The Skinny on Ductless Air Conditioning

Here on the Eastern Seaboard, it’s about that time of year when we all have one priority: getting cool. Last week, we talked about zoned air conditioning as one solution for more efficiently cooling homes. This week, we’d like to review another excellent option: ductless air conditioners.

What Makes Ductless Systems Different?

Ductless air conditioning systems, as the name suggests, work by taking one of the biggest energy loss offenders in your home out of the equation: ductwork. Central forced air systems rely on ducts to deliver cool air to the rooms of your home, but this approach to cooling a home is by no means the most efficient one. In fact, the US Department of Energy notes that, “duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.” But that’s not the only way that central forced air systems short-change efficiency. Karen Beuerlein, writing for HGTV.com, explains that “ductless models also have inverter-driven compressors, which speed up and slow down based on the needs of the system instead of shutting off entirely like traditional HVAC compressors do. You consume a lot of energy during compressor start-up.”

Contrary to central forced air systems, then, ductless cooling systems are highly efficient. And because they come as wall-mounted individual units (though several can function as one system), these little powerhouses cool rooms down at a rate much faster than a traditional system.

You may be asking yourself: But what about window units? They work pretty quickly too, right? They do. But ductless systems still have some advantages. Whereas window units require a large opening (aka, your window) to operate, ductless systems only require a small hole drilled into the wall. This means, as Beuerlein points out, that they are far “ less vulnerable to air leakage and security problems. Plus, they’re less visible and audible.”

What Kinds of Homes Are Best Suited to Ductless Cooling Systems?

Ductless cooling systems are not right for everyone. Their cost is much higher than a traditional system, so if you’re considering completely overhauling your AC system and already have ductwork in place, you may find that a ductless doesn’t make sense for your home. But there are various scenarios in which a ductless cooling system would be a perfect solution.

If you live in an older home which does not already have ductwork, ductless systems can be a great solution for two reasons. Firstly, the cost of installing ductwork for a central forced air system would be much higher. Secondly, old homes often feature small rooms and unique architecture. Ductless units are small and flexible; they can be wall- or ceiling-mounted, and the conduit that connects them to the outdoor unit can be lengthened up to 50 feet. This way, you can locate the indoor and outdoor units in convenient spaces.

Ductless systems are also a great solution if you’re renovating your home to include a new livable space. Beuerlein offers these helpful examples: “garage apartments, bonus rooms, sunrooms. ‘And man caves’ Bowman adds. ‘If you smoke cigars in there, you won’t be sharing ductwork with the rest of the house.’ The main benefit of ductless here is that it will be properly sized for the new space and won’t steal air from other rooms or overload your old HVAC system.”

Lastly, ductless systems can do the trick for multi-family homes, like duplexes, or homes in which many adults are living. When you have a space inhabited by people with many different temperature preferences, ductless systems can efficiently meet the demands of each discreet space.

Will this solution be your ticket to a cool respite from the summer sun? If you need any guidance, we’re here to help!