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Ductless Mini-Splits vs. Central Air: A Side-By-Side Comparison

If you’re shopping for a heating and cooling system, you have two main options to consider: central air conditioning or ductless mini-splits.

Here, we break down which system has the edge across seven categories.

Installation

Winner: Ductless Mini-Split

For homes without existing ductwork, installing a central air conditioning system can be costly and invasive, requiring a not-inconsequential retrofit to the interior. In this case, it would make sense to go with a ductless mini-split. These units mount flush against a wall or drop ceiling and only require a small hole to connect to the outside compressor. In most cases, they can be installed in a matter of hours.

Even Temperatures

Winner: Central Air

Because central air delivers conditioned air to every corner of your home via ducts, you can expect consistent temperatures throughout.

The workaround for ductless systems is to install multiple indoor units, which can be connected to a single outside compressor. This allows for zoned comfort, meaning everyone in the house can enjoy their own desired temperature. No more thermostat wars. Another advantage of this configuration is that you can turn off the AC in one part of the house while still maintaining comfort in a room that’s occupied, trimming your electricity bill.

Efficiency

Winner: Ductless Mini-Split

With central air conditioning, some 30 percent of the conditioned air is lost before it reaches its destination. Leaks in ducts are responsible for some of this loss, but not all. Cool air warms as it travels through the ducts. Conversely, warm air cools as it travels from the blower to the vent. Mini-splits bypass ducts completely, directly delivering cool or warm air.

Aesthetics

Winner: Central Air

Central air conditioning systems are out of sight. The only visible indication that you have an HVAC system are the vents on the walls.

Ductless systems are obtrusive. Not everyone likes the idea of mounting an appliance on the wall. There is no hiding or disguising them. If it helps, some models come in designer colors, such as glossy black, white and matte silver. Some systems can be mounted flush in the ceiling, but they’re still clearly visible.

Warmth

Winner: Central Air

It gets cold here in Portland. A ductless mini-split might not provide adequate warmth when temperatures drop below freezing. So don’t expect it to replace your furnace.

Noise

Winner: Ductless Mini-Split

A central air conditioning system sounds like a jet turbine compared to the whisper-quiet operation of a ductless mini-split. That’s because ducts act as an amplifier and can vibrate and rattle when loose.

Maintenance

Winner: It’s a draw

Both central air and ductless systems require routine maintenance to keep them operating efficiently. A ductless system requires that you clean the filter every 30 days. For central AC, replace the filter every 30 to 90 days. Both systems should be tuned up at least once a year by an HVAC technician.

Cost

Winner: It depends

If you have existing ductwork, it might be cheaper to simply replace your central air unit. This is especially true if you live in a large home that would require four or five indoor units, plus at least two outdoor compressors.

In the case of a smaller home without ductwork, a ductless mini-split system would be the cheaper option, even if you had two to three indoor units operating off of one outdoor compressor.

Where a ductless mini-split has a clear financial benefit over central air is long-term costs. A ductless system is cheaper to operate.

Bottom line: Both options will provide the cooling you need to stay comfort through summer. And consider this: It’s doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. If you already have central AC but you’d like supplemental cooling in another part of the home, say the garage, basement or new addition, a ductless mini-split will meet your needs.

We’re Portland’s HVAC experts for both central air and ductless systems. To schedule an appointment, call 503-683-7077.
 

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