Central air conditioner vs ductless air conditioner — these are the two options which immediately comes to our mind when we decide to get an ac system for our homes — especially, during the hot summer months. After all, there’s nothing like a proper air conditioning unit which can get the job done for us. Lending cool air and a fresh indoor atmosphere, it helps us stay comfortable in summer.

Now, as we mentioned, there are two primary types of ac systems — central air conditioner and ductless air conditioner. The model you choose shall depend on the design and layout of your home and the climate of your region. Considering the above factors, you need to decide whether to choose ductless or central ac systems.

Both of them come with distinct installation and operation procedures. Each type also has its own pros and cons. Therefore, to help you make an informed decision, we have compiled the below guide for you — which compares the major differences between the central air conditioner and ductless air conditioner.

Central air conditioner vs ductless air conditioner:

Differences in operation

home air conditioner

All types of air conditioners work on one basic principle — regulating temperatures by converting a liquid into a gaseous state and converting it back into the liquid state again. During the conversion process, the warm air surrounding it is cooled down, which is then circulated via a fan inside your home.

Homeowners can opt for small window units to cool only a specific room. However, most owners prefer whole-house cooling systems. And these units can be either central or ductless systems.

Central air conditioner: A central ac comprises three major parts — an outdoor unit, an indoor unit, and an air duct system. While the outdoor unit serves the purpose of cooling the indoor air, an air handler or furnace recirculates the heated air. An evaporator coil, located in the ducting by the furnace, cools the recirculated air. The existing ductwork, in turn, circulates air proportionately in each room of the house.

An HVAC expert will usually install a central air conditioner on the outdoors, maybe, on an exterior wall. Sometimes, if the layout permits, you can mount it on your roof or attic. Since these systems don’t form a part of your interiors, they are usually unobstructed and don’t eat up valuable inside space.

Ductless air conditioner: Ductless aka mini-split systems, as the name suggests, don’t use any ductwork. You can install them on your walls. Moreover, if you don’t have an existing duct network, then these models serve as a simpler, inexpensive option. Additionally, they are more energy efficient.

However, ductless systems are visible to the eye and if you own a large home, you might need to install more than one unit. But if you require only specific parts of your home to stay chilled, then you can go only for a single unit. You may also use them alongside central systems to create separate zones within your house — depending on which areas you use more than others.

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Installation procedures

Installation procedures

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Central ac systems: The complexity levels involved in installing a central ac primarily depends on whether you have a duct network in your home. If yes, then the process is much easier. You just need to purchase the system, hire a pro, and he will mount it on a concrete pad, located outside your house. He shall then connect it to the existing ductwork and HVAC unit.

Read more: How Much Does a Central Air Unit Cost to Install?

However, if you don’t have ducts, then the process can be expensive as well as complicated. Your installer has to first fix ducts that shall run from the ac throughout the entire home. He may have to drill holes and mount ducts through the roof and attic so that the connections are not visible to the normal eye.

Ductless ac systems: When you don’t have ducts in your home, the better option would be to go for ductless units. They can be directly mounted on your wall, ceiling or drop ceiling, with the condenser being kept outdoors. If you purchase multiple units, the only other accessory needed is a hose — which is placed between the units. The installation is also quick, with just a single hole required to mount the whole system.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Furnace Inspection

Cost differences

Central ac systems: The cost of central air conditioners depends mainly on the SEER number, which is an indication of its efficiency rating. When you buy a model with a higher SEER figure, it will lead to low long-term operating costs.

However, the upfront costs will be high. On average, for a 13 SEER central ac, which is perfect for an 1800 sq feet house, the price can range from $3,000 to $4,000.  AC installation costs (without ducts) can range from $2000 to $2500 for an 1800 sq feet home. Additional costs, with $10 per linear foot, will be added if you need to install new air ducts throughout your property.

Ductless ac systems: A single unit of a ductless air conditioner can be priced at around $1,800 to $2000. But note that this may be sufficient to cool only a single room. If you need to cool an entire area of 1800 sq feet, you might need to invest in a 4 zones-system, which can cost up to $4000. The installation process, which can take around two hours, might cost you only $40 to $80.

Read more: How Much Does Ductless Air Conditioner Installation Cost?

Energy efficiency & air filtration

Central air conditioning systems require the air to travel via ducts and hence, old, leaky ducts may result in a huge portion of energy wastage. However, this is not an issue that you face with ductless units, making them a more energy-efficient option.

Air conditioners are also used to improve the quality of indoor air. Air filters can be installed on central ac units to remove allergens from the surrounding air. However, since ductless air conditioning doesn’t work on this principle, it doesn’t serve the purpose of removing indoor air pollutants.

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Temperature control & noise levels

Central air conditioning circulates air throughout the house. Hence, it maintains a constant temperature in the entire place. However, ductless units, with multiple zones, can also be effective in serving this purpose. If you go for a single-zone ductless unit, you can achieve temperature control only in the designated room where it is installed.

Central air systems are noisier as compared to ductless units. This is because the former uses ducts during its installation, which can lead to echoes and increased noise levels.


Choosing the perfect heating and cooling system is important as it goes a long way in keeping your home comfortable. However, the final decision depends a lot on your long-term requirements. Do you require uniform cooling? Do you need to purify your surrounding air? How much can you invest?

After considering all the above options, pick the ideal system for your home. Hire experienced professionals who can ensure a seamless installation. Also, ensure that you adhere to a strict annual maintenance schedule; else, you will end up spending far more on your monthly utility bills.

Read more: Air Conditioning Repair Costs, Problems and Solutions

Central Air Conditioner Vs Ductless Air Conditioner: A Comparison Guide was last modified: August 16th, 2022 by Anisha Dutta
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