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Ductless Mini-Splits vs Central Air Conditioner – Which is Best?

November 8, 2022

When it comes to ductless mini-split air conditioners vs central air conditioning, there are a lot of factors to consider. Both have their pros and cons, and the best option for your home will depend on your specific needs. In this article, we will take a look at both ducted and ductless AC systems and help you decide which is the best option for you.

Genmont Air Conditioning & Heating has worked in numerous homes that do not have a traditional furnace. During the harsh winters, homeowners used baseboard heat or a boiler to get by.

When it’s hot outside with no air conditioning, there aren’t many options. You open windows at night, close shades on the east and west sides of the property on sunny days, turn up the fans to maximum speed, and gather around room or window air conditioners.

If the Rockville area summers are making you yearn for air conditioning, and you don’t currently have a duct system, there are two viable alternatives.

Install a forced-air cooling system – an air conditioner or heat pump – or invest in a ductless mini-split system.

Don’t know which option is cheaper? Are you curious about the installation process? Or how each one will change the appearance of your house? We’ll answer these and other questions at the conclusion of this essay, and we hope to assist you in selecting how to keep your home cool.

If You Already Have Ductwork

The first course of action is simple if you already have ductwork. The external device will require power, and a line set will be required to bring conditioned air down to the basement or lower level. After that, an air conditioner must be installed to push the cooled air throughout the house.

Because the ducts will most likely reach all of the rooms, chilly air will be available in every location. All you have to do now is purchase an air conditioner or a heat pump, and you’ll be well on your way to a more pleasant summer. In addition, both of these devices help to remove humidity from the internal air, resolving:

  • An overly warm top floor or finished attic
  • Musty and disgusting smells
  • Mold showing in damp areas
  • Family having breathing issues
  • A general decrease in comfort
  • Permanent window fog
  • Different floors are often completely different in temperature
  • Spiders, bug infestations, and cobwebs
  • Wooden furniture experiencing moisture damage
  • Water stains

Ductless mini-splits can be used in conjunction with central ductwork if it is already in place. However, they would be utilized room by room rather than as a whole-house remedy.

If You Don’t Have Ductwork

Ductwork installation is time-consuming and expensive. And that doesn’t include the price of a new air conditioner or heat pump.

An HVAC technician will need to design a ductwork system to cover the entire house. To all of the rooms, the ductwork will need to be retrofitted.

Then you have to factor in the cost of installing an air handler, air conditioner, heat pump, or gas furnace and air conditioner.

It’s not difficult to install whole-home ductwork in a ranch house with a full, unfinished basement. You may run the ductwork wherever you want.

If you have multi-levels, a basement, or a finished basement, it’ll be extremely invasive. The ductwork will need to pass through finished rooms. There will be cutting and moving and refinishing. It becomes filthy and expensive.

You cut out a space for the supply and return ducts in a closet or the nook of a room. Then it’s time to bring it up to the attic. It’s going to set you back some cash. After all that work, you’ll need to finish the job afterwards.

How long would it take to install ducts for an unfinished basement in a ranch home?

It might take two to four days to complete the whole system. The process of running ductwork is time-consuming. Installing the AC and air handler would take another six to eight hours.

We may always add a zoned system as we go. Electronically controlled dampers are an option for a zoned system. These can be partially closed to aid in the restriction of air movement into a specific room. The air pressure throughout the rest of the home would rise as a result of this.

Why Is Ductwork So Expensive to Install?

A basement run takes only a few minutes. However, you must cut the floor holes for supply and return registers. You must cut the holes for the return registers. Flex-duct is used by some businesses. You just pull it out and tie off each end, and you’re ready to go.

Sheet metal ductwork is used at Glenmont since it promotes airflow more than ribbed, flexible ductwork. It also takes a bit longer to install.

We can’t give a price since we’d have to run a lot of duct and make a lot of holes. The final work would need to be completed by another contractor.

The cost of a whole-house duct system can range from $6000 to $15,000. That’s starting at the low end for a baby ranch house with a small main trunk system.

Advantages of Installing Central Air Conditioning

Central air conditioning is your quickest, simplest, and most affordable way to cool your house if you already have existing ductwork.

The disadvantage is that you’ll have to run ductwork throughout the house. The advantage is that you’ll be able to reach each room if you must install ductwork in the whole home.

By using central air, you may quickly add equipment to improve the air quality. Humidifiers can make the dry winter months more enjoyable. Air purification systems can get rid of germs, odors, allergens, pet dander, and other pollutants. Your entire home will be healthier and cleaner as a result of this renovation project.

The cost of an air conditioner unit is less than that of a ductless. The cost of a new AC for a house ranges from $4,500 to $13,000. This covers labor and regulatory costs. Variable-speed AC systems are among the different system sizes and levels of sophistication covered by this range.

