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Here’s a head-to-head comparison to see how ductless mini-split systems stand up against central and portable heating and cooling systems. In some cases, there’s a clear winner, but you may have to make up your own mind based on the features that fit your needs.

First up . . .

Mini-Split (winner) vs. Room Units

Window-mounted air conditioners and space heaters are inexpensive, portable, and ideal for small spaces, which is why they’ve been popular heating and cooling solutions so long. But, are they a good value compared to a ductless mini-split? Let’s find out.

Efficiency and Versatility (mini-split)

There’s no way around it—room units are not efficient. They work hard to produce a small amount of cool air, and since they’re set up in an open window and therefore poorly insulated, they allow outdoor heat to leak in, which can add up to 10% of the unit’s energy consumption.

The appeal of window air conditioners and space heaters is their portability. In fact, you can take them from one house to another and get cool air and a heat source.

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However, the limits of portable units far outweigh the novelty of their convenience to move. For example, you need to install and take out window AC units every year, as well as store and then set up a portable heater alternately. A mini-split system enables you to switch from air conditioning to heat by pressing a button on a wireless remote.

Wireless operation and energy savings wins this category for ductless mini-splits.

Price (mini-split)

The cost of inefficiency is the biggest factor to consider when deciding between buying a brand-new room air conditioner versus installing a ductless mini-split. Both options are typically used to control the climate in additions, garages, finished basements, and three-season rooms.

To determine the cost difference here, you have to consider what’s already available and what you can gain by investing now to save later.

  • If there’s a compressor serving an existing ductless system, you may be able to purchase an additional air handler to connect. This results in big savings on equipment costs.
    • Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER): A higher EER rating means a more efficient air conditioner
    • Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF): A higher rating means a more efficient air-source heat pump while you’re installing a mini-split system for one room, it may be economical to purchase a compressor to service multiple rooms improving climate and air quality throughout your home. If you own one or many multi-family buildings, you must consider efficiency at scale. The modest upfront savings of a single window unit in each apartment may be attractive, especially if you’re fixing existing equipment. However, when compared to the long-term savings from efficiency and value-add for renters, the ductless mini-split may make it profitable to upscale rentals for tenants. In the long run, the higher energy costs and price of replacing “disposable” window units will far exceed the price tag of installing and operating a ductless mini-split. Noise and Appearance (mini-split) Two of the biggest complaints about window units are:
      1. They’re noisy
      2. They look ugly from the inside and outside of a building

      This is especially annoying since one of the most important places many people put their air conditioners is right where they sleep. The air handling units on today’s best ductless mini-splits are whisper quiet, in addition to being fully controllable through a wireless remote.

      Plus, the only thing your neighbors will see on the outside of the house is the compressor, which can be discretely placed out of street view. As for the inside, you won’t lose natural light through the window because the air handler is conveniently mounted on the wall.

      Air Quality and Maintenance (mini-split)

      This category is bias toward portable heating and cooling equipment because typically these units aren’t meant to be serviced so much as replaced. A strict look at the data might show scheduled maintenance costs on mini-split systems is higher because no one bothers to repair an air conditioner when the big box store is having a blow-out sale.

      But, it’s my blog so I make the rules—and I count disposability as a major point against portable units because I want to leave this planet a better place for my grandkids. Make your equipment last longer to reduce your footprint.

      Now, the pendulum swings, and indoor air quality is rigged against portable units because it’s no contest. Ductless mini-splits offer basic and specialized filters for allergens and other air borne nasty stuff in a sealed environment. Often, the open window the AC unit is mounted in isn’t sealed as air tight as a closed window and allergens and pollutants infiltrate the room. When it comes down to it, you have to know: Do you want state-of-the-art climate control. You can afford it, and I can show you how.

      Ductless mini-split heating and cooling systems win hands down in this category WHEN they get scheduled maintenance from a factory-trained and insured HVAC service professional.

      Mini-Split vs. Central Heating and Air Conditioning (draw)

      When you think about the best way to heat and cool an entire home or building, a central heating and air conditioning system seems like the obvious choice. But depending on your situation, a ductless mini-split system may be a sleeker, more cost-effective alternative.

      Efficiency (draw)

      There are 11 billion reasons why efficiency is a big deal in the air conditioning world—that’s how many dollars Americans spend cooling their homes each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. For the average family, air conditioning accounts for 6% of their total annual electric bills. But, an efficient system can reduce those costs by up to 50%!

      Both central heating and cooling systems and ductless mini-splits offer energy-efficient options.

      Terms to know:

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      Carbon Footprint (draw)

      Efficiency is good for the planet, and what’s good for the planet is also good for your wallet in this case. Not only do you save money with a more efficient system, but you can take advantage of state and federal incentives that encourage you to make the switch.

      Both central and mini-splits systems offer rebates and incentives from a variety of sources, including The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, GasNetworks, Mass Save, and Carrier. The offers are always changing so get updated information before purchasing.

      Versatility (mini-split)

      The flexibility of the two approaches to heating and cooling being examined here can be subdivided into two categories: installation and customizable climate control.

      A unique advantage of a mini-split system is the ability to control the temperature room-by-room to give you unmatched temperature consistency throughout your home or business. You don’t have to settle on a single temperature for an entire floor, as you must with zoned heating. Mini-splits enable you to set each room temperature to a desired level of comfort. This is extremely useful as the seasons change and temperatures fluctuate. For example, in the fall you may find a sunny room gets hot during the day but you’re freezing at night in bed. With a mini-split, comfort is totally customizable.

      Also, as the name says, a ductless mini-split does not require air flow ducts inside the walls and ceiling of the building. With reasonable access to an exterior wall to run piping and electrical, the compact air handlers can go where it’s convenient.

      Once the outdoor temperature drops below freezing, most ductless mini-split systems become inefficient. Some manufacturers are innovating advanced technology so research and ask your local dealer. Typically, colder than freezing, and the mini-split has to work too hard and becomes less efficient. Therefore, depending on where you live and how you use your dwelling, a mini-split system may not be the best choice for year-round heating.

      The best heating and cooling solutions typically involve a combination of both systems. Judging strictly on the section topic (Versatility), mini-splits win for being easy to install and precise when heating and cooling only where it’s needed.

      Air Quality and Maintenance (draw)

      This may appear to be an odd pairing for a section heading, but to make any of this knowledge useful, you have to start thinking about air quality and maintenance together. Scheduled preventative maintenance keeps your equipment running at its best, which means the quality of clean, climate-controlled air it delivers is at the highest standards of the unit.

      CPS Heating & Cooling offers a preventative maintenance agreement full of priority service, discounts on parts, and more. See why customers rave about our customer service.

      Ductless mini-split and central heating and cooling systems should both get scheduled maintenance from a factory-trained and insured HVAC service professional.

      The challenge with central systems is keeping any dust, dirt, debris, moisture, and resulting mold that may build up in ductwork from getting into the air you breathe. Both types of heating and cooling systems can deliver healthy air quality for reasonable maintenance costs with the right HVAC service provider.

      Always put your comfort first when making heating and cooling decisions.


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