If you’re looking for convenience, comfort control and lower cooling costs, ductless air conditioning offers all three in abundance. But, is a ductless system right for you? To help you decide, we’ll guide you through the basics of what a ductless system is and what applications it’s best suited for. Plus, we’ll discuss how it stacks up against other types of air conditioners in efficiency, aesthetics, cost, and ease of installation.
First, What is a Ductless AC System?
It’s just what it sounds like – an air conditioning system that transports air without the use of ducts. The main components are an outdoor unit (the condenser or compressor) and one or more indoor units. The outdoor and indoor units are connected by way of a conduit, housing a few thin tubes and wires, fed through a small hole in the wall.
The indoor unit is generally mounted on the wall or ceiling, while the outdoor unit sits at ground level. Operation is easy – just use the handy remote control. Or, you can pre-set the unit to run automatically on a schedule.
What is a Mini-Split System?
Ductless systems are often referred to as mini-split systems. A split system is a type of central air conditioner with two main components – an outdoor unit (condenser) and an indoor unit (air handler). Split air conditioners with ducts are the most common type of air conditioner found in Southwest Florida homes. Ductless air conditioners also consist of an outdoor unit and an indoor unit – only besides being duct-free, these units are also smaller in size, thus the name “mini-split”.
There are also outdoor units available which can connect to several (usually up to 5, some up to 8) indoor units. These are referred to as “multi zone mini splits” or simply “multi-split” systems.
Some mini-splits and multi-splits are straight-cool systems, while others are heat pumps equipped to provide heating as well as cooling.
In all types of ductless systems, each indoor unit cools or heats a single room or “zone” in your home. In a multi-split (a.k.a. multi zone) system this means that you can control the temperature in each zone independently. Have you ever argued with your kids or spouse over the thermostat? Problem solved.
Ductless HVAC Provides Superior Energy Efficiency.
Besides preventing temperature disputes, zone-level cooling control also spells energy efficiency. By simply raising the temperature in unoccupied rooms, you can money in cooling costs – without sacrificing your comfort. This is only one of the ways you can save by going ductless.
In traditional ducted central AC systems, air leaks in the ductwork account for up to 30% of the energy consumption. Ductless AC systems virtually eliminate this energy loss. Without ducts to leak the a portion of the cooled air to the outside, nearly all of the energy is channeled to fulfill its real purpose – cooling or heating your home.
Another contributor to mini-split energy efficiency is variable-speed technology. A variable-speed compressor is designed to dynamically adjust the cooling or heating output according to the current demand. Not only does this use far less energy than a single-stage compressor, which cycles off and on, but it also helps keep your home more comfortable, without major temperature swings.
Because of these features, ductless systems earn higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) ratings than many of their ducted counterparts with equivalent cooling power. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit.
The Best Applications for Ductless Air Conditioning
So, is a ductless air conditioner right for your home? Although designed for versatility, there are some instances where installing a ductless system makes more sense than others.
For example, take an older home with no existing air conditioning system or ductwork. In this case, a multi-split ductless installation is worth considering, although you would want to weigh the potential energy savings against the cost of installation, and compare this with a ducted central air conditioner. Similarly, if you already have a ducted central AC system, you could replace it with a ductless system. However, swapping your central air conditioner for another ducted system could be less expensive.
In our experience we’ve found that the best applications for ductless systems are:
- Rooms or spaces without existing ductwork, or where installing or extending ductwork is not possible, too costly or too invasive. This includes:
- Room additions, guest houses and mother-in-law apartments
- Enclosed Lanais or sunrooms
- Garage workshops and renovated garage apartments
- Attic living spaces
- Wine Rooms
- Enclosed storage rooms and sheds
- As a supplement to central air conditioning. Are there any spaces in your home that could benefit from some extra cooling “oomph”? A ductless system can provide additional cool air right where it’s needed – for your kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, or that room with the massive windows taking the brunt of the heat gain from the sun.
