Mini Split vs Central Air: Which is Right for You? Posted on March 12, 2021 When it comes to cooling a large area or multiple spaces, central air conditioning and ductless mini split are the two usual options. However, mini split systems and central HVAC systems often get mixed up. Understanding the differences between the two AC systems will give you a better idea of which type of cooling is better for your home. In this article, we compare mini splits vs central air conditioning, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they are best used. What is a Ductless Mini Split? A ductless mini split is a type of air conditioning system that doesn’t require ductwork. Unlike ducted AC, it only needs a small conduit to connect the indoor air handlers with the outdoor compressor unit. 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. For more information, check out What is a Ducted Mini Split System?. What is a Central Air / Heat System? Central AC systems are large air conditioning units that can cool an entire home. Like mini splits, they also rely on an outdoor compressor/condenser to function. The difference is that this unit connects to a single indoor unit (often combined with your furnace) and then pushes air through a series of ducts, which gets exhausted through vents throughout your home to keep it cool. The temperature is controlled by a single thermostat. The heating component of a central system is the furnace, which typically resides in a basement, attic, 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. Pros and Cons of a Mini Split Pros of a Mini Split Lower installation cost – Mini split costs for new installation are typically lower compared to central air. Since they don’t require ducts, they are easier and cheaper to install, requiring only a small hole to connect the indoor and outdoor units. Some mini splits are even designed for DIY installation by homeowners, and don’t need specialized tools or training. Efficiency – Ducts account for up to 40% of energy losses in cooling systems. By eliminating ductwork, mini splits are much more efficient than central air conditioners. In addition, individual zones or rooms can have their own temperature settings. This makes them ideal for those looking to save energy and money. Check out our article on Mini Split Efficiency to see how much you can save. Flexibility – A single outdoor mini split compressor can be connected to up to 8 indoor units. You can cool and heat specific areas that you need, instead of the entire home. Versatility – Mini splits are available in different versions to suit the installation location. They can be wall mounted, ceiling-mounted, or hidden. Better comfort – Since each zone can be individually controlled, each room can have its own temperature setting for better comfort. Heating – Manymini splits come with a heat pump, which provides heating function without requiring a furnace. Cons of a Mini Split Appearance – 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 cassettes, or even concealed ducted, there is a mini split indoor unit for every application. Less heating capacity – Most mini split heat pumps may not have the same BTU capacity as a furnace connected to a central air system. Pros and Cons of Central Heating/Air Systems Pros of Central Heating/Air Systems 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 DOE estimates that the upfront cost of central HVAC systems is around 30 percent less than mini split systems, but only when existing ductwork exists. More heating capacity – A central air system connected to a basement furnace can provide more heating for larger homes than a mini split heat pump. Cons of Central Heating/Air Systems 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. Harder to install – Installing ducts throughout the house is a cumbersome and expensive process that requires the help of an HVAC professional. Less efficient – Some of the energy gets lost in the ductwork. The energy losses can get worse over time as the ducts get dirty, clogged or suffer from holes or leaks. Less flexible – Most central air have a single thermostat that controls the temperature for the entire home, unlike mini splits where each zone or room can have personalized temperature settings. Mini Split vs Central Air Summary 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, here are a couple of questions to ask yourself: Do I have the budget to cover the cost? Mini splits are more expensive to install than central HVAC systems, but they can offer significant savings in the long run. This also assumes that the rooms to be cooled already have ducts installed. Otherwise, ductwork installation can be more expensive than installing a mini split. Will installing a mini split or central AC system be easy for me? 