Building a home or business from the ground up comes with plenty of big decisions.
You start by choosing a location and then selecting an existing home plan, or perhaps designing one yourself. You’ll need to select a contractor and make sure that your home plan aligns with any local laws, not to mention applying for the necessary permits.
Somewhere in this process, you’ll also start making big decisions about the interior of your home, and the many parts that will allow it to function and keep you safe and comfortable. One big component of this is your air conditioning.
While traditional ducted HVAC systems have long been a popular choice, an eco-friendly, cost-saving alternative is on the rise in North America; ductless AC.
If you’re preparing to start making big decisions about your new build, keep reading to learn how ductless AC works, the benefit it has to offer, and how to make the right choice for you.
Table of contents
What is a Ductless Air Conditioner?
Before you can understand what ductless air conditioning is and the benefits that it has to offer, you first need to learn how traditional AC works.
How Does Traditional AC Work?
Until recently, the vast majority of air conditioning systems in North American homes were traditional, duct-based systems. This means that air conditioning is delivered via a series of ducts pipes and trunks that are tucked behind walls and inside of floors throughout a home or business.
Particularly in larger buildings, air conditioning systems work by having one main duct trunk runs through the building. This mainline is connected to a series of smaller duct pipes that deliver cool air into individual rooms and spaces.
In most cases, these ducts are made from galvanized steel, though aluminum may be used in areas where more flexibility is required.
Transitions connect the various ducts and trunks throughout your home. Where a duct or pipe reaches an exit, a register allows it to flow into the room or space.
Also on the line is a large box, also called a plenum, which stores air that is pumped through the HVAC system before it is sent through the ducts in the home or business.
Finally, a flue carries air outside the home. Some HVAC systems produce noxious fumes through the process of heating and cooling the air. These flues allow those fumes to be routed outside of the home or business rather than into it.
How Does Ductless Air Conditioning Differ?
As the name suggests, the biggest difference between traditional air conditioning and ductless is the absence of ducts and pipes.
Sometimes called mini-splits, ductless AC units cool individual rooms using a single compressor. A connected indoor unit cools the air using evaporator coils that are cooled using refrigerant.
As the warm air from inside the room blows over those coils, it is cooled. Then, the refrigerant transfers the collected heat to the outside unit.
Those many indoor units are connected to a single compressor placed outside of the home.
Instead of relying on a series of large ducts and pipes, ductless AC cools rooms using mini-splits and small units placed in every room. Depending on each individual room, different indoor units may be used. For instance, a recessed ceiling unit, or a floor-mounted unit can be used to allow it to better blend with the room.
The Benefits of Ductless Air Conditioners
Ductless air conditioning isn’t a new invention. In fact, it’s been the popular choice in Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as much of Europe, for more than 50 years now.
However, it’s only recently begun growing in popularity here in North America.
This is thanks in part to rising energy costs in the nation and throughout the world, and a growing concern over the environment and the effect our household appliances and daily habits have on it.
Energy efficiency and eco-friendliness are two clear benefits of ductless AC units, but they are far from the only ones.
Video: Ductless AC Systems: Top Benefits and Features
When you’re building a home or business, the big benefits like energy efficiency or making an eco-friendly choice might be at the front of your mind. But after a ductless AC system is installed and you’ve moved into your space, you’ll no doubt find that this benefit is one of the ones you’ll enjoy the most.
Because individual units cool each room, you get full control of the temperature in each and every room in your home or business.
Consider this: at night, when you retreat to your bedroom, you can close your door and lower the temperature in the room to your desired setting. But before you climb into bed, you can go to other rooms in your home and raise the temperature.
After all, you won’t be relaxing in your living room or working in your home office in the middle of the night. So why should you pay to cool it to a low temp?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, setting your thermostat back between 7 and 10 degrees for just 8 hours a day could help you cut your heating and cooling costs by as much as 10 percent a year.
But if you’re someone who needs a nice, cool room to fall asleep in, you’ll love the ability to keep your bedroom cool while still saving on energy costs throughout the rest of your home at night.
In the same way, you could raise the temperature of your bedroom during the day when you aren’t using it.
Another benefit of integrated zoning is that it gives different members of your family or office the ability to control their own temperature. Those who prefer a warm room can keep their temps higher without upsetting those who like it cooler.
Ability to Heat and Cool a Room
Not all traditional heating and air conditioning systems can be combined. But that isn’t true with a ductless AC system.
Mini-splits can operate heat pumps in addition to air conditioning. This means that you can heat and cool your rooms using the same system you already have installed.
This also means that you can reap the benefits of integrated zoning during the winter as well as the summer.
During the night, when you’re warm and cozy in your bed, you can lower the temperature in other rooms in your home to reduce your heating costs without leaving you and your family or employees shivering.
