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Ducted vs. Ductless Air Conditioning Systems: How to Choose


When it comes to cooling your home, selecting the right air conditioning system is crucial. Two primary options often stand out: ducted and ductless air conditioning systems. Each system has its distinct advantages and drawbacks, making the choice a matter of personal preferences, home layout, and specific needs.

What is a Ducted Air Conditioner?

Ducted air conditioning systems are a popular and efficient way to provide heating and cooling to entire homes or larger spaces. Also known as central air conditioning systems or forced air systems, they use a network of ducts to distribute air circulation throughout the building. 

The central air conditioning system’s ducts are usually made of sheet metal or flexible tubing and are installed within walls, floors, and ceilings. Thanks to the air handler, the cooled air travels through the ducts, which branch out to individual rooms or zones. This system is designed to provide consistent and even cooling throughout the entire living or working space.

Ducted systems exhibit high efficiency by requiring less energy to heat and cool homes with multiple rooms. The indoor air handler efficiently delivers conditioned air to different rooms, ensuring even distribution throughout large spaces and using less energy compared to traditional HVAC systems.

Ducted air conditioning systems also provide better air circulation. Since these central systems cool the air in each room individually, there is less air movement throughout the space, sometimes leading to stagnant air and air pressure issues.

How Ducted Air Conditioners Work

At the heart of a ducted air conditioning system is a central unit, typically installed outdoors or in a dedicated utility area. This unit contains the compressor and condenser components, responsible for cooling the refrigerant. The cooled refrigerant then travels through insulated ducts to various rooms or zones within the building.

The conditioned air is dispersed through vents or air ducts strategically placed throughout the house. These vents allow for the regulated release of cool air into the rooms while returning warmer air to the central unit for re-cooling. The process continues in a cycle until the desired temperature is achieved.

Ducted systems are quieter than other air conditioners and require less upkeep than other cooling and heating systems. Many ducted air conditioning systems have extra features such as temperature zoning, humidity and air quality regulation, and energy-saving modes. These features allow users to customize their climate control experience to suit their needs.

Advantages of a Ducted System

  1. Centralized Cooling: Ducted air conditioning systems offer centralized cooling, distributing air through a network of ducts installed in the ceilings or walls. This results in consistent temperatures throughout the house.
  1. Aesthetics: Ducted air conditioning systems are virtually invisible as the ductwork is concealed within the structure, providing a clean and seamless look to the interior space.
  1. Quiet Operation: The main cooling systems are typically located outside the house, reducing noise inside compared to some ductless systems where indoor units can generate a certain level of noise.

Disadvantages of a Ducted System

  1. Complex Installation: Installation of ductwork can be invasive, especially in existing homes, requiring extensive work and potentially causing disruption to walls and ceilings.
  1. Costly Installation: The initial installation cost of a ducted air conditioning system tends to be higher due to the complexity of the process involving ductwork, which might necessitate professional installation.
  1. Limited Zoning Control: With ducted air conditioning systems, it’s challenging to have different temperature settings for various zones within the house unless equipped with zoning systems, adding to the cost.

What is a Ductless Air Conditioner?

Ductless air conditioning systems, also known as ductless mini-split systems, offer a versatile and efficient way to provide heating and cooling in individual rooms or specific zones within a home or building. 

Unlike traditional central air systems that rely on ductwork, ductless mini-split AC units operate without the need for extensive duct installation, providing a more flexible and adaptable cooling solution.

Placing a ductless heating and cooling system in each room or area permits temperature customization. For instance, you can turn off the heating in unused areas and solely operate the heat pump in the bedroom when heading to bed. It accommodates individual temperature preferences among family members and helps balance heat by keeping upper home levels cooler compared to ducted systems.

The rising popularity of ductless ACs stems from their adaptability, energy efficiency, improvement in air quality, and hassle-free installation. Comprising an outdoor unit linked to one or multiple indoor units via a refrigerant line, these systems negate the necessity for ductwork.

Ductless AC systems are recognized for their remarkable energy efficiency, leading to substantial savings on energy expenses. In contrast, traditional duct systems can lose around 30% of their cooling and heating energy due to leaks and conduction. A ductless unit excels in delivering nearly all its energy directly to the cooled space, enhancing its effectiveness.

How Ductless Air Conditioners Work

Ductless mini split air conditioners consist of two primary components: an outdoor compressor unit and one or more indoor air-handling units. These indoor units are typically mounted on walls or ceilings within the rooms or zones requiring cooling. 

The two units are connected by a conduit that houses the refrigerant tubing, power cable, and drainage pipe. A ductless heat pump is also a great option if you’re building an addition and need to add extra space to your home’s thermal pocket.

As ductless air conditioning systems feature separate air handlers in each room, they allow independent control for varied cooling requirements. This capability enables adjusting the temperature in specific areas, like lowering it in the living room during gatherings while increasing it in the bedroom where a baby sleeps.

Advantages of a Ductless System

  1. Easy Installation: Ductless ACs are comparatively easier to install since they do not require ductwork. They are ideal for homes where installing ducts might be impractical or costly.
  1. Zoning Flexibility: Ductless units allow for individual control of temperature in different rooms or zones, providing personalized comfort and potentially saving energy by cooling only occupied areas.
  1. Cost-Efficiency: For smaller spaces or specific zones, ductless units can be more cost effective to install and operate, especially considering their zoning capabilities.

Disadvantages of a Ductless System

  1. Visible Indoor Parts: The indoor unit of a ductless air conditioner is visible on walls or ceilings, which may not suit everyone’s aesthetic preferences.
  1. Maintenance Costs: While ductless systems generally require less maintenance, individual units may need periodic cleaning and upkeep, which could be more cumbersome with multiple units compared to a centralized system.

