If you don’t have central air conditioning, or if yours just isn’t up to the task of keeping every room as comfortable as you’d like it to be, then you may dread the thought of another hot summer. You wish there was an alternative to sweating it out, but you’re not sure what that is. And there’s something about those temporary window units that just doesn’t work for you. Whether they wreck the aesthetic of your home or maybe aren’t allowed in your condo or development, you’re struggling with options to keep your home (or even place of business!) cool.
Enter ductless air conditioning. Whether you’ve heard of it but aren’t sure what it does, or you never knew such a thing existed and you’re interested now, it may just be the answer to your temperature woes. But what is ductless air conditioning, exactly? How does it really work? And is it right for you?
Here are the answers to commonly asked questions about ductless air conditioning so that you can understand it better, and make better decisions about whether to include it in your home or business space.
What Is Ductless Air Conditioning?
Ductless air conditioning is actually just one part of a heating and cooling system that works without the traditional ducts of a central air conditioner (or furnace). It consists of an outdoor unit (or compressor) plus one or more indoor units depending on how many rooms you want to cool. Sometimes it’s referred to as a mini-split system.
The outdoor unit is smaller than a typical air conditioner compressor, and the indoor units are compact and wall-mountable. A ductless system uses components similar to a central air conditioner, including an evaporator and fan for the indoor piece, and a condensing coil and fan for the outdoor piece. The two are connected through a conduit, which is nothing much more than some tubing and a bit of electrical work.
You can control a ductless system from a remote control (good news for couch potatoes!) or from a wall-mounted control unit. And yes, it’s programmable! You can set different temperatures for different times of the day for maximum comfort and efficiency. And you can set the precise temperature – not just low, medium and high like you might do with a fan.
Is It Really Ductless?
100%! You can cool or heat your home without a single duct in sight, without ever tearing down a wall, without any changes at all to your home’s structure. Ductless units are mounted high on walls with some basic hardware of the nail-and-hammer variety, and sometimes even on ceilings, where they sit out of the way and do their jobs.
Sometimes you may choose to use a ductless unit even if you have central air. This may be the case if you have a room that’s hard to cool, or an addition that has not been attached to your central unit. You can even use it in a workshop or storage space like a garage or shed that needs some temperature control. Ductless units are completely separate from your central cooling and heating systems and can be used either as stand-alone systems or in conjunction with your central units.
Do I Need One Cooling Unit And One Heating Unit?
Nope – one unit does both. Unlike a window air conditioner that does only one thing, ductless air conditioners are not really *air conditioners*, but full heating and cooling systems, so you can say goodbye to space heaters, too. You can use ductless systems to do one or the other or both.
Switch between the two with a simple touch of the remote or wall-mounted control panel. It’s as simple as that.
Do They Use A Lot Of Energy?
Ductless systems actually use 25-30% *less* energy than a traditional central system. The reason is in the name – ductless! You might be surprised to learn that a full quarter of your energy costs are literally sucked out of your home through ducts. Minuscule spaces, leaks and just the distance that their air must travel before it reaches each room in your home means that a chunk of energy is used up just moving air around.
Without ducts, 100% of the cool air produced by a ductless unit is used to cool or to heat your home. Plus, ductless units are constructed differently than central units, with more energy-efficient compressors. That can net you energy savings immediately, and will certainly add up over time.
Does A Ductless Air Conditioner Need Maintenance?
Everything you use needs maintenance! Whether it’s as simple as caring for your coffee grinder or cleaning your air conditioner’s filters, the better you take care of things, the better they function and the longer they last.
You’ll want to clean or replace the filters once a month (depending on the type of unit you have) or more often if you smoke or have pets. Each unit – both indoors and out – should be checked at least twice a year by a professional, the same sway that your central HVAC system would be.
It’s no more complicated than that, but it is important that you take care of your investment.
How Much Does It Cost?
For a single room, the average cost of the unit starts at about $1,500. But there are a lot of variables that will determine your final cost.
The number of rooms you want to cool will factor in, but won’t exponentially increase the cost. Up to five indoor units can be attached to a single compressor, so if you’re thinking of cooling (or heating) more than one room then you will see some cost savings by purchasing multiple indoor units.
Cost also depends on the size of the unit, which means how much space you need to cool and how powerful the unit is. Some brands cost more than others, but you can make up for that in reliability, longevity and energy-efficiency. You’ll also need to consider how far apart the outdoor and indoor units are. While the system doesn’t require ducts, it does need to connect! Someone will have to run the appropriate tubing, and the more distance that has to be covered, the more it will cost.
Finally, this is not likely to be a job you’ll want to tackle yourself, so you’ll have to factor in labor costs – which also depend on everything we’ve mentioned here, from how many units need to be installed to how complex the installation is.
Instead of just trying to add up the hard costs, consider this: using a ductless unit for trouble spots or for rooms that are detached from your central system will keep you comfortable far more efficiently than if you had simply lowered the temperature in the rest of the house or closed ducts in other rooms in an attempt to equalize the temperature (which is a bad idea all around!) Using a ductless unit will be less expensive than running an inefficient central unit, and will ultimately lengthen the lifespan of your central unit.
Is This A New And Relatively Untested Technology?
We bet it will surprise you to learn that ductless systems have been around since the 1970s. You might also be surprised that they had a reputation for reliability from their earliest days, which isn’t always true when it comes to new technologies!
And it hasn’t stopped there. The technology has only evolved over the years to become even better. Better electronics, more advanced components, more energy-efficient operation – there is nothing “untested” about this system. You can feel confident that you’re getting a strong technology that does what it says it will do.
Can I Use It To Replace Central Air Conditioning?
The short answer is that you *can* use ductless cooling for your whole house. But should you?
There’s no technological reason why you couldn’t use only a ductless system, and in fact there may be cases when it’s necessary. If you’re restoring a historical home, for example, you may not want (or be able to) rip apart walls to install ducts. If you have a small to medium sized home, or one where you only use certain rooms, then the zone control you’ll get with ductless makes sense.
But there are some cases where going strictly ductless may give you pause. If you have a large home, it can be costly to purchase and install the units. And if you already have a perfectly functioning central air conditioner, but are simply struggling with temperature in certain areas, then there is every reason to keep your central unit in place and supplement it with ductless in problem rooms. Working together, both will keep you far more comfortable at a far more reasonable cost, all while preserving the life and energy-efficiency of the overall setup.
How Long Will Ductless Units Last?
A ductless cooling and heating system will last for decades. With proper maintenance, you can expect to get 20+ years of reliable service out of yours. The best part is that since one system heats *and* cools, you’ll never be left with an imbalance in the age of components. With the traditional central air and furnace setup, it’s not uncommon to have one die and the other live on for a few more years. That may leave you with one brand new component, and one old one, which isn’t great for efficiency.
There are plenty of benefits to using a ductless air conditioner, whether you have one or more rooms that are never quite comfortable, are contending with a home restoration or addition, or simply want to forgo the central system in favor of cooling specific rooms one at a time.
If you have more questions about how they work or what you can expect, or if you’d like us to visit your home for a free consultation and estimate to install a ductless unit in your home, let us know. We care about your comfort!