Mini Split Vs. Central Air: Overview, Pros & Cons, and FAQs
If it’s time for you to consider a new cooling system for your Boise Metro home, then it’s probably time to consider a ductless mini split vs. central air. While central ac systems have been standard in most homes for decades, mini splits are quickly becoming popular in our part of Idaho. And, if your home doesn’t have ductwork, a mini split offers you many more options and benefits than portable or window AC units.
As the owner and founder of Snowflake Air here in Boise, I’ve installed hundreds of cooling systems in Boise, Kuna, Caldwell, Eagle, and as far north as McCall in Valley County. For the past few years, we’ve concentrated on high-efficiency systems like mini splits.
Maybe you’ve heard of these systems but don’t know much about them. Or, you’re not sure how they stack up against central air. Either way, this is the article for you.
I’ll start by explaining exactly how both systems work. Then, we’ll go through the pros and cons of each. When you’re ready, schedule a free consultation with us to help you decide which is best for your Boise Metro home.
How Does Central Air Conditioning Work?
Central air conditioning circulates air throughout the entire home using ducts and vents. The cooling system attaches to your furnace and uses its blower motor to draw warm air throughout the house through the ductwork. The evaporator coil removes heat from the air as it passes through the system.
The now-cool air then travels back up through the ducts to each room. Meanwhile, the warmth from the air gets transferred to the outdoor unit or compressor.
How Do Ductless Mini Splits Work?
Ductless mini split systems can move heat in or out of your home without transporting air to a centralized unit. Instead, it treats each room, or zone, of the house independently.
The Outdoor Unit
The outdoor unit of a ductless mini split system is the heat pump. In the summer, the heat pump takes the heat energy from warm air in the home and “dumps” it outside.
In the winter, it extracts heat from the outdoor air and sends it inside to warm your home. In both cases, the refrigerant absorbs heat and moves it from one unit to the other.
The Indoor Units
The indoor units, or air handlers, of a ductless mini split system, are typically mounted high on the wall and are connected to the outdoor unit by the conduit.
They use fans to draw in air from the room and remove heat. The heat travels to the heat pump via the refrigerant, and the air handler recirculates the air, which is now cool.
Single Zone and Multi Zone Systems
Ductless mini split systems are available in both single-zone and multi-zone configurations. Single-zone systems consist of one outdoor unit and one indoor unit, while multi-zone systems can have up to eight indoor units connected to a single outdoor unit.
You can use a single-zone system to heat or cool one room or zone in your house. Or, set up more to treat multiple rooms or the entire house.
Mini Split Pros
Ductless mini split systems offer several advantages over central air conditioning systems:
Precise Temperature Control
Mini split systems always keep the temperature within one degree of your thermostat setting. It uses a variable-speed compressor to add more or less heating as needed, which differs from traditional one-stage HVAC systems.
Instead of cycling on and off, mini splits often run almost all the time, but usually in a low-power mode to maintain the indoor temperature.
Zoned Comfort Control
You can control the temperature in different areas of your home independently. For example, keep the bedrooms cooler at night while turning down the temperature in the living room.
Energy Efficiency for Lower Bills
Ductless mini split systems are known for their energy efficiency, which can result in lower utility bills. That’s thanks to the variable-speed compressors that never use more energy than is necessary to maintain indoor temperature.
And, with zone control, you never over-cool one part of the house to make up for another room that’s usually too hot.
Flexible Installation Options
You can choose from a single-zone system for one room, a multi-zone setup for the whole house, or anything in between.
Easy Installation in Any Home
Ductless mini splits are easy to install, requiring only a small hole to connect the indoor and outdoor units. That’s especially beneficial for areas where ductwork installation is difficult or impossible, such as older homes or spaces without existing ductwork.
A single-zone installation takes less than a day. Most whole-home systems are done in a workweek or less.
Mini split units operate quietly, making them an excellent choice for bedrooms, home offices, or other spaces where noise is potentially a distraction. You don’t hear the rush of forced air traveling through the system.
