Informational Guide

Ductless Mini Split Vs Central Air

We compare central AC units and ductless mini-splits to see which best suits your needs. See which air conditioning system cools best for you.

by Josh M

Air conditioners are becoming an essential piece of home equipment that can help keep you and your family comfortable year-round. Everybody has a different situation, but there’s such a wide variety of different air conditioners available you can find the perfect model to benefit you.

Central air conditioners provide AC throughout your home and are designed to cool a larger space. Ductless mini split air conditioners are designed to work without ductwork and operate in smaller areas. In this guide, we’ll give you the full breakdown of mini split vs. central air and help you decide which is best for your home.

Air Conditioner AC Cool Cooling

Ductless mini split air conditioners, sometimes referred to as mini splits, are an effective way to cool an area in your home without the need for expensive installation work. They provide an effective method of controlling the temperature in your home and are scalable, so they can be used in small or large homes.

While air conditioning has been around for over 100 years, the mini split has a shorter history. Mitsubishi invented the mini split in 1959 as a solution for homeowners who wanted effective AC but found complicated installation impractical.

They ran more quietly than traditional home air conditioners and proved to be more efficient and economical. In the mid-1960s, the mini split idea made it to the US, and their popularity grew massively from this point. They are now one of the most common types of AC in homes.

Mini split air conditioners have two parts: the indoor handling unit and the outdoor compressor. The indoor unit delivers conditioned air into your home and has a fan, refrigerant, and a filter. The outdoor unit has a fan to draw the air in and cool it before it goes into your home.

The indoor and outdoor units are connected with some tubing, and there is a condensate drain line to get rid of the moisture from the air. There are no complicated ducts with mini splits, and there are often several indoor handling units connected to one outdoor unit.

There are two main types of mini split: single zone or multi zone. A single mini split will operate in one area or zone and get it to a certain temperature. If you have several different areas in your home which need AC, you can install more mini splits to cool the other zones. The cost will go up for every mini split system you have, but this is a much cheaper option than installing ducts all over your home.

Mini splits really changed the air conditioning game because they allow you to divide your home into zones. You can have several different units operating to cool different areas to different temperatures, making them well suited for flats or homes with several levels. They also eliminate the need for expensive and complicated installation. This makes them perfect for homeowners who want effective AC without any hassle.

Pros & Cons Of Mini Split ACs

What We Like
  • Effective Cooling
  • More Efficient Than Duct ACs
  • Allows You To Zone Your Home And Set Different Temperatures
  • Helps Secure Your Home With Only One Small Hole
  • Flexibility With Where You Install Them
Things We Don’t
  • More Expensive Than Other Single Room ACs
  • Very Visible Internally

Related ArticleAre Mini Splits Worth The Cost?

Central Air Conditioners Explained

Central Air conditioner explained

Central AC is an effective way to regulate the temperature across your whole home. While other air conditioners target a single area, your central air conditioner is connected to most rooms and will provide effective cooling ventilation to all areas of your home, usually connected up to a single thermostat.

Willis Carrier invented the first modern central AC as a solution for regulating the temperature and humidity in his factories. In 1902 he installed his first model, and central AC was quickly picked up in commercial venues. Central air conditioners in the home really started to take off after the 1950s. They had a high cost and were regarded as a luxury item, but over the years, they’ve become more accessible.

Central air conditioners usually have one central air handler containing all the main components like fans, condenser coils, and filters. This unit is responsible for the conditioning of the air and is usually found in the garage or basement. There’s also an outdoor unit with a compressor and fan, which draws cold air in. This will be connected to your internal air handler using some ducts.

Central AC also uses ductwork that needs to be connected throughout your home. This is how the central AC lowers the temperature across your home.

Fans are used to draw in air from outside, where it’s passed over condenser coils to condition it. It’s then blown through the ducts and around your home to lower the temperature. Your central AC is usually controlled by a single thermostat, and it will keep working until your home reaches this temperature.

Most central air conditioners are set up like this and called a ‘split’ system. The other type of central AC is a packaged system where there’s just one machine located outside your home. This connects into your ducts and vents to feed cold air in. These are generally less efficient and often come with a heating option too.

Central AC is great for homeowners who want their whole home to be a consistent temperature. If you like in a very hot climate, you need effective AC, and a central air conditioner will help keep you and your family comfortable all year round.

Pros & Cons Of Central AC Units

What We Like
  • Consistent Temperature Throughout Your Home
  • Durable And Reliable
  • Quiet Running
  • Good Air Quality
  • Low Maintenance
Things We Don’t
  • Expensive To Run
  • Expensive Installation (Ductwork)

Ductless Mini Split Vs Central Air Conditioner: Key Differences Explained

There are some key differences between a mini split and central AC, and they are each better suited to specific homes. Here’s a quick rundown of how they compare:

Cooling Capacity And Efficiency

The output and cooling capacity of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). The higher the BTUs, the more cooling it will give you and the greater an area it can cool. Central air conditioners are designed to cool large areas and, on average, deliver about 20,000-50,000 BTU, which is enough to cool 1000-3000 square feet of space. Mini split ACs typically have an output of 9000-20,000 BTUs, which is significantly less than a central AC, but they are only designed to cool one area.

