A quality HVAC system is essential to truly enjoy the comfort of your home. However, many homeowners have trouble choosing between central air HVAC systems and split air HVAC systems. There are advantages and drawbacks to both, which is why you must understand the specific differences between them before you make a decision. This article will comprehensively compare these two types of HVAC systems, giving you a better idea of which is best for your house.

Installation

A traditional central air HVAC system requires a large unit that is installed outside of your home. Ductwork is installed throughout your house to distribute the air through vents in the different rooms. The installation can become complex if extensive ductwork is required and accessibility is limited.

A split air system, also called a ductless mini-split HVAC system, typically has a smaller outdoor unit installed. Additionally, interior blower units are installed in different rooms in the house. Typically, there would be at least one unit in the main living area and an additional unit in each bedroom. More units can be installed in other rooms that are frequently used as well. Instead of ductwork, smaller refrigerant lines are installed, connecting each interior unit to the main outdoor unit.

Initial Costs

Traditional HVAC systems can vary widely in cost. This initial cost depends on:

  • System quality
  • Home size
  • Complexity of installation

Ductless mini-split HVAC systems tend to have a higher up-front cost than traditional HVAC systems. This is primarily due to the multiple units that need to be purchased for different parts of the home. The larger the house you have, the more units you will likely need.

Energy Efficiency

Central air units can have energy efficiency issues if there are air leaks in the ductwork or the ductwork is not insulated properly. They are also prone to unwanted warm or cool spots in a house due to insufficient circulation, resulting in homeowners turning them up higher.

Mini-split systems are typically designed to be more energy-efficient and do not have the same air leak problems since ductwork is not required. Additionally, blower units can be turned off completely in unused rooms and doors can be closed. This makes cooling or warming the occupied space easier while using less power. Therefore, even though a mini-split system can initially cost more, it can become cost-effective due to its savings on your energy bill.

Maintenance

Traditional HVAC systems need regular maintenance. This maintenance includes cleaning ducts, detecting leaks, changing filters, and more. While mini-split HVAC systems still need regular maintenance, they are usually easier to maintain. Air filters on these systems can be cleaned yourself, and there is no ductwork that you need to worry about.

Repair Costs

Because of the complexity of traditional central air HVAC systems, including ductwork, repair costs can be higher than with ductless mini-split HVAC systems. Additionally, since they are usually less energy-efficient, these systems work harder, causing more wear and tear on components. This added stress makes the need for repairs more frequent.

Aesthetics

The larger outdoor unit of a traditional HVAC system can be more of an eyesore than the smaller outdoor unit of a mini-split system. Depending on the home and accessibility, ugly ductwork can sometimes be visible. While central air vents are less noticeable than the interior units of a mini-split system, they can be unsightly, especially when on the floor or low on a wall. Even though mini-split interior units are noticeable, they come in various styles and colors that can better match your current home decor.

Noise

Traditional HVAC systems can be noisy. The outdoor compressor unit can be especially loud if temperature fluctuations cause the system to cycle on and off frequently. Additionally, the ductwork can be noisy if it is not well-insulated. Ductless mini-split HVAC systems have a quieter operation, making them a better choice if you are more sensitive to noise.

Zoning

Traditional HVAC systems can only control the temperature in different zones if you have dampers installed. Dampers are plates or valves installed in the ductwork that regulate airflow to different parts of the house. However, mini-split systems are zoned by design. Each interior unit is a blower that can independently control temperature and airflow.

Cooling Capacity

Central air HVAC systems are powerful and designed for cooling larger areas. They can maintain a more consistent temperature throughout your entire home. Mini-splits are better at cooling individual zones or rooms. Keeping an entire house cool with a mini-split system requires most or all interior units turned on at the same time.

Lifespan

Both central and split air HVAC systems can have long lifespans with regular professional maintenance. However, due to their efficient design and reduced stress on components, ductless mini-split systems tend to last longer than traditional central air HVAC systems.

Indoor Air Quality

The indoor air quality with a central air HVAC system highly depends on how clean the ducts are and how frequently the air filters are changed. A split air system can more easily provide good indoor air quality since it does not have ductwork that needs cleaning. Additionally, homeowners can clean the interior units as frequently as needed.

Remote Operation

Traditional HVAC systems tend to have a single thermostat on a wall that you must physically interact with to change the temperature. Ductless mini-splits commonly come with remote controls for each interior unit, allowing for remote operation.

Environmental Impact

Because they typically use less energy, ductless mini-split HVAC systems are typically better for the environment than central air HVAC systems. However, the environmental impact on either can be bad if the system is not well-maintained or they leak refrigerant.

Space Requirement

While space is needed for the interior units of a mini-split system, overall, they are better in places with limited space since they are ductless. Even though central air vents are flush to the wall, you must still leave them unobstructed by furniture. In that sense, a central air vent can take up almost as much wall space as an interior mini-split unit.

Smart Home Compatibility

Both central air and split air HVAC systems can be integrated with smart home technology depending on the unit brand and model. However, smart home integration is more common with split air systems.

Upgrading Existing System

A new central air unit is easier to upgrade if your house already has existing ductwork. Mini-split HVAC systems are better suited for homes that do not have ductwork or if you want to put it in an addition on a house without extending ductwork.

As you can see, both central air HVAC systems and mini-split HVAC systems have their advantages. When choosing which AC system is ideal for your home, your existing system, cooling requirements, and preferences should all be considered. However, it is a great idea to consult with a professional HVAC company to help you find the best solution for your residence.

Do you live in Sanford, FL or the surrounding Central Florida area and want a new air conditioning system? American Air, Plumbing & Electric is ready to help. We install, maintain, and repair all types of cooling systems, including both central air and split air systems. We work with heating systems, too. We can help with indoor air quality, install dehumidifiers, and more. If you are interested in getting a new AC system in your home or you want information about any of our other HVAC services, contact American Air, Plumbing & Electric today!

Meet the Author
Jenny Mott
Jenny Mott

company icon