A Guide to Mini-Split vs. Traditional Air Conditioners

Jul 20, 2021

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner for your home, you’ll likely run into a choice between a traditional air conditioner or a ductless mini-split system. Either of these options can be a great choice depending on your needs, so it’s important to know what they are and how they’re different. Let’s take a look at mini-split air conditioning systems vs. traditional air conditioners.

What Is a Central Air Conditioner?

A traditional air conditioner, or a central air conditioning system, is designed to cool an entire home at once. The AC unit produces a large quantity of cool air, which is distributed by the home’s duct system. Most new homes come with traditional air conditioners, either in the form of a split system or a packaged system.

A split system relies on an indoor compressor and condenser and an outside air conditioner and heat pump. In contrast, a packaged system places the heater and air conditioner into one outdoor unit, eliminating the need for an indoor unit. This option is usually best for homes without enough space for an extra piece of equipment in their home.

Both of the main types of traditional air conditioners require your home to have ductwork to distribute air and a centrally located thermostat to control the temperature. Traditional air conditioners will also reverse to heater pumps in the winter—helping you stay comfortable no matter the time of year.

What Is a Mini-Split System?

A ductless mini-split air conditioner is a modern option for unique home cooling needs. Like their name suggests, a ductless mini-split system doesn’t require ductwork for air distribution, making them a popular option for homes without this feature. Instead, they deposit air directly into the room they are installed within. Otherwise, mini-split systems operate similarly to traditional split system air conditioners—but on a much smaller scale. These pieces of equipment consist of an indoor fan unit and an outdoor condenser.

The external condenser connects to your indoor unit(s) and is responsible for receiving a home’s warm air and blowing it outside. The indoor fan units have an evaporator and blower designed to collect a room’s warm air before blowing cold air back into your home. In the cooler months, these functions reverse to provide heating for your home as well.

Why Choose a Mini-Split System?

The small scale of a mini-split system means that it can only comfort one room or area of your home. As such, these units are ideal for addressing a “problem area” of your home. Let’s take a look at some examples of when you may need a mini-split system:

  • Your AC system will only work in some parts of your house—those that have vents and ductwork connections. If you want to transform your attic or garage into a livable space, but do not have vents for your HVAC system, you might consider adding a mini-split unit.
  • If you extend an area of your home and do not want to rework your duct system or overextend your HVAC system, a mini-split system offers the perfect solution.
  • Mini-split systems are also perfect for historic homes that cannot be renovated and do not have ductwork.

You can also use multiple mini-split units for whole-home comfort.

How Are Mini-Split Systems and Traditional Air Conditioners Different?

The most obvious difference between the two systems is that mini-split systems don’t require ducts while traditional air conditioners do. Additionally, as mentioned above, a mini-split system can only keep one area of your home comfortable—so whole-home comfort will require multiple units. Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these system types:

Advantages of Traditional Air Conditioners

  • Whole-home comfort: Traditional air conditioners can cool your entire home at once with a single unit. They are best known for their whole-home comfort.
  • Less noticeable equipment: While you’ll need a unit inside your home for some traditional air conditioners, you can usually hide it in an area with low traction. Since the air flows through ducts and vents, traditional air conditioners are very discreet, and you’ll see very little evidence of their presence in your home.
  • Lower initial costs: Another advantage of traditional air conditioners is that they tend to have lower upfront costs than a network of mini-split systems. Of course, if your home doesn’t have ductwork, it may be more expensive to install a traditional air conditioner than it would be to purchase a mini-split system.

Disadvantages of Traditional Air Conditioners

  • Higher utility bills: Though traditional air conditioners come with lower initial costs, they can cost more in the long run than a network of mini-split units might. These higher utility bills come from the central air conditioner cooling all rooms of your home, even when you’re not in them or using them. This constant cooling of every room can take up a lot of energy and raise your overall costs over time. Installing a unit with a high SEER rating can help you keep your bills low. Additionally, you should take advantage of any zoning features you might have, and ensure that you have the right-sized HVAC system for your home.

Advantages of Mini-Split Systems

  • Flexibility: The primary advantage of mini-split systems is that they can flexibly be installed to meet the needs of any problem areas in your home. Rather than installing a new HVAC system or upgrading your ductwork, you can use a mini-split system to cool areas of your home that may otherwise not be covered by your traditional air conditioning system.
  • Lower upfront costs (single unit): For a single mini-split system, you will save money upfront compared to the cost of renovating your ductwork and/or installing a second traditional HVAC system for an extended area of your home.
  • No ducts required: If you have a home without ductwork or are extending your home and do not want to renovate, ductless mini-split systems have a substantial advantage in that they do not require ducts for distribution. You will also not need to worry about blocked vents or ductwork issues with a mini-split system.
  • Increased energy efficiency and savings: Since you can set different areas of your home to different temperatures with a mini-split system, these systems tend to use energy more efficiently. As a result, you’ll see lower long-term costs from utility bills, helping to make up for the higher upfront costs.

Disadvantages of Mini-Split Systems

  • More noticeable: Unlike a central air system’s barely noticeable vents, a mini-split unit is mounted directly to your walls. People who want a minimal look to their home may want to stick to a central air system.
  • Limited comfort: Mini-split systems can only keep a single room or small area of a home comfortable. For full-house comfort, you will need to install multiple systems.
  • Higher upfront costs (multiple units): If you do choose to equip your entire home with mini-split systems, these units may cost more than traditional air conditioners, you’ll have to put down more money upfront for one.

Choose Newcomb and Company for Air Conditioning Installation Services in Raleigh

With all of the pros and cons of mini-split and traditional air conditioning systems, you might still be wondering what system would fit your home best. If you’re in Raleigh, Wilmington, or the surrounding areas, Newcomb and Company can help you make a perfect choice. We’re experts at mini-split and air conditioning installation, and we can inspect your home to help you select the best solutions for you.

Newcomb and Company is here for you! We proudly serve homes and businesses in Raleigh, Wilmington, and nearby cities like Knightdale, Garner, Clayton, Apex, Leland, Carolina Beach, Castle Hayne, and beyond! Please take a moment to review our HVAC design and installation services, and contact us to schedule your service today!

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