How Ductless Split AC vs Central AC Systems Compare

Photo of a living room with a yellow sofa and ductless mini split ac

There’s no one-size-fits-all model for heating and cooling your home. Every space is different, and the needs of one home won’t match the needs of another. When it comes to air conditioning, there are two primary cooling options: ductless mini-split and central air.

We can’t say that one air conditioning option is better than the other. However, each type of air conditioning system has different pros and cons. For some homes, mini-split units are preferable to a central air conditioner and vice versa.

Many different factors can determine the effectiveness of your AC unit. Homeowners should consider cost, space, and functionality when deciding between a ductless mini-split system and a central air system.

Here’s a breakdown of each type of air conditioning unit and the pros and cons of each.

Centralized AC vs. Split AC: What Are the Differences?

mini split vs central ac infographic

Air Conditioning Functionality

The first thing you may want to know about centralized AC vs. split AC is how they each work. The functionality of each type of cooling unit is significant in determining which is the better option for your home. Ultimately, both AC units will keep your home at a comfortable temperature. But central AC systems and ductless air conditioners are more effective and efficient in certain situations.

AC Flexibility

When choosing a mini-split AC over a central air unit, one of the things you’re getting is flexibility. With ductless AC, multiple air conditioning units are installed in individual rooms of your home, and each AC unit controls the temperature in that room independently. Because of this, you’re able to have better control over the temperature in each room. If you aren’t using a particular room, you can turn that ductless mini-split off or set it at a different temperature than the rooms you’re occupying.

On the other hand, Centralized AC works by providing temperature control throughout the entire home. A thermostat controls the home temperature, and your AC works as needed to maintain that desired temperature. What you miss in flexibility with a central air conditioner you make up for with consistent room-to-room comfort and efficiency.

House Size

Because each type of unit functions differently, each is more suitable for certain types of homes. Large homes or homes with lots of open space are typically better suited for centralized air conditioning. Central air is better at cooling large areas efficiently, and it would be much less efficient to run several mini-split air conditioners at the same temperature in a large home.

There are several situations where ductless air conditioning is better than centralized. By contrast, ductless AC is often better for smaller homes or homes with many smaller rooms. Apartment homes typically rely on ductless mini-split air conditioning, for instance. A mini-split AC is a great option whenever the goal is to cool several rooms separately.

It simply makes more sense to allow each apartment tenant to control their temperature individually, and a mini-split unit is also often more efficient. Rather than cooling every area of a home equally, ductless AC units cool only the room’s temperature that needs cooling.

Multi-Story Homes

If you generally only use one floor of your multi-story home, a ductless mini-split system may be best for you. Ductless air conditioners enable you to control the temperature from room to room as needed throughout the day. This functionality can save on energy costs, as your AC isn’t working to cool areas of your home unnecessarily.

The Cost of Air Conditioning

Regarding energy costs, price is another major factor when choosing between centralized and mini-split AC. But once again, this issue is not so simple as “one is better than the other.” There are multiple considerations to consider when calculating the initial cost of air conditioning.

AC Installation Costs

In terms of upfront cost, ductless air conditioning tends to be more expensive than centralized AC. You’ll be installing multiple AC units around your home, and each unit is installed to work efficiently in individual rooms, which can often be complicated. The exact installation cost will depend on how many units you need as you’re paying for each particular unit.

Installing a new central AC unit is a more straightforward process, provided your home already has ductwork. If your home already has ducts, a central AC typically makes more sense; you might as well use the existing ductwork! However, if your home is missing a duct system, the AC installation process can be expensive and intrusive. In this case, ductless split units deserve more consideration.

Because of this factor, maintenance costs for central air can sometimes be higher than for ductless AC. If you have an issue with your ductwork, repair costs can increase, and maintenance work can be intrusive. However, major ductwork problems aren’t a common occurrence with proper maintenance.

Energy Efficiency

Of course, AC installation isn’t the only occasion in which you’ll be paying for air conditioning. There are also energy bills to consider. When used effectively, ductless AC units often provide superior energy efficiency. As mentioned earlier, ductless units don’t work to cool every area of the home at all times; they only power on to cool spaces where it’s required.

However, central air conditioning can often be the more efficient option in large spacious homes. The utility cost of your AC will depend at least somewhat on the size and layout of your home. If you have any questions about this, an HVAC professional can help you make the right decision.

What Is Central AC?

Now that you know the benefits of each air conditioning option, you may be asking, “What is central AC, exactly?” Unlike “ductless” air conditioning, its name isn’t incredibly descriptive. However, you may be able to figure it out by contrast. Central air is a whole-house cooling system that uses a series of ducts to control airflow throughout the home.

With central AC, the household temperature is controlled by a thermostat connected to air ducts and a furnace. Hot or cool air is dispersed evenly throughout the entire range of the system. Air ducts are typically connected to vents all over your home for even distribution of air. A single outdoor unit controls temperatures, which circulates and controls airflow inside.

Because only one bulky outdoor compressor is involved, central AC has one distinct advantage over ductless. Central AC is generally considered the more aesthetically pleasing option. With ductless units, you must have multiple conspicuous indoor units placed throughout the house. With a central air conditioning unit, fewer visible parts are disrupting the design of a room. This design factor allows you to stay comfortable in your home without intrusive elements.

Air Pro Heating & Cooling is Here to Help

If you have any questions about the differences between centralized AC vs. split AC, Air Pro Heating & Cooling can help. Your home comfort is always our number one priority.

Air Pro has provided southwest Washington and northern Oregon with the best quality heating and cooling services for two decades. Our HVAC technicians possess the knowledge and experience to care for any home heating or cooling needs. If you need assistance choosing a new AC or want to improve your indoor air quality by reducing airborne allergens, our team of HVAC experts will walk you through the process.

Our Air Pro team looks forward to serving you and your HVAC system!

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