Mini Split Aesthetics
Now for the important question – how do they look? You might be concerned that hanging a ductless wall unit will ruin your décor. I concede that ductless air conditioners do not look extremely attractive. Nor are they as discreet as central air conditioning. The typical indoor unit is relatively large and comes in shades of white or beige. Because covering the unit would block and airflow, you’ll be stuck with the color.
However, many units do have a ceiling mount option available that helps it integrates more seamlessly into its surroundings. And, like any other appliance, you will probably become accustomed to its appearance. Over time, you’ll barely notice it’s there.
Besides, ductless units look much more sleek and modern than window air conditioners.
Ductless vs. Window Air Conditioners
In addition to aesthetic appeal, ductless systems also have the upper hand in the following categories when compared with window air conditioners:
- Noise level: Ductless systems are quieter than most window units. For example, Daikin ductless mini split AC units run as low as 19 dB(A) indoors, while 44 dB(A) was the lowest noise level on a recent list of the quietest window units.
- Efficiency: Ductless also wins in energy efficiency, mostly due to the variable-speed compressor. Most window units are single-stage.
- Security: Because of the way window units are installed, they present a home security risk by providing a convenient access point for burglars. Insects might also find their way inside if the gaps are not properly sealed. Conversely, a ductless system only requires a 3” diameter hole in the wall to feed the cables to the outdoor unit. This is much more secure and easy to seal.
Window units do have a few advantages, though. They are portable, easier to install, and typically much less expensive than a quality ductless system.
The cost of a ductless system will vary depending on the configuration you need. For example, you can purchase a Daikin mini-split ductless system from us at Kobie Complete for an estimated $2800 – $3600 (including professional installation). This includes one indoor unit and one outdoor unit. Multi-split systems and complex installations will change the price, as you can imagine.
Although the initial cost of a ductless system is much higher than that of a window air conditioner, the other benefits of mini-splits will outweigh the cost in most cases. Also, as stated above, the cost to replace your existing central air conditioner with a multi-split ductless system might be higher than simply purchasing a new ducted system.
When installed in one of the applications we recommended above, your ductless system will pay off thanks to its energy efficiency. Payback timeframe depends on factors including your climate, usage, and electricity rates.
Ease of Installation
Ductless systems are relatively easy to install compared with central air conditioners. The indoor units are mounted on the wall or ceiling and the conduit only requires a about a 3” hole in the wall.
That being said, proper sizing, placement and installation are very important. If your unit is too large for the space or is improperly positioned, it could waste energy. The unit also uses refrigerant, which needs to be handled by a professional.
A DIY installation might also void your warranty. Some manufacturers only warranty their equipment if it was installed by a professional.
Additionally, a professional HVAC installer will make sure you reap the most benefits from your ductless equipment.
Mini-Split AC Maintenance
Maintaining a ductless system is easy, but very important to not to neglect. There are two regular DIY tasks you’ll need to perform:
- Clean the filters. Most ductless systems have reusable filters. Simply remove and clean them according to the directions in your owner’s manual. Monthly cleanings should be enough in most cases; but if you smoke or have pets, you may need to clean them more often. Ductless systems don’t tend to handle debris buildup well.
- Keep the condenser clean. Make sure the outdoor unit is clear of debris. You’ll need to hose it down gently with a garden hose from time to time.
Annual professional maintenance is still recommended to keep your ductless unit in tip-top shape.
So, is a Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner Right for You?
Ductless mini split air conditioners are some of the most energy efficient heating and cooling systems out there. So if you want to heat or cool a small residence, room addition, garage, enclosed lanai, or another similar space without existing ductwork, then ductless is a great option. Ductless units can supplement your existing air conditioning system, helping to eliminate hot or cold spots in your home. Also, compared to window units, they are more secure, less noticeable, quieter and more efficient, although their upfront cost is higher. However, while a multi-split ductless system can make a good replacement for your existing central air conditioner, the initial cost of installation might outweigh the benefits.
Are you considering ductless air conditioning for your home in Sarasota County or Charlotte County, Florida? Our HVAC professionals will help you choose the system that’s right for your home. Call us today: (941) 474-3691.
Last Updated: April 8, 2021