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Central AC vs. Ductless AC: Which Is Better for My Phoenix Home?

June 03, 2021

So, you’ve decided you’re ready for a new cooling system for your Phoenix home. Now, you need to figure out whether you want a central AC or ductless AC. So, which is best for your home (and your wallet)?

To help you choose between the two systems, we’ll go over answers to the following questions:

  1. How do they work?
  2. How many rooms do I want cooled?
  3. What’s my budget?
  4. What are my visual and comfort preferences?

Want to talk with an expert to help you decide between central AC installation and ductless AC installation? Contact Patrick Riley to get started!

Question #1: How do they work?

If you don’t know the difference between central AC and ductless AC, you’re not alone.

Central ACs remove heat from your home and use ductwork to circulate cool air throughout the house. With central air conditioning, your entire home gets cooled.

Ductless, or mini-split, ACs remove heat from your home and blow cool air through an indoor AC unit. With ductless air conditioning, the room with the unit gets cooled. Generally, you can have up to eight indoor units (i.e., cool up to eight rooms/spaces) per one outdoor unit.

The different ways in which these two systems cool your home impact everything from cost to energy efficiency.

Question #2: How many rooms do I want cooled?

The next question revolves around how many rooms you want cooled. Again, this is because a central AC cools your entire home. Meanwhile, each ductless AC unit only cools the space it occupies.

Although a ductless system can cool your entire home, you would need to install an indoor unit in each room or area in your home (which can increase your costs). On the other hand, if you only need one or a few rooms cooled (e.g., a garage), you may want to opt for a ductless AC system.

Question #3: What’s my budget?

When determining which system is the most friendly for your budget, you’ll want to look at both your potential installation and long-term costs.

Installation costs

The cost to install central ACs and ductless ACs in Phoenix range from $6,000 - $20,000. Your cost depends on several factors, such as system size and energy efficiency.

Whether ductless ACs or central ACs are less expensive to install depends on one main factor: your current air conditioning system.

So, which describes your situation?

  • You already have ductwork: Installing central AC is likely less expensive
  • You do not have ductwork: Installing a ductless AC system is likely less expensive

Long-term costs

Installation costs aren’t the only expenses you sign up for when you invest in a new cooling system. It would be best also to consider long-term costs, such as your monthly utility bills, maintenance fees, and life expectancy.

Generally, you’ll see a lower monthly utility bill with a ductless AC unit. Ductless AC units don’t move air via ductwork, so they are typically more efficient than central ACs. Why?

Because ductwork is prone to holes, poor insulation, and sealing issues, you could lose between 20% - 30% of the conditioned air that moves through your central AC system. Having leaky ductwork means you’re paying for wasted air that isn’t cooling your home.

If you’re afraid of decreasing your system’s energy efficiency (and driving up your monthly utility bills), you might decide to go with a ductless system. With a mini-split system, you don’t have to worry about air escaping through ducts since there aren’t any.

High monthly bills aren’t the only long-term costs you have to worry about with central AC. Over time, leaky ducts could lead to frequent maintenance and repairs. Your central AC system will then run nonstop to compensate for the lost air, resulting in repairs—and eventually a shortened lifespan. In general, ductless ACs tend to have a longer life expectancy than central air conditioners (up to 20 years vs. up to 15 years).

Question #4: What are my preferences?

If money isn’t an issue, you might also want to think about which system you would prefer, considering two main things:

  1. Visual appeal
  2. Comfort levels

Visual appeal

Like ductless ACs, central ACs have an indoor unit—although just one. However, the unit is usually tucked away (e.g., in the closet). On the other hand, the indoor unit of a mini-split system mounts on your home's walls.

The bottom line is: Do you want to see the cooling unit or not?

Comfort levels

Do you want to be able to control the temperature for each room in your home? Maybe you prefer the house a little warmer, while a family member likes it colder. Rather than fight over the thermostat, you can all get your way with a ductless AC system.

Because ductless ACs have an indoor unit per room, you can set different temperatures in each room of your house. Although you can add zoning to a central AC system, it’s going to cost you. But with a ductless AC, you get automatic zoning already built into the price of your installation.

The bottom line is: Does your household have different temperature preferences?

Ductless AC? Central AC? Patrick Riley installs it all.

Whether you go with central AC installation or ductless AC installation, you can trust Patrick Riley to get the job done right—and help you weigh your options if you’re still unsure.

Our team of experts understands that your home’s cooling system is an investment. That’s why we work with you to help you choose the system that fits your budget and needs.

Schedule service today to get started with free price estimates for your Phoenix-area home!

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By Ty Lindsay

Ty Lindsay is the Director of Field Operations at Patrick Riley | Isley’s and a 15-year veteran of the plumbing and HVAC trades. In 2010, Ty earned his Journeyman’s plumbing license. He became a Master Plumber five years later and earned his Journeyman HVAC technician’s license that same year. Ty’s breadth of knowledge in plumbing and HVAC includes both residential and commercial work. He’s been a loyal member of the Patrick Riley | Isley’s team since 2016.