads.

If you’re considering VRF vs. multi-split systems, asking these questions can help you make an informed decision:

  • Will my building need to heat some indoor spaces while cooling others? VRF systems are an appropriate choice for larger buildings like  office buildings, hospitals, and other properties where heating and cooling needs may change regularly. 
  • Will I need to add additional indoor units over time? VRF technology is modular; adding new indoor evaporator units doesn’t require an overhaul of the entire system. If you’re planning for growth, VRF makes sense.
  • How will my new heat pump system affect building aesthetics? Modern multi-split systems don’t take up much space, but when systems have multiple outdoor units, they’re certainly noticeable. VRF systems have a single outdoor unit, so they’re generally easier to conceal. 
  • How large is my building? For smaller buildings, a mini-split or multi-split system will usually provide the best return on investment. Buildings of 10,000 square feet or more are generally better candidates for VRF systems.

If you’re still not sure, or are ready to evaluate proper heat pump sizing for your space, it’s time to bring in an HVAC pro like the experts at BlocPower

Find the perfect heat pump system for your building.

The bottom line: All three heat pump technologies provide enormous advantages over traditional HVAC systems. 

Air source heat pumps deliver dependably comfortable heating and cooling often at a fraction of the cost of inefficient furnaces, boilers and air conditioners. BlocPower customers save an average of 20-40% on their annual energy costs, and by taking advantage of energy incentive programs and financing arrangements like Energy Service Agreements, many customers are able to install their systems with no money down. 

By working with experienced installers, you can find a practical, aesthetically pleasing option that affordably fits within your budget. We’re ready to help. Tell us a bit more about your building to get started towards a customized heat pump system.