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. How many rooms do I need to heat and cool? If you have a smaller home with few rooms, mini splits may make more sense. One outdoor unit can service up to 8 indoor zones. On the other hand, larger homes with more rooms may require more than one outdoor unit, or may be better off with a central air system. Is heating important? If you live in a colder region, the heating provided by mini split heat pumps may not be sufficient. You can either opt for a central furnace, or supplement the mini split heat pump with other heating sources. How Total Home Supply Can Help If you’re having a difficult time choosing which ductless mini split systems to use, here are some of our recommendations at Total Home Supply: Budget friendly option for one room: Friedrich FPHW091A 9000 BTU Floating Air Pro Series Single Zone Mini Split with Built-In WiFi – Heat and Cool – Energy Star – 115V The Energy Star FPHW091A mini split is a 115 Volt, cooling with heat pump system. It features high efficiency ratings including a 18.5 SEER2 and 12.8 EER. It delivers 9,000 BTUs of cooling and 9,500 of heating. This single-zone mini split will give you 5,000 BTUs at 17°F but with its low ambient heating capacity, will provide heat even with temperatures down to -4°F. If you are need to cool a server room or other equipment year round, this unit’s low ambient cooling features make it a great choice. Features include built-in WiFi that allow control from anywhere with an Internet connection; support for Amazon Alexa and Google Home via the FriedrichGo app; FastPro technology that allows for much easier servicing and maintenance; and inverter technology that makes it more efficient and quieter than conventional mini splits. Price: $1,199.00 Friedrich FPHW091A 9000 BTU, 18.5 SEER2 Floating Air Pro Series Single Zone Mini Split with Built-In WiFi - Heat and Cool - Energy Star - 115V Friedrich FPHW091A 9000 BTU single zone mini split system includes both the FPHSW09A1B wall unit and the FPHSR09A1A outdoor compressor. Inverter Technolo... View Product Focus on indoor air quality: Panasonic XE12WKUA 12000 BTU Class ClimaPure XE Series Single Zone 24.6 SEER Heat Pump System – Built-In WiFi – Energy Star The coronavirus pandemic has made people more conscious about air quality and safety. Panasonic’s ClimaPure Series includes many new features that not only clean the air you’re breathing but also feature surface purification technology. Thsi mini split boasts Nanoe X Technology, which has been found to be 91.4% effective at inhibiting the Novel Coronavirus after 8 hours of running, and 99.7% effective after 24 hours of running. The technology that features nano-sized electrostatic atomized water particles rich in hydroxyl (OH) radicals, reducing pollutants and odors. This technology, while new to the US, has been widely used in Japan in nursery schools, automobiles and public transportation. Seven purifying effects of NanoeX Technology include deodorizing, the ability to inhibit 5 pollutants for a more comfortable environment for you and your family while also helping to keep your hair and skin moisturized. Most notably the five pollutants include bacteria and viruses, mold, allergens, pollen and hazardous substances. Unpleasant odors trapped in fabrics including furniture and curtains are reduced as well leaving your air smelling fresher. Pollen and other asthma causing harmful substances are broken down as well. NanoeX Technology sets a new standard for comfort! In addition to the new NanoeX Technology, many other standard features including low ambient operation and built-in WiFi. Low ambient operation includes cooling capabilities down to -0°F and heating capabilities down to -15°F. The system has 11,500 BTU cooling capacity and 12,000 BTU heating capacity, plus 24.6 SEER, 14.2 EER and 13.0 HSPF ratings. Price: $1,299.00 Panasonic XE12WKUA 12000 BTU Class ClimaPure XE Series Single Zone 24.6 SEER Heat Pump System - Built-In WiFi - Energy Star Panasonic proudly introduces the new ClimaPure XE mini-split systems for cold climates! The ClimaPure Series includes many new features t... View Product Supplementing whole home: Friedrich FPHMR42A3A 42000 BTU Floating Air Pro Five-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump As a five-zone unit, this outdoor compressor gives you the option of adding zone comfort