Compare Mini Splits and Central Air Conditioners

January 15, 2009 by Shawn Mack  
Filed under Savings Guide

Many consumers are weighing the pros and cons between mini split air conditioners and central air conditioners. I will try to lay out the major differences between the two systems and try to help you make the right decision for your home or office.

Central Air Conditioner

Space Requirements: I am going to break this down into two sections: Square feet to be cooled and Ceiling Height.

If you need an air conditioner to cool multiple rooms in a large area, I would recommend a central air conditioner. Mini split systems are great to cool areas and additions. They generally max out at 1,200 square feet. The cool air expelled by a mini split air conditioner can only reach areas of your home that are not closed off. If you have multiple rooms with doors, it will be very difficult for them to be cooled by a mini split system. You can purchase mini split systems with dual or multiple indoor evaporators, but the cost is driven up considerably. Single rooms and additions better suit mini split applications.

Ceiling height is the other variable that you need to consider when choosing between the two styles of air conditioners. A central air conditioner requires ductwork to distribute the air to each desired area. Standard ductwork requires approximately 12” of height for installation. Many older homes and basements do not have enough ceiling height to comfortably fit the additional ductwork. In these cases a ductless mini split air conditioner would be ideal.

Efficiency: Both the central air and mini split air conditioners have high-efficiency standards. In fact they were placed in the same split system certification. Make sure to check SEER ratings when purchasing your air conditioner. The higher the SEER the more efficient the unit. Currently 13 SEER is the minimum for the United States.

Central air conditioners do efficiency by having long duct runs, leaks and extra registers. If you are trying to cool your sunroom to 72° F you may have to lower your thermostat for the whole house to 65° F. This is not a very efficient way to cool an area. In this case an additional mini split air conditioner would be an excellent solution.

Price: Of course price is usually the biggest concern for consumers when deciding between a central air conditioner and a ductless mini split. Central air conditioners and large mini split air conditioners are very similar in price for the equipment. A major difference is that consumers can shop online for a ductless air conditioner, but by law they have to buy a central air conditioner from a contractor. This gives the consumer the ability to shop and save on equipment online.

The addition of ductwork and the increased labor really adds to the central air conditioners final price. The more ductwork that needs to be run, the more money it will cost for installation. You save this money with the purchase of a ductless mini split air conditioner. Ductless air conditioners can be installed professionally between $300 and $900 (depending on how far the outdoor unit sits from the indoor unit), and if you are able to do some of the basic labor. Both units require the addition of electricity, so make sure to find an installer that can work with both HVAC and electricity.

For more information on ductless mini split air conditioners, please check out our other articles online.

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14 Responses to “Compare Mini Splits and Central Air Conditioners”
  1. Kyoto Says:

    Make sure to check SEER ratings when purchasing your air conditioner. The higher the SEER the more efficient the unit. Currently 13 SEER is the minimum for the United States.

    Thank’s a lot for the useful information.

  2. Mike Says:

    can a central ac unit be based in the attic and the duct run from there?

  3. Shawn Says:

    There is not enough clean airflow in an attic to properly cool a central air conditioner condenser.

  4. dana Says:

    can you run ductwok in a 1300 sq foot ranch through the basements drop ceiling?

  5. Chad Says:

    You can run duct work through the drop ceiling. It is just not as efficient as going ductless.

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  14. Gregory Willard Says:

    I had no idea that mini splints didn’t need ducts. My wife and i have been struggling with the heat lately and have been looking for solutions. I really appreciate the information.

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