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Central Air Conditioner vs. Ductless Mini‑Split

If you’re faced with the decision to install a central AC or a ductless mini-split AC, you’re likely in one of the following scenarios:

  • You need to replace your home’s existing HVAC system
  • You’ve made renovations to your home and need AC in the new area(s)

In this blog, we’ll explain your best option for each scenario, but first, let’s take a quick look at the differences between the two systems.

Other things we’ll cover in this blog:

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Differences between central and ductless AC systems

How they work

Central AC systems

A central AC system works by drawing in hot unconditioned air and cooling it in a central location. Then the system distributes that cool air throughout the entire home via ductwork. A central AC system has 3 main components: one indoor unit, one outdoor unit, and the ductwork.

Ductless Mini-Split systems

A ductless AC system works the same way a central AC system does—it draws in hot, unconditioned air and blows out cool air. However, as its name suggests, ductless systems do not use ductwork to distribute cool air throughout the entire home. Instead, an indoor ductless unit only cools one room/area. That said, to cool an entire home, you’d need to install multiple ductless units.

Typically, a single ductless outdoor unit (i.e., the condenser) can feed up to 5 indoor units.

How much they cost

Central AC systems

A central AC system costs anywhere between $4,500 and $9,500+, depending on the size of the home and various other factors. If you also need to install or replace part of your ductwork system, you can expect to add on between $4,000 to $7,000+.

Learn more in our blog, “How Much Does it Cost to Install a Central AC?”

Ductless Mini-Split systems

The cost to install a ductless mini-split system costs around $10,000. This is the cost to install a single outdoor unit and up to 5 indoor units (a general rule of thumb is that one indoor unit can cool one area/room).

Keep in mind that if you’re looking to cool/heat more than 1-5 areas of the home, you may need to install more than one ductless system, which will increase your overall cost.

Learn more in our blog, “How Much Does it Cost to Install a Ductless AC Conditioner?”

Which system is best?

It all depends on the scenario.

Do you already have ductwork installed?

If so, it’s typically more cost-efficient to install a central AC. If your home has existing ductwork (and it’s in good condition), you will spend less money installing one central system vs. multiple ductless units to cool the entire home.

However, if your home doesn’t have existing ductwork, it will likely be cheaper to install a ductless system. That’s because there will be much less invasive construction on your home. The only “construction” needed for a ductless system installation is a 3-inch hole to run the conduit (the cable connecting the indoor and outdoor unit).

Do you only need to cool/heat one room/area?

If you’ve added to your home and have a new room/area that needs conditioned air, we’d suggest installing a ductless system. Typically, installing a ductless system to cool/heat a new addition to your home is cheaper than extending the ductwork to the new area.

Extending ductwork can be time-consuming, messy, and expensive. Not to mention, your existing AC and ductwork dimensions were sized to your home’s unique configurations before you renovated. Adding to the space that your central AC system needs to cool can compromise your comfort and the lifespan of your system.

Other factors to consider


If you’re considering a ductless system, keep in mind that the indoor units are installed on the interior walls of your home. That means the unit is visible.

On the other hand, a central AC indoor unit is typically installed in an attic, interior closet, or crawl space of the home, meaning it is not visible.


Zoning refers to the ability to control the temperatures of different zones in your home individually. To be fair, you can achieve zoning with both a central system and a ductless system. However, zoning is built into the ductless system and is cheaper to achieve with this type of system. To achieve zoning with a central AC, you will need to have a professional install individual dampers to your existing ductwork, which can be expensive.


Ductless systems come with the potential for much lower monthly energy bills. Because they don’t use ductwork, there is much less potential for conditioned air to escape the ducts via small holes/cracks. The more conditioned air that escapes ductwork, the more money you’re wasting every month.

Note: Newer models of central AC systems can offer comparable efficiency as ductless systems (as long as the ductwork system is in good condition).

Need an AC installation quote?

At Michael & Son, we provide free, no-obligation estimates for both ductless AC installations and central AC installations. Not only is our work backed by thousands of 5-star reviews, we also offer 0% interest for 36 months on all HVAC installations. Call our friendly and experienced HVAC team today.

Select services are not available at all locations. Contact a location near you for service availability.

This blog was written on Sep 28, 2021. Any pricing information is subject to change.