control to your home or office in three, four or five separate spaces. The outdoor unit features Low Ambient Operation making it a great year round option for heating and cooling for most of the US. It will operate in the Cooling Mode when outdoor temperatures are as low as 14°F up to 115°F. The range in which this unit will heat is equally as wide and it will heat when temperatures are as low as -13°F up to 75°F! It is capable of 42,000 BTUs, with a connected capacity of up to 54,000 BTUs. A minimum of three units MUST be connected and the minimum combination or units must be at least 50% of the connected capacity, 27,000 BTUs for this unit. There are several allowable combinations of indoor units that can be connected up to the 54,000 BTU total capacity. Depending on your installations of non ducted, ducted, or mixed units, the FPHMR42A3A gets great energy ratings. EER SEER HSPF Non-Ducted Indoor Units Only 10.5 20.0 10.0 Ducted Indoor Units Only 10.0 18.0 9.5 Mixed Non-Ducted and Ducted Indoor Units 10.25 19.0 9.75 Price: $2,999.00 Friedrich FPHMR42A3A 42000 BTU Floating Air Pro Five-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump Base Price shown is for outdoor unit only. You can choose from 3, 4 or 5 indoor units below with a total connected capacity of 54,000 BTUs. If you are cho... View Product Most Efficient: Friedrich FRHW093A 9000 BTU Floating Air Premier Series Single Zone Mini Split with Built-In WiFi – Heat and Cool – Energy Star The Floating Air Premier Series is Friedrich’s top of the line ductless mini split systems. This EnergyStar rated mini split can deliver 9,000 BTUs of cooling and 10,500 BTUs of heat, while boasting great efficiency ratings including 27.5 SEER2 and 16.1 EER. It can service a space that is about 450 sq. ft. The built-in low ambient cooling capabilities will cool your space when outside temperatures are as low as 0°F. The integrated drain pan will turn on when the temperature drops below 28°F and turn off when the temperature increases to 30°F. The temperature is judged by the ODU Temperature sensor signal. It can provide 6,500 BTUs at 17°F but with its low ambient heating capacity, will provide heat even with temperatures down to -13°F. It feature built-in WiFi and access to FriedrichGo App for wireless control as well as Google Assistant and Alexa voice commands. It also has Friedrich’s Fast Pro® design for the fastest access for maintenance of any wall-mounted ductless system, and DiamonBlue Advanced Corrosion Protection to protect the outdoor coil from harsh environments as well as rust and corrosion. Price: $1,549.00 Friedrich FRHW093A 9000 BTU, 27.5 SEER2 Floating Air Premier Series Single Zone Mini Split with Built-In WiFi - Heat and Cool - Energy Star The Floating Air Premier Series is Friedrich's top of the line ductless mini split systems. Two systems are available including this 9,000 BTU system and a 12... View Product Ease of installation / DIY MRCOOL DIY-MULTI4-36HP230C 4TH Gen 36000 BTU 21.5 SEER Configurable Quad-Zone Mini Split This quad-zone mini split system is whole home solution that you can install yourself. It can take up to 4 indoor wall units, totaling 48,000 BTUs. The system’s output capacity is 36,000 BTUs but the system will allow for 48,000 BTU connected capacity. When connected as a 4 zone system, it offers a 21.5 SEER rating for energy efficiency. This DIY mini split uses its own unique pre-charged Quick Connect Line Sets, allowing homeowners to install the system without any specialized tools or training. It features low ambient functionality: at 5°F, this unit will cool with 100% cooling capacity, making the Mr. Cool DIY an ideal system for computer server rooms, greenhouses, and any other applications that require cooling all year. An adapter is included to accommodate this connection size. If you are using a 24K or greater capacity Air Handler with a 4-zone or 5-zone condenser, you will need to install the included 1/2″ line set adapter kit to the outside unit, before the line set can be connected. Price: $2,107.00 MRCOOL DIY-MULTI4-36HP230C 4TH Gen 36000 BTU 21.5 SEER Configurable Quad-Zone Mini Split Base Price shown is for outdoor unit only. You can choose up to 4 indoor units below with a total connected capacity of 48,000 BTUs (minimum 2 units / 1... View Product 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. Related Articles What’s a Mini Split AC System? What Is a Mini Split Inverter? Benefits of Mini Split Inverter Systems PTAC vs Mini Split: Which is Right for You? Mickey Luongo Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.