Here in Charlotte, the hot summers mean homeowners lean heavily on their air conditioning every year. And for the longest time, central air conditioners were the main option for efficient residential cooling. Today, however, ductless mini-split systems have emerged as a worthy challenger to such systems. But how should you choose between the two for your home? Here’s everything you need to know to figure out if a mini-split or a central AC is right for your home.
The Pros of Central Air Conditioners
Central air conditioning is the most popular type of AC system you’ll find in Charlotte, and indeed the whole US. That’s not without reason. Central air conditioners offer excellent energy efficiency at a reasonable price point. Plus, you can expect a central air conditioner to last you for about 15 years if you maintain it properly.
Another strength of central AC systems is their ability to scale. You can find central AC systems with enough capacity for a home as small as 600 square feet and as large as 3,300 square feet. That means central AC systems provide a single-system cooling solution for the majority of homes.
Central AC systems also integrate well with air filtration systems and air purifiers. This is because a central AC recycles air from throughout your home through a single set of ductwork. And because there are so many central AC manufacturers to choose from, your options in terms of functionality, efficiency, and configuration are nearly endless.
The Cons of Central Air Conditioners
Central AC systems aren’t perfect, however. One of their biggest drawbacks is their lack of operating flexibility. With most central AC systems, you can only cool your whole home at once or none of it at all. And even systems with built-in cooling zones only allow for a little bit of operating flexibility. For example, you might be able to set a temperature for your home’s second floor that’s different from the first floor, but that’s about it.
Central air conditioners also can create hot and cold spots throughout your home. This is because the system’s blower often over-cools the rooms closest to it, while rooms at the end of ductwork branches don’t receive enough cold air. While careful ductwork balancing can mitigate that problem somewhat, most homes with central AC end up having some level of this problem.
The ductwork associated with a central AC system also requires maintenance, or it can sap the efficiency of your AC. To prevent that, you’ll have to pay for periodic duct inspections, cleaning, and repairs. Even so, the US Department of Energy estimates that ductwork still accounts for 30% of the energy losses suffered by central AC systems.
The Pros of Mini-Splits
Mini-splits are a relative newcomer to the US residential cooling market. But they’re not new. Mini-splits are and have been the preferred type of cooling system throughout the world since the 1950s. One of the reasons for that is the amazing energy efficiency offered by mini-splits. For one thing, they’re ductless, so you immediately do away with ductwork energy losses. And for another, they rely on individual air handlers in each room of your home, giving you excellent control over your AC usage.
With a mini-split, you can set a different temperature in each room or even turn off the AC in rooms you’re not using. That way, you never have to waste money on cooling rooms when there’s no need to. Plus, mini-splits feature advanced technology like variable-speed motors and inverters that make them more energy efficient than most central AC options.
Perhaps the best way to compare the options is through seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings. That’s the standard energy efficiency scale used here in the US. Basically, the higher the SEER, the more efficient the system. Today, you can find mini-splits with SEER ratings as high as 42. However, you will only find a central AC with a maximum SEER of 28.
The Cons of Mini-Splits
Even though mini-splits have some unbeatable advantages, they do come with some disadvantages, too. One of them is their upfront cost. Assuming your home already has ductwork installed, it will typically be far more expensive to install a mini-split than a central air conditioner. And you might even need multiple mini-splits to serve your entire home.
You will also have to live with having an air handler installed in every room. While the air handlers of most mini-splits feature sleek and futuristic designs, they’re far from invisible. Neither are the power and refrigeration lines that run between each air handler and a mini-split’s outdoor unit. Even though you can hide those lines on your home’s exterior with closed conduit, you may not like the aesthetics of the result.
Mini-splits also require a bit more maintenance than central air conditioners. For one thing, each air handler has its own washable air filter, while a central AC has a single disposable one. You’ll have to stay on top of your mini split’s air filters, or it can negatively impact your home’s air quality and the system’s energy efficiency.
Choosing Between a Central AC and a Mini-Split
Generally, the choice between a central AC and a mini split comes down to a few simple factors. The first is whether your home has preexisting ductwork. If it does, it’s usually easiest and cheapest to go with a central air conditioner. If it doesn’t, a mini-split is the better option.
Another is the size of your home. If you own a small home, a mini-split offers the perfect mix of simple installation and efficiency. However, if you have a very large home, a central AC is often the most cost-effective way to cool all of it.
You’ll also need to consider your budget. At their smallest sizes, the cost of a central AC and a mini-split, including installation, isn’t that different. But the larger each system gets, the more those prices diverge. It’s easy to understand why.
With a central AC, the installation takes roughly the same amount of work regardless of system size. That’s because a central AC consists of an outdoor unit and a central blower, no matter its size. With a mini-split, however, a larger system means more air handlers and more refrigerant and electrical lines to run. So, a larger mini-split system can take much longer to install than a comparable central AC.
Lastly, you’ll want to think about how important your home’s air quality is to you. Since central ACs integrate with air filters and purifiers and mini-splits don’t, that could influence your decision. Plus, the washable air filters in mini split air handlers don’t do as good a job of removing dust as the air filter in a central AC. You can even upgrade the air filter in a central AC if you need better performance.
Charlotte’s Cooling Specialists
Whether you choose a central AC or a mini-split for your Charlotte home, you can count on Healthy Home Heating & Air to provide it. We offer comprehensive HVAC services, including installation, maintenance, and repair. We work with the latest central AC systems and mini-splits, too. Plus, we can handle all of your home’s plumbing and indoor air quality needs as well. As a fixture in the area since 2009, you can expect nothing but quality workmanship and fair prices from us. And you can read our countless glowing customer reviews if you need proof of it.
For all of your Charlotte home’s cooling needs, contact Healthy Home Heating & Air today!