What is the Difference Between Ducted Split vs. Ductless Mini Split System?

Ducted vs. Ductless Mini Split: What’s the difference? 

Mini-split systems, or mini splits, are some of the most popular options for heating and cooling systems due to their efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and minimal noise production. While both types offer a variety of benefits, there are significant differences between them that require careful consideration.

There is no rule in choosing a ducted vs ductless heat pump. Air conditioning is a complicated process that needs you to think a lot about. Your final choice between ducted vs ductless mini split entirely depends on your specific needs.

Ducted Split Air Systems

Ducted split systems comprise an outdoor unit containing the compressor and condenser, connected to an indoor unit via ductwork. These ducts distribute cooled air throughout the entire home or building, providing uniform cooling across various rooms or zones.

Ducted split systems excel in maintaining uniform temperatures across the entire space, ensuring a thoroughly cooled home. Their hidden ductwork within walls or ceilings contributes to an uncluttered and polished interior appearance by eliminating visible indoor parts. Furthermore, the placement of the primary cooling unit outside mitigates indoor noise, fostering a quieter indoor environment.

However, there are crucial considerations associated with ducted split systems. The installation process involving ductwork can be intrusive, particularly in existing homes, leading to potential disruptions during setup. Additionally, the initial investment for installation might be higher due to the complexities involved in installing ductwork, impacting overall costs.

Opting for traditional ducted heat pumps might be preferable under specific circumstances. If your home already possesses ductwork in good condition, utilizing ducted systems could be advantageous. 

Additionally, if you prefer to conceal your HVAC equipment or dislike the appearance of ductless air handlers, ducted systems offer a solution. Moreover, when building a new home and having the opportunity to install ductwork from the outset, choosing traditional ducted heat pumps becomes a viable option.

Ductless Mini Split Systems

A ductless mini-split system consists of an outdoor compressor unit connected to one or more indoor air-handling units installed in specific rooms or zones. These indoor units operate independently, allowing customized temperature control in different areas. Ductless heat pumps consist of indoor air handlers and outdoor units, typically allowing one outdoor unit to function with up to 5 air handlers.

Ductless systems offer installation flexibility by eliminating the need for ductwork, making them suitable for both new constructions and retrofitting older homes. 

When a home lacks existing ducts in good condition, opting for a ductless system tends to be the more cost-efficient choice. For instance, in larger homes with pre-existing ductwork needing 5 or more air handlers, installing a traditional ducted heat pump might be more economical. 

The individual units within these systems provide zoning capabilities, allowing for personalized temperature adjustments in specific rooms or zones, potentially conserving energy by targeting cooling only where needed. 

Mini-split heat pumps serve as perfect solutions for residences lacking pre-existing ductwork. Requiring minimal installation, they prove ideal for new constructions and retrofitting inclusions or replacements for an older heating system like hydronic heaters, radiant panels, and space heaters. Additionally, ductless ACs are a superb option for room additions where extending existing ductwork isn’t feasible.

Additionally, the sleek and discreet design of indoor units complements interior aesthetics seamlessly while avoiding the necessity for visible ductwork.

Despite their compactness, the indoor units of ductless systems are visible and may not align with everyone’s aesthetic preferences. Furthermore, maintaining multiple indoor units involves regular cleaning or replacement of filters, which can be more labor-intensive compared to a centralized ducted system, adding to the maintenance workload.

Opting for ductless mini-split systems could be more advantageous under specific circumstances. If you reside in a home lacking ductwork or own a historic property where extensive renovations for a new ducted system are undesirable, ductless units offer a convenient alternative. 

Additionally, if anyone in the household frequently experiences allergies, or if the house relies on electric heating like cadets or ceiling heat, ductless mini-splits can be beneficial. Moreover, when adding an extension to your home, choosing a ductless system might prove to be a practical solution.

Which is Better: Ducted vs. Ductless Air Conditioning

Put simply, ducted HVAC systems use ducts to circulate conditioned air throughout a home or building, whereas ductless AC systems deliver air directly to a specific area without ductwork. 

A ducted HVAC system suits spacious homes, while ductless AC systems are best for places where duct installation isn’t practical. Both are efficient in their own right and choosing between them relies on the unique requirements of the space being conditioned.

The choice between ducted and ductless systems ultimately depends on several factors:

  • For existing homes where duct installation poses challenges or high expenses, ductless units emerge as a more practical choice. 
  • Financial considerations are pivotal, as a ductless air conditioning system often proves more energy-efficient with better airflow for smaller spaces or specific zones, while traditional ducted systems offer comprehensive home cooling albeit with potentially higher initial costs. 
  • Aesthetic preferences also factor in; it’s crucial to assess whether the visible indoor parts of a ductless air conditioning system complement your interior design preferences or if a concealed ducted system aligns better with your desire for a seamless appearance. 
  • If customized comfort and individualized temperature settings across various areas of the house are a priority, the zoning capabilities of ductless air conditioning systems might be more attractive.

The choice between ducted and ductless systems will entirely depend on you and your living space.


There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to whether a ducted or ductless system is superior. Both have their unique advantages and drawbacks. Assessing your home’s specific requirements, budget constraints, and personal preferences will guide you toward making the most suitable choice for your air conditioning needs.

Consulting with HVAC professionals can further assist in determining the ideal system for your home’s cooling requirements.

JP Reyes

JP has been in the aircon industry for almost as long as he has been alive. As a child JP would help his tatay fix aircon units at their junk shop in Cavite. After graduating UP in the early 2000's, JP then started his own Aircon servicing business and within 5 years had 10 shops in 8 different cities. Fast forward to today and JP brings all his experience and expertise online to give readers trustworthy advice and reviews about Air-conditioning buying, servicing, cleaning and repair in the Philippines.

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