Ductless vs Central Air System – What Is More Efficient?

Should you go ductless or stick to a central air conditioning system? Both options have their own pros and cons.

A ductless system offers built-in zoning and is more efficient than a central air system. The latter is a better choice for houses that are larger than 2.500 square feet; moreover, it is going to increase the value of the property and central systems can improve the air quality.

Below we have compared the two systems in more detail to help you make up your mind.

What Is a Ductless System?

Just as the name suggests, a ductless system is an air conditioning system that doesn’t require ductwork.

The most basic ductless mini-split system consists of an indoor and an outdoor unit. The wall-mounted unit is able to deliver cooled or heated air directly into the room.

The units are connected by wiring and refrigerant tubing. There are single and multizone systems; the latter simply means that there is more than one indoor unit in the system.

The great thing about such systems is that you are able to customize them. Whether you want the system to be able to only cool air or to do both, heat and cool, a ductless unit can do that.

Moreover, you can choose the room or rooms where you want the system to be installed and you don’t need to have a lot of free space – such units are incredibly compact.

How Does a Ductless Mini-Split System Work?

A central air conditioning system has one indoor unit that cools or heats your house with the help of multiple vents and ducts. A ductless unit, in its turn, pushes the cooled or heated air directly into the room.

The outdoor unit houses the fan, condenser coil, and compressor, while the indoor unit has a blower fan and the evaporator coil. And that’s pretty much it.

The compressor pumps the liquid refrigerant through the tubing to the coil. This special chemical turns into gas that is able to remove humidity and heat from the air.

The refrigerant then travels back to the outdoor unit where it turns into liquid again. The system can easily reverse the process and cooling will turn into heating, whenever needed.

Ductless Mini-Split System – Pros & Cons

The Pros

  • Built-In Zoning

If you decide to install a mini-split system with a few indoor units, then you’ll be able to switch one unit on, while all the rest are going to be off.

Furthermore, you can switch one unit on heating mode, while the others are going to be cooling.

Ductless systems offer you incredible flexibility.

  • Efficiency

These little guys house the most advanced technology in the industry. Some units have variable-speed compressors, SEER ratings of over 30, and they utilize inverter technology.

  • Requires Less Maintenance

You wouldn’t have to spend a wagon of time and money on inspecting and cleaning the ductwork, as a mini-split system simply doesn’t have it.

The Cons

  • Initial Cost

Even though ductless systems are relatively small, they have a high initial place.

So, installing a central AC might be less expensive, if you already have the necessary ductwork.

  • Poor Filtration

Ductless systems do have air filters, but they are not as effective as the ones in central systems.

You can even find special carbon inserts and air purifiers for mini-splits, but the same quality of air as with central ACs is pretty much impossible to achieve.

Moreover, with ductless systems, the filters need to be cleaned more often – once every few weeks.

  • Drainage

Such systems collect moisture into a separate line

In some cases, the line is connected to the drain. But, depending on the location of the unit, you might need a condensation pump that is going to add to the noise levels and cost of the system.

  • Aesthetics

There is a line that runs from the outdoor to the indoor unit. You can use a special line hide to cover it, but not all contractors offer such a solution.

The actual unit that is located inside is visible and might ruin the look of the room for some.

Central Air Conditioning System – Pros & Cons

The Pros

  • More Efficient for Larger Spaces

If you have a large home, then a central AC will be better at keeping the temperature throughout the house consistent

  • A Wide Choice of Air Quality Products

There are plenty of humidifiers, air purifiers, and dehumidifiers available on the market that are designed especially for central systems

These things are not only going to increase the quality of the air but are also going to help the system work more efficiently. 

  • Increased Property Value

If your house has an installed central air conditioning system it is going to increase your property value by around 10%.

The Cons

  • Duct Maintenance

Ducts have to be regularly inspected, cleaned, and checked for leaks. That is time- and money-consuming.

  • Utility Bills

A central system doesn’t exactly have zone controlling, so running the system will make your energy bills skyrocket.

  • Complicated Installation, If You Don’t Have Ductwork

The installation of ductwork can cost you up to $15.000.

  • Less Effective Temperature Control

Central systems don’t offer the precise temperature control that mini-splits can easily achieve. The majority of less expensive units have only an on and off mode.

Ductless vs Central Air – Comparison Table

 Ductless Mini-Split SystemCentral Air Conditioning System
PriceThe initial cost of ductless systems is, in general, higher. But such units help you save money in the long run due to lower energy bills.If you have existing ductwork, it will, on average cost you, $5.500 to install a central AC unit.
InstallationA ductless system is great for houses that do not have ductwork already installed. It is also easy to pop a unit in the parts of your home that, for some reason, are not connected to the central ductwork.All you are going to need to install a ductless unit is a three-inch hole in the wall (the cable is going to run through it).The installation of the actual system is quite simple, but if you are going to need to install new ductwork, the process automatically becomes much more complicated. 
ClimateIf you want certain rooms in your house to be cooler than the others, then you can take advantage of the individual zoning control offered by ductless systems. You can achieve the same effect with a central system, but it is going to cost you much more, as such a system would require you to update the ductwork.
               House SizeDuctless systems are not really efficient when it comes to heating or cooling a large house.However, if your home is smaller than 2.000 square feet or you are planning on installing a unit in a particular area, then going ductless might be the right choice.If your house is larger than 2.500 square feet, then a central air conditioning system will do a much better job at keeping you cool or warm.In case the house is between 2.000 and 2.500 square feet, you can go for any of the two options, but remember that a central AC has greater power and with such a house size, it is going to pay off much quicker.
Energy Efficiency A lot of systems of this type have an inverter-driven compressor that has high energy efficiency.Moreover, the majority of units have a high SEER and about 80% of ductless systems have an HSPF over 9 (only 20% of the central systems have the same efficiency).Some ductless systems are also ‘heat pumps’. That means that once it gets cold outside (but not freezing cold), they will be able to bring warm air into the house without you having to use a furnace.In theory, if your central air conditioning system is installed properly and the ducts have no leaks, then the system is going to have incredibly high energy efficiency.But that’s pretty much unattainable.According to Energy Star, 20-30% of the air that is traveling through the ductwork is lost through holes.
NoisinessIn general, ductless systems are quieter as they have fewer moving parts.But some units are quieter than the others, so make sure to consult your technician.Usually, central air conditioning systems are a little noisier, but there are options that are going to keep the noise level to a minimum.
Lifestyle A ductless system might not be the best option for people that are afraid of ruining the way their interior looks. The units are certainly not ugly, but you are going to see this white box hanging in your room.From the inside, your central air conditioner is pretty much invisible.

To Sum Up

Ductless vs central air – what team are you on?

Sometimes, the best decision would be to choose both! 

Ductless systems do an amazing job in combination with central air conditioning. Especially, if you have rooms that are not connected to the central ductwork.