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The Fight For Cool: Ductless vs. Central Air Conditioning

July 15, 2014

Which Air Conditioning Type is Best?

Having air conditioning in your San Diego home is a modern luxury that makes controlling the climate in your home convenient and comfortable. There are now more options when it comes to type of air conditioning systems that will work for your home. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of ductless air conditioning vs. central air conditioning.

Not every home can accommodate a large central air conditioning system, particularly older homes where it is difficult or cost-prohibitive to fit the equipment in the attic or closet and find space to install the ducts needed for air conditioning. Thankfully, ductless air conditioning systems can fill the void when there are no central air options. Even people who have the option to use central air conditioning units are choosing ductless systems instead based on their efficiency and targeting power.

Here are a few key differences between these two types of air conditioning systems and a look at why you may choose one over the other.

Central Air Conditioning

This type of air conditioning is pretty common and preferred by many residents who want to keep entire homes cool with a single thermostat. Usually with central air conditioning the hot air in the home is pulled into a central return air duct, which is the larger register in your home found in the hallway or other central area. Hot air is filtered and drawn over the indoor coil where the heat is soaked up by the refrigerant and exchanged outside via the condenser. The cold air is now recirculated back into your entire home by way of the ducting system.

Advantages: Mainly, ease of cooling an entire building without having to go from room to room to make it happen. The indoor part of central air conditioning systems tend to be hidden from sight, with only the air registers seen on the walls. Sometimes you only need to replace part of your central system, this would keep costs down and improve your existing system. Since larger higher efficient filters will fit on a central system, filtration tends to work far better than with the smaller filters on a ductless unit.

Disadvantages: Central air conditioning condensers, (the outdoor unit), tend to be very large and can be noisy. Central air relies on ducting to distribute air to each room which can be torn, damaged or just fall apart resulting in major leakage, loss of efficiency and capacity. The average California home has around 30% duct leakage! Central a/c systems can be zoned for different rooms, but this requires extra, sometimes third-party equipment and adds an additional cost to the job.

Ductless Air Conditioning

Ductless air conditioning, also called mini-split systems, uses an air-handling unit that is located inside, mounted on a wall or inset into the ceiling, and connected by refrigerant lines to a compact outdoor compressor. As the name implies, there are no ducts involved in cooling the home. Instead, the wall unit pulls air across it’s coil, removes the heat, filters the air and sends it right back into the room where it is located. These systems are far more efficient, precise and quieter than many central air conditioning units.

Advantages: Ductless systems are more targeted and can cool just one spot or multiple zones in the same house. Generally up to four, sometimes eight, air-handling units can all connect to the same outdoor compressor. Unlike window units, ductless air conditioning units have programmable temperature settings (not just low, medium, and high). Unlike traditional central systems ductless systems can vary their output and energy usage based on the current conditions inside and outside the home. This ability to ramp up and down to just what is needed is what sets these systems apart.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average household saves up to $1,000 every year on cooling costs by using ductless air conditioning units. Since there are no duct systems to install, labor cost is reduced when compared to central air conditioning installation. Other people praise the environmental benefits of the focused energy use as opposed to wasted air through central systems. Finally, the outdoor unit runs virtually silent. This feature is especially ideal when units are placed near bedroom windows, neighbors or in the backyard.

Disadvantages: With this type of air conditioning there is not one central place to adjust temperature for an entire house. For those who choose ductless systems, this is a small price to pay. Some people also view the aesthetic appearance of ductless units as a disadvantage as they are not hidden in the walls like duct systems. There are smart ways to integrate these systems though that make them less obvious in the rooms where they exist.

The best way to decide which to use is to know what is important to you and your family, what your budget is, and find out what your homes requirements are. Whatever system you choose, remember that a proper installation of any air conditioning system is what will contribute to the most comfort, energy efficiency, and safety your system can provide. Consult an air conditioning specialist for even more advice on what may be best for your space.


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About The Author

Bob Jenson

For over 45 years, Bob Jenson has been providing quality heating and air services to the San Diego community.


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