What is my best option to cool my house? Central air or ductless?

Summer can be unbearable without proper cooling in your home: sleepless nights, low energy days. No one wants to live with the temperatures soaring past 100 degrees. Once upon a time, there were few other options. You could get a window unit, or upgrade to an expensive central air-conditioning unit. Window units, while not ideal, are still the cheapest option; however, they often leave much to be desired both in comfort and efficiency. While most have opted for central air by this point, there are still those homes that don’t have that capacity already installed. But, now, you have more options than ever before.

Which is less expensive, central air or ductless?

The answer to this question is highly dependent on what you already are using for your heating and cooling needs. In general, ductless air-conditioning does cost more than central air-conditioning.

What about ducting? Do I need it? Do I have it? Is it adequate for central air-conditioning?

If you have central air-conditioning with ducts already in place, replacing your central air-conditioning unit is likely cheapest.

If you aren’t already using central air, this question becomes a bit more complicated. Installing the new ducting that is required for central air-conditioning, if not already in place, is an expensive proposition. Installing new ducting can cost up to $5,000 or more.

If you already have forced air heat, you may be able to use the ducting that is in place. Then, the concern becomes is the ducting suitable and sealed adequately for your new central air-conditioning unit? You will need to have the ducting seal tested. If the seal’s leak, you may need to seal them. This option is cheaper than new ducting but still costs between $1,000 and $3,000. Even if the seal leaks but is still adequate for installing the new central air unit, you may want to consider sealing as it will improve efficiency, thus lowering your utility bills. Alternatively, the seal testing may show that the ducting is entirely inadequate, in which case, you are back to installing new ducting.

While ductless does not require installing ducting, if you already have ducts in place, or need seals for existing ducting, it may be less expensive to install central air-conditioning than ductless air-conditioning. On the bright side, if you don’t have forced air heating, heat pump systems can heat as well as provide refreshing cold air.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ductless vs. central air-conditioning?

1.     Energy efficiency

A look at both reveals that energy efficiency depends on your circumstances. Central air-conditioning, hands down, wins over every time over both window and even ductless if you aren’t religious about shutting doors and isolating part of your house. That being said, there are instances that ductless, or even window air-conditioners, are more energy efficient. If you only need to cool one room, a window air-conditioner may be the most energy-efficient. If you want to cool different zones in your home at different times and are religious about shutting doors and closing off space, ductless air-conditioning may be more efficient than central air-conditioning. However, due to the lack of forced air, there will be more hot and cold spots with ductless.

2.     Zone cooling throughout the home

If you need one area of the house to be vastly different than another, ductless may be a better option. Today’s high energy furnaces and air-conditioners do come with one trade-off. The air is so forceful that shutting off a duct in one room can increase the pressure in the ducts so much that it can damage the unit itself. However, unless you are fighting with a family member over the thermostat, this is likely a negligible benefit.

3.     Home value

While any air-conditioner does increase your home’s value and buyer interest in buying your home, central air-conditioning wins out on this count, hands down. However, having a ductless system still increases value over window air-conditioners and the like.

4.     Longevity

Does central air last longer? Or does ductless? Well-maintained both can last 20 years or more. However, there is an incentive to replace your unit sooner, as advances in energy efficiency can make buying a new unit after ten or fifteen years more cost-effective. It is important to note, however, that maintenance costs are more with ductless, and, without proper maintenance, your ductless system will fail sooner than central air.

5.     Maintenance

As mentioned above, maintenance costs are higher with ductless cooling systems. They are also more essential. A ductless system will fail much quicker than a central air system.


If practical, a central air-conditioning system is still your best bet. There are times this is not a feasible option. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t cool your home with a great air-conditioner. Call J & C A/C today to learn more about your options. We have the knowledge and experience you need to make an informed decision.