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Ductless vs Central AC: Which is Best for My Florida Home?

October 02, 2018

ductless vs central ac

For most Florida homeowners, the answer comes down to budget: Choose the most cost-effective option.

If your home already has functional ductwork, the most cost-effective option is to install a central air conditioner.

But you’re probably better off installing a ductless AC if:

  • You have an older home that doesn’t have ductwork

  • You’re building a new house and don’t have the budget to install ductwork

  • You need to cool an existing room or new addition without air ducts

To help you make your decision, we’ll compare ductless and central air conditioning in terms of:

  • Cooling capacity

  • Installation cost

  • Operational cost

  • Zoning control

Need a quote to install ductless or central AC in your home?

Cooling capacity

In short, a central AC system has the cooling capacity to cool an entire house, while a ductless system can only cool one room per indoor unit.

Both ductless and central air conditioner sizes are measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). BTU output basically tells you how much heat the unit can remove from your home’s air in one hour. For context, one BTU is equivalent to the amount of heat produced by burning through one match.

Here’s how the two systems compare in cooling capacity:

  • Central AC: 12,000 to 60,000 BTUs

  • Ductless AC: 1,700 to 12,000 BTUs

Note: While “one” ductless AC usually refers to 1 indoor unit to 1 outdoor unit, multi-zone ductless systems can have up to 8 indoor units on 1 outdoor unit. Meaning that you can cool up to 8 areas or rooms with just 1 system.

To figure out what size air conditioner you need, a professional will need to do what’s called a “load calculation.” This is a complex measurement of your home and property that takes into considerations like local climate, height of your ceilings, insulation levels and many more factors.

Installation cost

According to Energy.gov, ductless units are about 30% more expensive than central AC units. However, that doesn’t factor in the cost to install ductwork.

Installing ductwork in a house can add anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to a central AC installation.

Here’s how that cost compares to installing a ductless system:

  • Central AC + ductwork: $5,900 to $10,000

  • Ductless AC: $3,200 to $8,000

You can learn more about AC installation costs in the articles below:

Operational cost

Ductless air conditioners typically cost less to run than central ACs.

That’s because central AC systems lose 20–30% of their air to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts. That means for every $100 you spend on cooling your home, $20–$30 of that goes to waste.

Since ductless systems don’t have ducts, they don’t lose any air to leaky ductwork. Meaning you pay less for more cooling.

Learn more about central AC duct leaks in our article, “How Can I Tell if My Air Ducts Are Leaking?”.

Zoning control

“Zoning” refers to breaking up your home into different cooling zones.

For example, if your upstairs rooms are always significantly warmer than your downstairs rooms (not uncommon here in Florida), zoning would allow you to have separate thermostats for your rooms upstairs and your rooms downstairs, individually controlling each zone.

central ac zoning

Zoning uses “duct dampers” to control the temperature of each zone.

Here’s the thing: Because ductless systems use one indoor unit to cool a room/area, you can individually control each room/area. Meaning ductless systems essentially include zoning.

With a central AC system, you’d need to add zoning to your home, which could cost $1,000+.

Need a quote for an AC installation? Call a Florida tech.

One of our reliable technicians will come to your home and help you decide which system would be best for your needs. Then, you’ll get 5-star service from the upfront price quote to the installation.


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