Mini Split vs Central Air/Heat: Which is Right for You?

Mini Split vs Central Air/Heat: A Guide

Mini split systems and central HVAC systems often get mixed up, but there are a few big differences between the two. Understanding these differences will give you a better idea of which type of system to add to your home. And should you choose to go with a mini split system, you’ll want to study up on our free Multi Zone Mini Splits Buying Guide to find the perfect system for your needs.

Image of central air unit and mini split unit

What is a Ductless Mini Split System?

A ductless mini split system consists of an outdoor compressor or condenser unit that connects to an indoor unit (or multiple indoor units) to distribute heat or AC throughout a home. Mini split systems can include up to 8 indoor units to heat and cool individual rooms with or without the use of ducts. Each room’s temperature has the ability to be controlled individually, which makes mini splits an attractive option for those who want flexible control and all-around comfort.

Some popular ductless mini split systems we carry here at Total Home Supply include:

What is a Central Air/Heat System?

Central AC systems also rely on an outdoor compressor/condenser to function. The difference is that this unit connects to a single indoor unit (often your furnace) and then pushes air through a series of ducts, which gets exhausted through vents throughout your home to keep it cool. Temperature is controlled by a single thermostat.

The heating component of a central system is the furnace, which typically resides in a basement or garage. Central heating systems often share ducts and vents with air conditioning systems to make temperature control as seamless as possible.

Now that you know the differences between mini splits and central HVAC systems, let’s evaluate the pros and cons of each to help you determine which is right for your home.

Image of man installing a mini split indoor unit

Pros of a Mini Split System

  • Small size and easy to install – Mini split systems do not require ducts to operate. Instead, the outdoor unit powers each indoor unit through a dedicated refrigerant line, which is installed by drilling a hole in the wall. This setup is relatively easy compared to the central system installation process.
  • Efficient – Thanks to their ability to control the temperature in individual zones or rooms, mini split systems are highly efficient. This makes them ideal for those looking to save energy and money.
  • Personalized temperature – Since mini splits can heat or cool rooms on an individual basis, it’s never been easier to make the whole family happy.

Cons of a Mini Split System

The main disadvantage of buying a mini split system in the cost. But although mini split systems are more expensive than other systems to install, they offer significant savings in the long run. Because they do not rely on ducts to operate, mini splits eliminate the surprise costs that come with leaky or uninsulated ducts. In addition, since mini split systems power individual rooms, they can help save money by cooling or heating rooms on an as-needed basis.

Another downside, though a minor one, is the look of mini split systems. Unlike the unassuming vents that come with central air and heating systems, the indoor mini split units can be unappealing to some. The good news is that mini split indoor units are available in a variety of styles to meet everyone’s needs. From wall mounted, to ceiling cassette, or even concealed ducted, there is a mini split indoor unit for every application.. If the look of the indoor unit bothers you, you can even opt for something like the LG Art Cool Gallery Indoor Unit.

Image of LG Art Cool Gallery indoor AC unit

Pros of a Central Heating/Air System

  • Sleek design – Unlike the multiple indoor units in a multi-zone mini split system, a central HVAC system has one (usually hidden) indoor unit that distributes heat and cool air through a series of vents. Although there are vents in every room, they’re pretty unnoticeable.
  • Easy control – A central HVAC system offers control over your entire home’s temperature from a single thermostat.
  • Cost – The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the upfront cost of central HVAC systems is around 30 percent less than mini split systems (excluding ductwork installation).

Cons of a Central Heating/Air System

  • Ducts – Central HVAC systems typically rely on ducts to operate, which require extra maintenance and installation. Ducts must be inspected for leaks about once a year. If there are leaks or inadequate insulation in your ducts, you’ll most certainly lose money and energy.
  • Tough to install – Installing ducts throughout the house is a cumbersome and expensive process that requires the help of an HVAC professional.

Mini Split vs Central HVAC System: Which is Right for You?

By now, you’re familiar with the many differences between central and mini split systems. When deciding which type of system to install in your home, there are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Cost – Mini splits are more expensive to install than central HVAC systems, but they can offer significant savings in the long run.
  • Installation – Central AC systems are tough to install if you don’t have existing ductwork. However, if you already have ducts in your home, it will be cheaper and easier than installing a mini split system. Conversely, mini splits are much easier to install if you don’t have existing ductwork. And even if you already have central heat and air, a mini split system is a great option for rooms that don’t have heat or air, such as additions and sunrooms.
  • Appearance – Will the look of a mini split indoor unit bother you? If so, you’ll want to take that into consideration (or opt for a more stylish mini split, like the Art Cool line from LG).

If you’re interested in purchasing a mini split system, be sure to check out our Multi Zone Mini Splits Buying Guide. It contains all the information you need to make an informed decision about how to shop for a mini split system, including how to determine your system’s size, how to shop for your indoor unit and more.