Overall, central air will be able to cool a larger area, but you can set up several mini split units to cool more than one zone in your home. This lets you cool a greater area and allows you to customize the temperature in each zone.

Indoor Air Quality

Modern ductless mini split air conditioners are equipped with highly effective filters to remove impurities from the air. They will remove the majority of dust, pollen, spores, and other impurities from the air as it passes through the filter, and while it won’t work as well as an air purifier, it will give you pretty good air quality.

Central air conditioners also come with filters to help improve the air quality, though there are more old central AC units around which are less effective in this area. You will need to change the filters fairly often, though, as you’ll have a greater volume of air coming through a central AC compared to a mini split.

Overall, both of these air conditioners will provide decent air quality and help you properly ventilate your home.

Energy Efficiency Rating

SEER Label

The energy efficiency of air conditioners is measured as a SEER rating. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system is and the less it will cost to run. In fact, moving up just 1 or 2 SEER ratings can save 15-20% on the running costs.

On average, the SEER rating for a mini split is between 15 and 18, but some efficient models are in the 20s. In comparison, central air conditioners tend to have a SEER rating of between 14 and 18, but modern units tend to be more efficient.

Overall, you’ll find that mini splits are more efficient and cheaper to run, but you can get efficient models for both types of AC if you shop around.

Related ArticleMore Information On SEER Rating

Initial AC Unit Purchase Cost

Mini split air conditioners are usually cheaper, but the amount you’ll pay depends on the BTU rating. You should expect to pay between $1500 and $8000 for a ductless mini split AC, but you should be prepared to spend more if you need more than one mini split. Central air conditioners are designed for whole home cooling, so they are naturally more expensive. The unit itself will cost between $4000 and $9000, but you could pay a lot more for larger models.

While central air is a lot more expensive on paper, it actually offers better value. In fact, central AC can cool a much larger area and tends to be 30% cheaper per square foot.

HVAC Installation Cost

When considering the cost of each type of AC, you need to factor in the installation costs because you will probably need professional assistance for both of these. A central air conditioner is a large, bulky unit that needs ductwork throughout your home. This represents a significant amount of work if you don’t have the ducts already, and you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000-$12,000 for installation.

Ductless mini splits, as the name suggests, don’t need any expensive ductwork and just have the single fitting through the wall. You should expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,500 for installation depending on your exact model and location.

Electricity Usage

Finally, you need to consider the energy draw of the two different types of AC so you can consider how it will impact your bills. The energy needed will be influenced by the BTUs of the AC, and the larger the conditioner, the more electricity will be required.

Your average mini split will need about 800 watts to run and cost roughly $0.12 an hour. A central air conditioner will use between 2500 and 3500 watts and therefore draws a lot more power. You could pay anywhere up to $0.90 an hour, so the cost difference is quite clear. Of course, a central air conditioner does a lot more in your home, so it’s natural to pay more, but it will use noticeably more electricity.

Aesthetics and Space in the Home

Mini split ACs tend to be installed on your wall and are fairly discreet, stylish pieces of equipment. Modern mini splits will blend into your home décor, and you probably won’t even notice it on the wall. Central air conditioners are a lot less aesthetic, but the main unit is generally kept out of the way, so you won’t see it. You will have to consider the ductwork and get it installed, so it doesn’t disrupt the look of your home.

Related ArticleCentral AC Unit Placement Guide

Ease of Cleaning & Maintenance

Both mini splits and central air conditioners are fairly easy to maintain, but you will need to stay on top of it. Central air conditioners are slightly more complicated because you have a network of ducts to keep clean. If you want a lower maintenance option, then you should go for the mini split.

Long Term Reliability And Lifespan

Knowing the lifespan of your AC helps determine the long-term value your AC will give you. A central AC will last roughly 15-20 years, and they’re generally considered to be one of the most durable and reliable ACs. Mini splits have a similar lifespan of around 15 years, and the simple nature of the machine means it won’t break down very often. Both are reliable air conditioners that should stand up to heavy use.

Mini Split System in Living Room

People Also Ask (FAQ)

How long do ductless mini split air conditioners last?

Ductless mini split ACs will last 15-20 years as long as they are properly cleaned and maintained.

How long do central air conditioners last?

Central ACs will last 15-20 years if they’re properly cleaned and maintained.

Why are mini splits called ductless?

Traditional air conditioners use ducts to transfer air into and around your home. However, these are really expensive to install, so mini splits were invented as a simpler, more cost-effective solution that didn’t need any ducts. This is why they’re often referred to as ductless mini splits.

How long does it take to install a ductless mini split air conditioner?

It will generally take 4-8 hours for a professional to install a mini split AC.

Conclusion

Central air conditioners effectively cool your entire home but need complicated (and expensive) ductwork to function. Mini split air conditioners are much simpler to install and don’t need any ducts but are only designed to cool a smaller space. Hopefully, this guide has helped explain the key differences of each, and you now have a better idea of which type of AC is right for you.

Last Updated on May 25, 2022

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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