If you’re leaning towards a heat pump, the cost is comparable. The price of a new heat pump ranges from $4,900 to $12,500. This time period covers the equipment expense, labor costs, and any other expenses. This range includes variable-capacity heat pump systems in a variety of system sizes and degrees of sophistication.

A typical air conditioner costs between $2900 and $5800. This fee includes installation. The price variation is due to the unit’s capacity and type of blower it has. Heat strips are another $300 to $600 in addition to the unit’s price.

Disadvantages of Installing Central Air Conditioning Without Ducts

A duct may have to run through your living room. Installers will cut two holes in the floor and run ducts throughout in order for it to function. It will be intrusive.

Let’s pretend we’re examining a fully completed basement in a three-story home. What would happen?

We have to either run the ductwork beneath the existing finished ceiling in the basement to install supply registers on the first floor. Alternatively, we’ll have to run the ducts above the completed ceiling or rip out the ceiling to place them up in the joist space. Another contractor will need to clean up any holes we make.

If we want to get to the second floor, we’ll either have to climb up the walls and across the ceilings of the first floor. Then there’s another set of holes. We’ll also need to create holes for both supply and return air.

Unless you’ve got the system zoned, you’ll have to choose where to put a thermostat. The thermostat does not know what temperature is in every room. Air conditioning can be used with zoning, but it isn’t as efficient as ductless mini-splits for zoning.

Advantages of Ductless Mini-Splits

  • They are less invasive. They may enter areas where there are no existing ducts. This can’t be overstated. Ductless mini-splits have a flexibility central air conditioning doesn’t come close to matching..
  • Each head is picked to whatever temperature you choose. (One note of caution: They all must be set to cool or warm. You can’t have one that’s cooling and another that’s heating.)
  • In most cases, they are. The head is installed on the wall, and a small hole is cut in it for the refrigerant line. We conceal that refrigerant line because it is hidden behind a line hide.
  • The process of connecting ductwork to the system is far faster than that of installing ducts. You’ll have immediate heating and cooling just as you wish, and you may manage the units using your phone with the mobile app. (You can do this with a high-end AC/heat pump and thermostat, too.)
  • They heat and cool. Yes, A heat pump can do the same, though they will struggle during extreme cold.
  • Ductless technology is one of the most energy-efficient technologies available. The lower end of ductless systems has a SEER rating of 16 – 18. Some of the more expensive devices reach into the 30s. There is no way that an air conditioner or heat pump can compete with these products when it comes to efficiency. A higher SEER rating is preferable, and it consumes less power.
  • Ductless heating/cooling systems are simpler to regulate since they don’t need a main supply line. You can set the temperature on each head individually.
  • Variable-speed compressors are common in small-capacity mini-splits, allowing them to run as much or little as necessary. In contrast to most (but not all) central air units, which have only one or two speeds and must be switched on and off more frequently.

Disadvantages of Ductless Mini-Splits

  • You won’t be able to perform complete-house humidification, air purification, or dehumidification with ductless. The ductless system includes some humidity and cleaning abilities. (The ductless does include some dehumidification and filtering capabilities.)
  • Some people can’t get over that thing on their wall. No question that it will be obvious in every room in which it’s mounted, whereas vents can be more unobtrusive.
  • You need a ductless air conditioner with heat strips if you have no ducts or don’t want to use them. They’re efficient when it comes to heating, but there’s no backup heat. When it gets really cold, you’ll wish you had an air handler with electric heat strips and some emergency heat. A long period of intense cold will significantly increase your electricity bill.
  • Central airflow is not created by ductless. It does not move air throughout the property, resulting in unventilated rooms that will not receive conditioned air. Only specific areas will be cooled/heated to precise comfort levels.

The Next Step Is Up to You

It’s a difficult choice between running ductwork and installing centralized air conditioning in a retrofitted home without ducts. You must compare both alternatives and choose the one that is best suited to you. In general, a ducted system in the basement is generally more appealing than a ductless mini-split system in a house with a full basement and just one floor.

If you have multiple levels and no locations where ductwork may be run, ductless technology may be a more appealing option.

You should now have a much better notion of which option is right for you. For others, the answer may be a combination of both, with a central air system servicing the majority of the property while a mini-split unit serves a specific area or room that is difficult to heat and cool.

If you’d like to speak with an HVAC professional in person about your choices even more, and if you live in the Rockville, MD area, contact us to book a free in-home consultation. Glenmont will answer any questions you have and assist you in selecting a solution that meets your demands.

About The Author

Glenmont Air Conditioning & Heating

For over 35 years, Glenmont Air Conditioning & Heating has provided full-service HVAC repair, replacement, and maintenance in the Rockville, Maryland area. Contact us today to schedule service.