There are choices to make whether you’re installing a new AC or replacing one. An overwhelmingly important factor is the type of system to get. Not every system is ideal for every household, but our overview of mini split vs. central air can help you decide on the price point, usability, and energy efficiency level that’s best suited for your home.
Mini-split ACs use an outdoor unit like a central air conditioning system. However, they do not use ducts. Instead, the outdoor compressor is linked to indoor wall-mounted evaporators via conduits that include refrigerant, electrical, and drain lines. Coolant circulates between the outdoor and indoor units, carrying heat away from the interior and releasing it outside. Cool air is released in each individual room where an indoor unit is installed.
Central Air Conditioners
Depending on the central air conditioner, it may have all major cooling components within a single outdoor cabinet or split between an outdoor and indoor unit. But it doesn’t rely on individual in-room units to deliver cool air. Instead, all conditioned air is blown by fans through ducts and past vents and registers into each room. Central ACs are very common for cooling and heating in the United States, but below, we’ll look how to find the best option.
Choosing What’s Right for You
When choosing between mini split vs. central air systems, there are a few factors to consider. The best or most preferred choice depends on your home. Here are some variables to help decide what type of system to install:
- Cost: Home Advisor estimates the average cost of installing a central unit in 2022 is between $3,799 and $7,560 and for mini-split systems from $2,000 to $14,500.1 The larger cost range of mini split systems is due to the flexibility of adding multiple evaporators and other components. If you have existing ductwork and want to install a central system, the process is more cost-effective, but installing ductwork from scratch can be quite costly and messy.
- Installation: A central air conditioning system takes about a week to install by a qualified contractor. It can take even longer to install all the ductwork, tear down walls and ceilings, and make repairs. However, a ductless system is mostly assembled in the factory so takes about a day or two to install. Aside from mounting the units, installation requires drilling a three-inch hole in the wall for the conduit. The reduced time also means lower labor costs.
- Efficiency: If the components of a central air conditioning system, and its ductwork, are in good shape, it can run efficiently. Air must travel some distance through ducts to some rooms. If there are holes, cracks, or loose connections, a lot of air can be lost, forcing the system to work harder and lose energy. Mini split systems eliminate ductwork and related efficiency issues while having the ability to adjust speed based on demand.
- Zoning: Zoning isn’t easily achieved with a central AC system. Closing vents can strain various parts and components. If you have a ductless mini-split system, you can turn each indoor unit on and off as you please without increasing wear and tear. The temperature for each zone can be set differently as well. If some family members prefer certain temperatures, the system can be set accordingly, or units in unused rooms can be shut off.
- Appearance: The outdoor units for both options look much the same. Indoors, the two vary significantly. A central air conditioner is practically invisible except for the vents and thermostat. Mini split evaporators are mounted on interior walls. While visible, they’re often neutral in color and come in different configurations that can match the type of décor in your home, so aesthetics depends on your taste and preferences.
- Capacity/Home Size: Any air conditioner must be correctly sized for your home. Ductless systems tend to be more effective, and convenient, for smaller residences. But if your home is larger than 2,500 square feet, the power of a central AC system may be what you need. Also factor in the required heating capacity. But depending on other factors in your home, mini-split units can provide enough cooling and heating.
- Noise: Central air conditioners can produce a lot of noise, both from AC equipment and the noise of air funneling through metal ductwork. While a mini-split outdoor unit isn’t exactly silent, you have the option of placing it a greater distance from your home. Compared to metal ducts, mini-split hoses don’t conduct sound very well, so are quieter.
- Heating/Cooling: To dig deeper into mini-split vs. central air, both provide heating and cooling. However, if you’re using a heat pump, extreme temperatures can cause problems. So once again, the type of system you choose ultimately depends on factors such as the equipment installed and your expectations. But depending on the system, a central unit may be relatively quiet or a ductless system can be louder.
Contact Oregon Ductless to Get Started
We specialize in ductless installation, repair, and maintenance. Whether you’re interested in a single-zone, multi-zone, or whole house ductless system, Oregon Ductless can help. Our technicians can evaluate your home and find the best solutions for replacing central air, baseboard heat, or to accommodate your home addition or remodel. Flexible financing options for your installation or repair are available as well. Call 503-878-7339 to learn more.