Minimal Footprint in a Room
A ducted air conditioning system leaves a big footprint in a room. And window-mounted air conditioners block your view.
But a ductless AC unit leaves a minimal footprint in each of your rooms.
Even though you’ll need a unit in every room that you’d like to heat and cool, these units are not overly large. They usually come in white or cream, so you can choose the colour that best fits your room’s decor.
You can also choose from a variety of installation styles like ceiling or floor mounted, to best blend the unit into your space and ensure that it isn’t in the way of your use of the room.
Compared to sometimes noisy HVAC systems that utilize ductwork, a ductless AC system is the quieter alternative.
Even though you’ll have an individual unit in each room of your home, it’s the outdoor compressor that does most of the work. The result is less noise within your home.
Ease of Installation During a Remodel
Installing a ductless air conditioner in a new build means less duct work to be layed, but may not be a big time-saver in the long run.
However, if you’re remodeling an old home or other building, a ductless AC system can save tons of time, money, and work to install.
Installing a ducted system would require ripping open walls and perhaps even expanding floors, raising or lowering ceilings, and otherwise changing the home’s bones.
However, if you want to install air conditioning in a space that previously didn’t have it, a ductless AC system is a clear choice. With less of a footprint, installation is faster and easier, which can lower construction and renovation costs.
While ductless air conditioning systems do tend to be more expensive than traditional air conditioners, this cost savings, as well as the reduced energy costs over time, can more than help you to make up the difference.
Increased Energy Efficiency
One major problem with traditional ducted air conditioning units, and especially with older systems, is air leaking from the ducts.
As ducts age, or when they aren’t properly installed and connected, air is lost through small cracks and spaces. The end result? You’re paying to cool the space between your walls and floors.
This cooling, in most cases, isn’t lowering the temperature inside of your home. Instead, it’s likely leaking outdoors.
Even newer ducted systems naturally leak air. The ducts, located inside of exterior walls, also lose energy as they are warmed in these hot spaces.
In fact, as much as 20 to 30 percent of energy is lost in ductwork.
The same can’t be said for a ductless system. Less energy lost means lower costs for the homeowner, without sacrificing their comfort.
Homeowners can save as much as 25 percent on their utility bills by choosing a ductless air conditioning system over a ducted one.
The increased energy efficiency of ductless systems isn’t just beneficial to individual homeowners looking to save money on their monthly utilities.
The world, as a whole, also benefits.
Air conditioners use 6 percent of the electricity that is produced in the United States today.
This accounts for an annual cost of around $29 billion to American homeowners. But it also accounts for 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released during the energy production required to keep our homes and businesses cool.
While Canada may use less energy than the U.S. for air conditioner use, it’s still a serious concern and one that each individual homeowner can do their part to combat.
The less energy we use for air conditioning, the less energy that needs to be produced, and the less carbon dioxide that is released back into the atmosphere. That’s a big win for the planet!
Is a Ductless AC Right for You?
After reading these benefits, determining whether or not ductless AC is the right choice for you might seem like a no-brainer.
You can’t argue with lower cooling costs, increased energy efficiency and eco-friendliness, and integrated zoning. But before you make the choice, you should know a few drawbacks ductless AC does have.
To start, it does cost more to install than a ducted system or window unit. However, the reduced energy costs over time can help make up the difference.
While integrated cooling allows you to take back control of the temperature in each room of your home, it also means dealing with a unit in every room. If you don’t like the look of these units, it could be a problem.
Ductless systems also need to be cleaned on a monthly basis. Luckily, cleaning filters to get rid of any collected dirt and debris is easy to do.
Choosing the Best Ductless AC for Your Future Home
Once you’ve decided that ductless AC is the right choice for your home, it’s time to choose the right ductless manufacturer for the job.
There are a variety of brands to choose from. While they utilize the same basic design, each offers its own benefits and costs. It’s important to consider each option available in your area before making your choice.
For instance, York ductless air conditioners combined indoor and outdoor units that make it easy to purchase a system for your home. However, the brand largely keeps things traditional, without the bells and whistles that other modern brands now offer.
By comparison, KeepRite is known for its affordable ductless systems and its ENERGY STAR® certification. However, they only offer wall-mounted indoor units. This may not be ideal for homeowners who would prefer floor-mounted or ceiling units.
The most widely sold and generally highest regarded brand of ductless systems, however, is probably Mitsubishi.
Let Us Help You Start Your Research
Ductless AC offers a number of clear benefits to other air conditioning systems.
Canadian homeowners can enjoy lower energy bills, more control over the temperature in their rooms, and a reduced carbon footprint.
If you’re ready to search for the right ductless AC system for your home, check out our buying guide today!