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What's the Difference between Central Air and Ductless Mini-Split Systems?

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Central air conditioning has been common in the United States for decades, but ductless mini-split systems are becoming more and more popular because they can provide heating as well as cooling.

Both consist of a condenser located outside, and an air handler (or multiple handlers) inside.

Central air conditioning. Using electricity as the power source, coolant flows through a closed system of refrigeration lines between the indoor handler and the condenser outside. Warm air from inside the home is pulled through duct work and is cooled by the refrigerant filled coil. The cooled air is then blown through the ducts and the vents, and into the home. This cycle continues until the desired temperature programed into a single thermostat is reached.

Ductless Mini-Split System. Also using electricity as the power source, a ductless mini-split system distributes heat or air conditioning to individual rooms within the home without the need for duct work. Each room’s temperature can be controlled individually.

Costs. If existing duct work is present, a central air conditioning system is typically more cost effective. If no duct work is installed however, contractors may have to tear down parts of walls and ceilings for installation to take place and then repair and painting will be necessary. This can result in double the cost of a ductless system. It depends on the individual situation.

Central air conditioning systems require cool air to travel through air ducts to reach all the rooms in the home. Much of this cooled air can escape into areas, that don’t need conditioning through leaks in the duct work. This results in reduced efficiency and higher operating costs, since the system has to work harder to achieve the desired temperature.

Ductless systems have variable-speed air handlers. In other words, they have fans that can change speed based on conditions inside and outside the home. Ductless systems also afford the homeowner the ability for individual zoning. Each indoor unit has its own thermostat that is controlled by sensors. Different temperatures can be set for each zone. So a room that is empty does not have to be cooled or heated. Ductless systems are also a convenient and affordable option for home additions.

Air quality. Indoor pollutants such as dust, mold, and pollen can accumulate in central air conditioning duct work. Regular cleaning and maintenance is required to keep the level of pollutants low, otherwise resulting in poorer air quality.

A Ductless Mini-Split system has easy to clean filters that catch more pollutants, and the variable speed fans remain on longer, also resulting in more effective removal of contaminants.

A Homestead Comfort Advisor can help you make the decision that is right for you, your home, and your budget.