Central Air vs. A Ductless Mini-Split: 5 Things to Consider

Hvac technician in Charlotte, NC

Choosing the right heating and cooling equipment for your Charlotte, NC home is about far more than ensuring indoor comfort. Your heater and air conditioner also play a hand in regulating your humidity level and improving your indoor air quality (IAQ). Moreover, out of all of your home appliances and systems, the HVAC system has the greatest impact on your carbon footprint and your energy bill. That’s why we’re sharing an in-depth comparison of ductless mini-split systems and central air, including the five things you need to consider before choosing one.

1. Your Current Infrastructure

Mini-split or ductless mini-split systems are designed to work without HVAC ducting. As such, they’re a top choice for homes that were built without ductwork. Rather than paying for costly ductwork retrofitting projects, homeowners can simply bypass these structures and have separate air handlers installed throughout the building.

With ductless mini-split systems, heated and cooled air are distributed right where they’re produced. Best of all, the installation process for these systems is short and easy. Each house gets a single outdoor condenser unit that’s installed on either a composite or concrete pad in the back or side yard. All indoor air handlers are connected to this unit via refrigerant tubing and wiring. Only one, small-sized hole is drilled in the exterior wall of each service area or heating and cooling zone.

When compared to the installation of central air in houses that lack ducting, installing a mini-split system can actually be much cheaper. Although ductless mini-splits cost a bit more upfront than both central furnaces and central air conditioners, they’re a far more cost-effective choice for many older properties.

In addition to the high cost of installing ductwork post-construction, homeowners should consider the aesthetic impact and the overall efficiency of ductwork retrofitting. Hiding ductwork behind drywall is infinitely easier when ducting is put in at the time of initial construction. Unfortunately, a good portion of post-construction ductwork could be visible throughout the building. When concealment techniques are applied, they often leave building interiors looking and feeling noticeably smaller. More importantly, absent of drywall, in-wall insulation, and other naturally insulating materials, exposed ducting tends to have far lower levels of efficiency. In winter, this could mean higher than average home energy bills due to heat loss. In summer, it can cause air conditioners to work harder and leave homeowners with both higher cooling costs and warm, muggy living environments.

2. Your Respiratory Health

Even if you already have ductwork for supporting central air, a ductless mini-split could still be the right choice for your household. Although central air conditioners and heaters filter air before distributing it throughout buildings, standard HVAC air filters are largely designed to protect heating and cooling equipment rather than humans. For residents with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, allergies, terminal illness, or compromised immune systems, having heating and cooling systems that are connected to ductwork often proves problematic. The dirt, dander, pollen, and other particulates that aren’t picked up by HVAC air filters can greatly exacerbate the symptoms of these ailments.

If you believe that your HVAC ductwork is negatively impacting your health or the health of other residents, switching to a ductless mini-split will instantly eliminate your concerns. The air that mini-splits distribute never has to travel through long networks of ducting. It doesn’t pick up any dirt or other debris along the way, and it’s often measurably cleaner.

However, installing a ductless mini-split to improve your IAQ might not be the best choice if your home has major humidity concerns or other IAQ-related challenges. Not all ductless mini-split systems provide humidity regulation that’s on par with that of central heating and cooling equipment. Moreover, when you choose a ductless mini-split, you’ll bypass the opportunity to take advantage of many popular, integrated HVAC accessories for protecting and improving IAQ. These accessories include:

  • Air scrubbers
  • Whole-house air purifiers
  • Media filters
  • In-duct UV light sanitization technologies

When your goal is to optimally support the health of those with chronic respiratory ailments or other ongoing health concerns, it’s best to consult with a licensed HVAC company before making your selection. Getting a household and building-specific recommendation for heating, cooling, ventilation, and indoor air quality equipment will ensure a truly superior outcome.

3. Mini-Split Technology for Supplementary Heating and Cooling

Ductless mini-split systems work well for homes that already have central heating and cooling but also have spaces that aren’t fully serviced by this equipment. For instance, if you spend a lot of time in your attached garage, a ductless mini-split will ventilate this area, regulate its temperature and humidity, and filter the air. These systems also work well in attic bedrooms, finished basements, in-law units, and garden rooms. If you have a new building addition or an area that feels excessively hot or cold, you aren’t required to commit to one or the other. You can use your central HVAC for ongoing temperature and humidity control in areas that are often occupied. Plus, you can use your mini-split system as needed in areas that aren’t connected to your central HVAC or require additional support.

4. Excessively Cold Winter Temperatures

There are two primary types of mini-split systems: ductless air conditioners and ductless heat pumps. Ductless AC units only provide cooling during times of high temperatures. Ductless heat pumps are functionally identical to ductless air conditioners in the summer, but in the winter, they operate in reverse. Rather than harnessing warm indoor air and moving it outside, these units harness heat from outdoors and transfer it into the building interior.

In areas with moderate winter temperatures, ductless heat pumps can maintain efficiency levels as high as 300%. However, when temperatures plummet, these units struggle to harness enough heat to meet the demands of building residents. Whenever temperatures dip well below freezing, they run longer, work harder, and use a lot more energy to get their jobs done. During times of exceedingly cold weather, they may never provide sufficient heat at all.

Fortunately, in Charlotte, winter temperatures rarely dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. This perfectly matches the limitations of basic mini-split heat pumps. There’s also the option of installing a high-performance mini-split heat pump that can continue efficiently providing heat even when outside temperatures fall well below freezing.

5. Customized Comfort

One of the greatest advantages of a ductless mini-split system is its ability to provide customized heating and cooling. A central HVAC system creates a single, uniform temperature throughout the entire building. Comparatively, every mini-split comes with the option to install multiple indoor air handlers that each have their own thermostats. Depending on the needs of your household, the layout of your living environment, and whether you’re using a mini-split in a supplementary fashion, you can have between one and eight indoor air handlers installed. With these systems, each thermostat is controlled independently of the others so that there’s no need to heat or cool spaces that no one is actively using. Not only does this limit energy waste, but it also gives building residents the ability to establish their preferred temperatures in their immediate areas.

Recent innovations in heating and cooling technologies have also made it possible for homeowners to enjoy zoned heating and cooling with their central HVAC systems. As such, if you aren’t interested in owning a mini-split, you can always work with a reputable HVAC contractor to have your current system zoned. By installing ductwork dampers, bypass ducts, and a central control system to govern these features, HVAC technicians can convert your existing heating and cooling system into one that also prevents energy waste and allows for customized comfort.

We’re committed to helping residents of Charlotte, NC make informed decisions about their home heating and cooling systems. We offer heater and air conditioner installation, maintenance, and repair services. You can also turn to us for advanced indoor air quality solutions, ductwork, and ductless mini-splits. To schedule an appointment, give Integrity Heating & Cooling a call today.

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