The pandemic left many people spending a lot more time at home than they ever had before. This no doubt explains the recent surges in renovations and home improvement projects. Of course, on the list of popular home improvements, it’s no shock that air conditioning makes the list.
Even before the pandemic left people stuck at home during the summer, no one enjoys sweltering indoors. Homeowners also face more choices when it comes to AC. The major choice boils down to ductless ac vs central air. If you’re trying to choose between the options, keep reading for the major factors to consider.
Your Home’s Current Setup
The current setup of your air conditioning is often the biggest factor for homeowners. If you already have central air, it means that your home has all of the ductwork in place already. Odds are very, very good that your heating system uses the same ductwork.
Replacing an AC unit that ties into that existing system means less hassle and less work done inside your home.
On the other hand, if your home doesn’t currently enjoy central air, you’ll have to decide whether a ductless AC makes sense. Installing a central air system will mean installing ductwork and likely cutting holes in your walls or ceiling for air distribution. That’s a loud, disruptive process at the best of times.
A ductless system also involves work inside your home, but it’s likely to prove less disruptive overall. The workers will mount the ductless AC units on the wall. They’ll also need to drill through the wall to connect the interior units to the exterior unit.
Overall, though, it will probably prove faster and less noisy than installing ductwork.
A ductless AC system comes with certain limitations. For smaller homes in the 2000 square foot and under range, ductless systems will do a good job of keeping your home cool. Once you move into homes with more square footage than that, your standard ductless system becomes less effective.
You can offset that problem with a second outdoor unit to pick up the slack, but it also drives the price up a lot.
For homes over 2000 square feet, you can expect a central air system to operate more efficiently. Why? You buy an AC unit that is specifically sized for your home.
Noise concerns come in two distinct flavors. The first flavor is your own noise sensitivity. Some people find even moderate noise levels distracting and loud noises painful.
The second flavor of noise concern is noise ordinances. Most urban and suburban areas impose a cap on how many decibels are acceptable both during the day and at night.
A ductless AC system comes out on top in this arena.
For the inside, central air systems must use a powerful fan or blower system to distribute that cooled air through all the ducts. The noise of the fan often bleeds into the living space even if the fan is located in the attic. Ductless systems only cool an area of the living space, so they use smaller and quieter fans.
That makes them ideal for noise-sensitive homeowners.
The outside units in a central air system are often quite loud. It’s routine for homeowners to hear those units inside. The exterior ductless units produce significantly less noise than their central air cousins, which makes them ideal for areas with strict noise ordinances.
One of the big selling points for central AC is that it’s functionally invisible. Aside from small vents in the floor, ceiling, or possibly on your walls, all the major components are out of sight. That makes decorating around central AC a much simpler affair since you’ll probably only need to match colors on the vent covers.
With ductless AC, your air conditioning unit is in sight all of the time. Either the unit hangs on the wall or there is a much larger and more visible vent in your ceiling. While many homeowners accept the sight of the ductless units or vents, others find them annoying or visually disruptive.
You must decide whether those units will prove too much of an annoyance for you.
If you live or work with other people, you quickly discover that there is a huge variance in how well people tolerate heat or cold. Some people strongly prefer that a room is quite chilly, while others are more comfortable with a warmer space.
That makes central air a constant point of contention in some homes. If one person prefers it cold and others don’t, there is a constant push and pull on where to set the thermostat.
Ductless AC solves this problem with zone or even room level control of the temperature. For example, for the person who prefers the cold temperature, they can set the temperature for icy in their home office or den. The rest of the house can maintain a warmer temperature that the other person prefers.
Ductless AC vs Central Air Cost
Cost can also play a big role in choosing between central air and ductless AC.
Ductless AC almost always costs more upfront than a comparable central air system. If the initial cost is your primary concern, you’ll probably want central air.
The tradeoff here is that ductless systems typically prove more cost-efficient in the long term, assuming your home isn’t oversized for the system. If your primary concern is long-term savings, you’ll probably want a ductless system.
Making the Choice
There is no single answer for the ductless AC vs central air debate. The decision involves all of the factors discussed above and how much each factor matters to you.
As a general rule, those with existing central AC systems opt for maintaining those systems. Those with high square footage homes typically do the same. Those without existing central air will often opt for ductless systems to capture benefits like less noise, zone control of temperature, and lower long-term costs.
Looking for more advice or tips on home improvement? Check out the posts in our Lifestyle section for more ideas.