In years past, most people opted for central AC. Recently, though, ductless AC has been surging in popularity, and it's not just being installed in homes without existing ductwork. People are more concerned than ever about energy costs, and ductless systems are big winners in that regard.
Whether you opt for central air or ductless system, you're looking at a major investment and should do plenty of research before making your decision. The initial cost is a major factor, of course, but it pays to consider long-term costs as well. At the same time, you should think about the indoor comfort needs of you and your family. You may think that central air conditioning is the way to go, but you shouldn't dismiss ductless without learning what it's about and what it can do for you.
Ductless Air Conditioner vs. Central Air Conditioner: Which is Right for You
Before weighing the pros and cons of central air conditioning and ductless air conditioning, you should have a basic grasp of what each system entails. A central air conditioning system typically has two units. The indoor unit is usually attached to the furnace, whose blower forces cooled air through ducts that stretch around the home. The outdoor unit houses a compressor and condenser.
What does Ductless Mean?
Ductless systems also have indoor and outdoor components, but they aren't built into existing forced-air furnaces. Outdoor units are usually mounted on outside walls, but they may also be installed farther away if necessary. Depending on the heating and cooling needs of a home, more than one outdoor unit may be needed. Similarly, there is one or more indoor air-handling unit. These units may be mounted high on walls, on ceilings or on floors. With multi-split systems, different temperatures may be set for different zones.
Some of the most important things to consider when weighing the benefits of ductless systems over central air conditioners include:
- Flexibility - With ductless, indoor air handlers can be installed in a variety of places. You can also have them installed so that heated and cooled air is limited to specific parts of the home, which creates superior comfort and results in lower energy bills.
- Heating and Cooling - Central air conditioners can only be used to cool a home. They must be paired with furnaces or heat pumps for year-round indoor comfort. In areas where temperatures rarely or never dip below about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, ductless systems can heat homes as well as cool them. They have reversible heat pumps that move warm air in either direction.
- Zoned Comfort - With central air conditioning, setting the temperature on the thermostat adjusts the temperature for the entire home. By opting for a multi-split ductless system, you can set different temperatures in different rooms. If you don't plan to use a room on a given day, you can stop having heated or cooled air directed there. This results in significant energy savings.
- Less Energy Loss - One of the biggest drawbacks of a standard central air conditioning system is the fact that cooled air has to travel through ducts to get where it needs to go. Along the way, a lot of it seeps out and is lost in unconditioned parts of the home. This can result in energy losses of up to 30 percent. Your ductwork is left out of the equation with a ductless system, so the issue of leaks is eliminated entirely.
- Simple Installation - As long as it's performed by an authorized and experienced contractor, ductless air conditioning installation is a snap. Most of the legwork has to be done prior to installation. For example, technicians must determine the appropriate places to mount indoor air handlers and perform load calculations to ensure that the equipment that's used has the right capacity.
- Design - One thing about ductless systems that sometimes gives people pause is the fact that it's necessary to have indoor units installed to deliver cooled and heated air to specific rooms. In other words, equipment isn't just tucked away down in the basement. However, high-quality ductless systems have compact, low-profile indoor units that do little to detract from interior decor.
How Much does Ductless Air Conditioning Cost?
The initial cost of having a ductless system installed tends to be higher than the cost of having central air conditioning installed. Focusing solely on upfront costs is misleading, though. After all, ductless systems are much more efficient than central air conditioners, so you will spend a lot less to keep your home comfortable over time and should recoup your investment with ease.