Ducted and Ductless Air Conditioning: What it Means and How to Choose

carrier-hybrid-heatIf you’re looking to install a new air conditioner, or upgrade your existing system, chances are you’ve wondered about the difference between ducted and ductless cooling systems. In fact, this is one of the most common questions people ask. Which type of air conditioner will best meet my needs? What are the pros and cons of ducted and ductless systems?

Ducted air conditioning systems are also known as “central”air conditioners. A external unit cools the air and pushes it into the home through a network of metal ducts in the walls. These ducts lead to vents that open into different rooms, allowing cool air to saturate the home. Warmer air is then circulated back to the air conditioner, filtered, re-cooled, and cycled back into the home.

Ductless systems are also known as “window”air conditioners. With this type of system, the unit is installed in a window or other opening in the wall or ceiling. The part of the unit that is on the outside of the building cools the air and sends it directly through to the room in which the unit is located. Hence there are no ducts involved.

The pros and cons of each type of system are fairly easy to break down.

Ducted system – pros:

• Most American homes already have a network of air ducts
• Provides more effective cooling throughout home
• More energy efficient than many ductless systems

Ducted system – cons:

• Installation can be expensive in homes without existing network of air ducts
• May be unnecessary in very small homes
• Bigger upfront cost

Ductless system – pros:

• Easy installation and lower up-front cost
• Can be strategically placed to cool most important area of home

Ductless system – cons:

• Compared to a ducted system, the air is not circulated, dehumidified or filtered as well
• The appearance of the unit in the wall or window can detract from the aesthetic of the room
• Tend to run into repair issues as unit ages

Mini-split heat pump headWhile a ductless system can have several benefits, many homeowners with existing ductwork will be better off from a financial and comfort perspective by using a ducted system. The benefits and concerns of a ductless system are:

In homes that already have a functional network of metal air ducts, it makes more sense to go with a ducted or “central”air conditioning system, in terms of both cost savings and cooling effectiveness. The best appliances on the market today are able to cool entire homes evenly, effectively and affordably, also cleansing the air of dust and pollen. For such homes, constantly running a ductless system to try and keep the air cool is a far less appealing solution. There are, however, situations in which a ductless system may indeed by the right solution for you, such as:

• Your home is small and has not been fitted with a network of air ducts
• You’ve added on to the home and want to cool that space, or you have another external space (such as a garage or work area) that you want to cool
• You’ve been using a ductless system with good results but the unit is old and no longer working properly

When you make this decision, you’re looking for long-term cooling efficiency, air quality and cost-savings. Choosing between a ducted and ductless air conditioning system involves a careful assessment of your living space and cooling needs. If you’re unclear which direction to take, an HVAC specialist may be able to give you the perspective you need!

Thanks for reading, and we hope you’ve found this information helpful. Feel free to leave your questions or comments below.