Is Ductless or Central Air the Better System?
If you’re not yet familiar with a ductless system, it will probably cross your radar shortly as they are quickly becoming the popular choice for new home owners. Also known as a mini-split AC, ductless systems can be found for both cooling units and combined heating and cooling units.
One advantage of ductless systems is their capability to operate effectively in temperature extremes. They are able to sufficiently heat a home in temperatures as low as -13 ° F, and cool effectively even with temperatures as high as 115 ° F. Many central air systems cannot match their performance.
To compare the technologies and discover the pros and cons associated with each, we offering the following to aid you in making the decision of choosing between Ductless or Central Air?.
Uneven Temperatures – Hot Spots & Cold Spots
A friend recently requested I look at their system for this very reason. They noticed they were having difficulty maintaining comfortable temperatures consistently throughout the house. The first step to answering the inquiry was to see what system they had to ensure they had the right unit for the home. After determining they had Americian Standard 2-stage compressor units with variable speed indoor blower motors, a good system in and of itself, the challenge came down to the ducts.
To even out the temperatures using their existing system, their duct system would potentially need to be modified, with an electronic zoning system with connected air dampers installed to more efficiently distribute air. More on that later.
The central air ducts didn’t distribute air evenly, as a mini-split ductless system would have done. Mini-split ductless systems provide individual air handlers to each room, offering each room the ability to establish its own temperature and consequently reduce your air and heating costs.
Room Comfort: Ductless AC/Home Heating Wins
Which is More Energy Efficient?
Energy efficiency is measured in a number of ways. Here’s what you need to know.
SEER– Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (or Rating)
The SEER measurement is comparable to Miles Per Gallon, in that the higher the number, the better your rating. It measures the efficiency of your unit over the course of an entire season and the average summer temperature.
- Central air ranges from 14 to 23+ SEER, however most peak at 18-20 SEER. Only a few reach 23+.
- Ductless ACs carry 16+ to up to 30+ SEER, however most start at 16, ranging to mid to upper 20s.
EER– Energy Efficiency Ration (or Rating)
Similar to SEER, the higher EER rating, the better. It measures efficiency at a set temperature. Ductless systems commonly also have much higher EER ratings than central air.
HSPF– Heating Season Performance Factor
HSPF is basically the same as SEER, but for heating instead of cooling. HSPF measurs heat pump efficiency. For gas furnaces, the AFUE metric is used to measure efficiency.
Similar to the other scores listed here, ductless systems outperform central air systems.
Energy Efficiency: Ductless Wins!
Other Competitive Factors
Zoned Ductwork vs Ductless Air Conditioning Systems — Zoning by Design
Electronic zone systems make use of numerous temperature sensing units that work together with the dampers that open or close, moderating how much conditioned air enters the individual spaces. Zone systems will help your system function more effectively, however not more efficiently. They can actually be wasteful. As such, they are used more for controlling an area, or group of rooms, rather than individual spaces.
Your central air system will always use its capacity, with zoned ductwork or without, no matter whether you’re cooling two rooms or the whole house. The rest will be wasted.
Ductless systems will provide precise zoning for each room without waste, while saving in energy costs.
Zoning – Ductless AC Wins (Again!)
Just How “Duct Loss” Influences the Size of an A/C
You’ve probably already discovered that bigger isn’t always better if you’ve been researching HVAC systems. A bigger unit isn’t going to necessarily work better; actually the opposite in many situations. Units too big for the spaces they are purchased to air condition or heat will often cause more problems, and even lower your comfort level.
Don’t buy an undersized or oversized ac unit, ensure you buy the best size ac system for your home
Really the only way to establish which size unit is best for your home is to have a heat gain/loss analysis conducted.
SUGGESTION: Before you have any load calculation established, first have a home energy audit conducted. It will ensure the accuracy of your load calculation by providing exact figures for duct leakage, home leakage, and insulation R-values rather than using the standard defaults.
In hot climate areas, duct work is often located in the hot attic. As the air passes through them, energy is lost quickly, multiplied by several factors.
By getting rid of the ducts you also get rid of the energy loss
A side by side load calculation is often done on the same home, comparing a ductless heat pump system and a conventional ducted central air and heating system. Typically the ductless system requires only 50-60% capacity.
For instance, where a 5 ton ducted system might be appropriate, a 2.5-3 ton ductless unit would be sufficient, without even considering a zoning factor.
Duct Loss – Ductless Wins
If planned before the home is built, the cost will be significantly lower than attempting to convert an existing air conditioning / heating system that utilizes duct work. It’s worth talking to your builder about, to discover your options, whether they have whole-home ductless or hybrid systems available.
An existing home system, done correctly has all the vital components already in place. Should everything be in good shape and properly installed, your costs to replace a ducted system with another will be relatively low.
To convert a ducted system with a ductless system would require components be initially installed, which will increase the cost significantly when compared to the ducted system. That’s of course assuming you’re not replacing a ductless system with another. The ultimate cost of installing an entire home’s ductless system can run as much as 2-4 times as much as central air.
However, if we were simply installing a ductless system where a previous ductless system was already installed, it would be more of an equal expense.
Cost Comparison – Central AC / Heating Wins
Longevity, Reliability, Durability
HVAC service professionals tend to have a love/hate relationship with ductless systems. They love them because they are reliable, durable, and last a long time. They hate them because they’re reliable, durable, and last a long time.
Less breakdowns mean less repair calls. While that’s a good thing for customers, not so much for service techs that depend on repair for their income.
The bright side for our service professionals is, although they break down less frequently, they call for a highly-trained specialists if a problem arises so, in the end, customers still need us!
Longevity, Reliability, Durability – Ductless AC Wins!
Return on Investment (ROI) and Consumer Satisfaction
Contrasting the ROI of ducted to ductless systems really gets down to the particular application, individual setings, way of life, as well as the installation costs. The ductless system ROI would be far better than the ducted system if all factors were equal.
However, while the ductless system will cost significantly less to use, need fewer repairs, and will last longer before requiring replacement, whole home ductless systems may cost 2-4 times more, upfront.
Professionals recommend customers focus more on their comfort, reduced system noise, and reliability than energy efficiency or ROI when making that decision. The system’s efficiency is definately a perk worth recognizing though.
Overall, homeowners love their ductless systems, despite the cost, where the same can’t be said for those that have ducted systems.
ROI as well as Consumer Contentment – Ductless Wins!
Ductless or Central Air? The Bottom Line
Ductless Systems have won every comparison we’ve done except price. If you can manage the expense, the ductless system is by far the best investment and has the best efficiency of the two.
ABOUT EWING HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING
Specializing in Air Conditioning & Heating Repair and Installation
for Wylie, Texas and surrounding areas for over 30 years, we have
made our primary focus the complete satisfaction of every customer.
We’re a company you can trust. Call us today! (972) 693-2343