If you are looking into your HVAC options for your New England home, then you’re bound to run into the same two options over and over: central and ductless mini-split air conditioning systems.

If you’ve never shopped for an air conditioner, then you know that it can be overwhelming to have to choose between two different A/C system technologies that you don’t quite understand. In order to help you out here is a quick guide to what they are.

Central A/C & Ductless Mini-Split A/C Explained

What Is A Ductless Mini-Split A/C System?

The first thing to note about a ductless mini-split system is that it’s not exactly an air conditioning system, though the technology it uses to cool your home is largely the same—it’s a heat pump, meaning it can heat and cool. A ductless mini-split system, like your central A/C system or any other heat pump system, involves a single large unit outside of your home connected with lines of refrigerant running inside. In a duct-based heat pump system, there’s very little difference from a central A/C unit, in that you just use ducts to move the cool or hot air the heat pump blows around your home.

Mini-split systems are different. Instead, you have internal units in different rooms, all connected to the primary unit by refrigerant lines. To cool your home, your heat pump works like a traditional air-conditioner, but the refrigerant flows into your house to the mini-split unit before a fan blows across it. In the winter, it can do the opposite, pushing hot refrigerant into your home so the units blow warm air instead.

Essentially, with a ductless mini-split you have one of those interior units from a central AC in every room you want one in with a mini-split system, meaning you can cool (and heat) rooms independently and don’t need ducts. If you’re using it for heat as well, this means you don’t need ductwork in your home at all (though you might occasionally need a space heater for faster heat than a heat pump can provide).

What Is A Central A/C System?

A central air conditioning system refers to any system which has a single large air conditioning unit connected to ducts, which blows cool air throughout your entire home from that central point. This usually involves two parts, one inside and one outside, because the central A/C system puts out a lot of heat that you want going outside (you may be familiar with this from your refrigerator or if you’ve ever looked at the back of a window AC unit).

The inside unit, typically near your furnace, lets a fan force air across cool refrigerant and into your ducts, which then carry that air throughout your home. You set a single thermostat for your entire home, because there’s only really one source of cold air at the internal unit—all of the rest of the cold air in your home is coming through ducts from that central point.

Advantages to a Ductless Mini Split A/C

  • Mini-Split A/C Has Greater Energy Efficiency: In favor of mini-splits, you have incredible energy efficiency. Mini-splits use cutting-edge technology. They allow you to climate control rooms separately and waste less energy moving air through ducts. Mini-splits use variable speed compressors – meaning ductless A/C units can run as much or little as needed. This is in contrast to most (but not all) central air units that have only one or two speeds and need to switch on and off more often during the day.
  • You Control Which Rooms Need A/C: The ductless mini-split system can have multiple indoor units, or “heads”, as they are known. You can be selective as to what rooms in your Cape Cod home that you install a ductless mini-split head. Then, you can use one or all of them as you see fit. This gives you complete control of your home comfort.
  • Mini-Splits Don’t Need Ductwork: It’s ductless! This is important for two reasons. First, using ductless A/C means you don’t need to worry about ducts. This also gives you an option for A/C if your home doesn’t even have ducts. Second, without needing ducts, that means that you won’t need to modify your equipment, or maintain the ducts. This leads to an easier installation than central A/C systems.
  • Great Complement to Existing Central A/C Systems: Ductless mini-split A/C systems are often used in conjunction with a central A/C system. There may be rooms that don’t get as much air as others, and need the ductless mini-split complement to get the room to the right temperature. You also may not have ductwork that reaches every room in the home, such as attics, garages, or some other areas.
  • Mini-Splits Have Greater Expected Lifespan: Ductless mini-split A/C systems have a greater expected lifespan, up to 20 years. On the other hand, central A/C systems can last 12-15 years, on average.
  • Ductless Mini-Split A/C Units Are Less Noisy: Ductless A/C also offers less noise because the compressor is housed outside. You’ll only get noise from the mini-split head’s fan. This will be much quieter performance than a central A/C system.

Central A/C Advantages

What kind of homes should look at installing a central air conditioning system? Here are some of the top advantages of central air:

  • Central A/C Installs Are Usually Less Expensive: A central air conditioning system, in most cases, is going to be less expensive up front to install in your home—especially since you probably already have the ductwork in place for your existing central AC and/or furnace unit.
  • Central A/C is Better for Larger Homes: Central units have an easier time delivering cool air to larger homes. While ductless mini-splits could service an entire home, they would need several heads to service multiple rooms. This can prove to be quite difficult though, and it will end up being easier to heat and cool your entire home with a ducted A/C system.
  • Central A/C Has Better Air Filtration: Central air has better air filtration technology in place because they’re moving more of the air in your home around.
  • Lots of A/C Brands & Models to Choose From: There are a lot of options for central air conditioning equipment out there. You can contrast that with ductless mini-splits, which are newer and there are not as many models or brands with individual differences that can make one the better fit for your home.

The team at TNC Mechanical Cooling & Heating, Inc. in Monson, MA., is ready to assist. Serving clients throughout Western MA, the family-owned company offers a wide range of HVAC services. Visit us online for more information or call (888) 284-3892 to schedule an appointment.