Ductless HVAC: Should You Make the Switch?

A serviceman working on a vac system

Ductless HVAC systems, also known as mini-split systems, are known for being highly efficient and for providing reliable comfort. But every time of HVAC system comes with pros and cons, so you may be wondering whether switching to a ductless HVAC system makes sense for your home.

First, let’s zoom out a minute and break down the four main types of HVAC systems: split systems, hybrid split systems, duct-free systems, and packaged heating and air systems. The most common type, a heating and cooling split system comprises an indoor and outdoor unit: usually a large AC unit situated outside the home and a gas heater stashed inside the home. A hybrid split system is similar, but it lets the building owner switch between gas and electric power to use less energy and spend less on bills.

Next is the ductless, or mini-split, HVAC system. A ductless system consists of individual units in each room, mounted to indoor walls and typically attached to outdoor compressors. These systems let building owners regulate temperature room by room, saving energy and individualizing conditions for different people. Finally, there’s the packaged heating and air system, the least common option. It’s a compact system with one unit, placed inside the house, that both cools and heats the space.

Now that you understand a bit about all the primary options, let’s take a closer look at the details: How does a ductless HVAC system work? What are the pros and cons of this option? How much does a duct-free system cost? How do I know whether my house is a good candidate for making the switch? Read on to learn more about whether a duct-free option is the right choice for keeping you warm and toasty at night and cool and comfortable on a hot day.

How Does Ductless HVAC Work?

Ductless HVAC systems offer zoned cooling without the need for ductwork. These systems are known for having many potential applications, from residential homes to commercial buildings to institutional edifices. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “The most common applications are in multifamily housing or as retrofit add-ons to houses with “non-ducted” heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters wood, kerosene, propane.” It’s also a frequent choice for room additions and building add-ons that don’t allow for installing distribution ductwork for a central air system.

As with central air systems, ductless systems include both a compressor/condenser outdoors and an air-handling unit indoors. A conduit links the two.

The Advantages and Drawbacks of Ductless HVAC Systems

Many people choose a ductless HVAC system because it works in all climate zones, installation is relatively easy, and it’s highly energy efficient. Installing a high-efficiency air conditioner can lead to a 20–50% reduction in energy use, which can really add up, considering that homeowners spend $1 billion annually to power their air conditioners, according to the Department of Energy.

All that said, making the switch to a ductless HVAC system has both its pros and cons. First, let’s highlight the advantages of the duct-free system:

  • Ductless HVAC systems are small and offer flexibility in temperature-regulating individual rooms. They allow a homeowner to keep the rooms they’re using warm and prevent unused rooms from wasting energy.
  • The lack of ducts themselves creates energy efficiency, as the average house can lose one-quarter of its energy to ductwork.
  • Mini-splits can be simple to install: Hooking up the indoor and outdoor units usually requires just a three-inch hole through a wall for a conduit, which can come in different lengths so the outdoor unit can be as much as 50 feet from the indoor evaporator.
  • The duct-free systems allow for a variety of interior design options, as the indoor air units can be hung on a wall, suspended from a ceiling, or inset in a drop ceiling.
  • They allow for multiple climate needs under one roof and prevent fights over the thermostat.
  • They’re ideal for new building additions such as bonus rooms, garage apartments, and mancaves.
  • For homes with no existing air conditioning, adding a ductless HVAC system is less expensive than adding ductwork to a house that’s already standing.

On the other hand, the ductless HVAC system is not right for everyone. Here are a few potential drawbacks to these duct-free systems:

  • Mini-split systems are relatively expensive. How much does a ductless HVAC system cost? They tend to run between $1,500 and $2,000 per ton of cooling capacity. That’s about 30% more than central air systems, according to the Department of Energy.
  • They require intensive cleaning and neglecting this maintenance can lead to costly repairs and replacements.
  • Some people may not like the look of the indoor part of the unit.

The installer must know the correct size for the unit and must judge the best location for it. It’s sometimes difficult to find installers and servicepeople qualified to work on these duct-free systems.

Can I Find Ductless HVAC Installation Near Me?

If you decide that a ductless HVAC system is right for you, you’ll want to find a good contractor who’s experienced with ductless mini- and multi-split systems. That’s us at Gainesville Mechanical. If you’re ready to ditch your window AC units and space heaters, reach out to us today.

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