Mini Split Cons
Ductless mini split systems offer many advantages over central air conditioning, but they also come with some downsides:
The main disadvantage of mini split systems is their higher upfront cost than central air conditioning. Mini split systems require more equipment, such as an outdoor unit and an indoor air handler for each room, which can add up quickly.
A single-zone system costs around $4,000; whole-home setups can run $20,000 or more. Most homeowners make up for this cost with energy savings over time, but you must still budget that upfront price.
Maintenance and Upkeep
Mini split systems require a little more regular maintenance than traditional HVAC systems to keep them running efficiently; You still need spring and fall tune-ups as with a furnace and central air.
But, instead of changing a disposable filter once a month, you must wipe down the filters in all your air handlers.
Finally, we recommend a deep cleaning once a year. This process prevents dirt and dust from building up in the air handlers and affecting performance. You also avoid mold or mildew from taking hold inside the units, which can affect your indoor air quality.
However, with the proper care, a ductless mini split system can last 20 years or longer.
While mini split systems are sleek and modern in design, some homeowners may not like the appearance of indoor air handlers on their walls. They’re less noticeable when the lines run behind the walls.
However, the line aesthetics are more pronounced when an installer has to run them along with the wall in the room. Fortunately, line hide systems are flexible and can be painted to match the room.
Central Air Pros
Central AC is widely used in most households because of its ability to provide a comfortable and convenient living environment. Here are some of the advantages of central air conditioning systems:
Lower Initial Cost
Central air conditioning systems are generally cheaper than ductless mini split systems. If you already have ductwork, they’re usually less than $10,000.
Easy Indoor Air Quality Control
Central air conditioning systems also provide an easy way to control the indoor air quality. You can install whole-home air purifiers, humidifiers, or dehumidifiers with a centralized system. With a split system versus central air, each indoor unit needs extra equipment.
Central Air Cons
Central air conditioning also has some drawbacks to consider:
Less Precise Temperature Control
Most central air systems are one-stage, which means they either turn on or off at full power, and that’s it. So, the thermostat usually doesn’t turn it on until the indoor temperature is three to five degrees warmer than you want it.
Then, the system runs until it’s a little cooler than you prefer. Overall, that’s a range of 10 to 15 degrees.
Weak Airflow On Second or Third Floors
Central air often doesn’t provide enough airflow to the upper floors of a home, resulting in uneven cooling. This can be especially problematic for homes with cathedral ceilings, large square footage, or third floors.
This is because static pressure weakens airflow the further it travels from the air handler or blower motor. This force restricts airflow and makes it more difficult for the air to move through the ducts and reach the upper floors.
Higher Electric Bills
The energy consumption of central air conditioners significantly increases your utility bills. They require a lot of electricity to run all the components with enough force to draw in air from all over the house and recirculate it.
The noise from the central air conditioning unit can be disruptive, especially if you’re trying to watch TV. Regular maintenance and cleaning can reduce noise levels, but there’s no getting around the noise of a forced-air system.
Mini splits are an excellent choice for many Boise Metro homes. You don’t have to worry about expensive ductwork installation in an older home. Or, you can upgrade from a builder-grade system in a new home that doesn’t quite do the job.
The big hurdle is the installation cost, but we can help you find tax breaks and rebates to reduce that price. If you’d like to learn more, call or email us for a free consultation.
Here are the answers to a few more mini split FAQs:
Can one mini split cool a whole house?
Mini splits are highly efficient and can cool a single room or an entire house, depending on the size and capacity of the system. A multi-zone setup can add up to eight indoor air handlers per heat pump, creating up to eight zones in a house.
How long do mini splits last?
Mini splits are durable and long-lasting, with a typical lifespan of 15 years. However, with proper maintenance and care, some units can last up to 20 years. Regular cleaning and inspections can also help ensure that a mini split stays in good working order.
Do mini splits devalue a house?
Mini splits are a popular and highly sought-after feature in many homes, and can actually add value to your property. They are energy-efficient, space-saving, and provide zoned cooling and heating, making them an attractive feature for potential buyers.