Central Air Conditioning vs. Ductless Cooling Systems

Think twice before installing central air conditioning into your home. Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R., Inc., discusses why ductless cooling systems are the better choice for proper air cooling and energy efficiency.

John: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R. Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi Ductless Heating and Cooling Products. Today we are talking about central air conditioning versus ductless cooling systems. Welcome, Mike.

Mike: Good morning, John, how are you?

John: Great. Mike, central air conditioning and ductless cooling seem very similar, and when I want to put air conditioning in my house that doesn’t currently, maybe I have some window units or something like that, I think I need central air, that’s what I need, but tell me a little bit about the differences between central air conditioning and a ductless cooling system.

Mike: Great, great question, John. We get this in homes all the time, people want to put central air conditioning in their home and they say, “Well, why would I want to put a ductless cooling system in my home?” There’s a lot of things that go into play with this question. The first thing I think of when I think of central air conditioning is I have to think of what type of home does the homeowner live in. I’ve seen a lot of applications where central air conditioning has been installed, and I asked myself the question, “Why did someone even do this?” This was a perfect home for a ductless heating and cooling system. What I mean by ductless heating and cooling system, I’ll get into in a minute, but — the central air conditioning system, you got a two-storey home sometimes the contractor will go in there to install a central air conditioning air handler in the attic, and they’ve got to run ductwork down to the first floor from the attic, they’ve got to go through the second floor down to the first floor ceiling.

The only way you can really achieve that 90% of the time is that you’ve got to cut down through closets. I’m taking the closets, I’m now putting ductwork into the closets to get to the first floor, and the only place with that grill is going to go on the first floor is where that closets lines up with downstairs. You have to kind of hope that you’ve got enough closet space or you’re going to be building out soffits probably on the second floor to get air down to the first floor.

Now, the issue with that too is that could be a pretty good size unit, that could probably be a 60,000 BTU unit to cool .. let’s say a 2,500 square foot home .. and you’re losing the closet space, you are putting one unit in the attic to cool the first and second floor, and it can only work off with one thermostat.

Now, most of the time, thermostat gets put on the first floor of the home, the thermostat gets put on the first floor of the home at that point while heat rises, and the returns for the vents are probably going to be on the second floor because you’re not going to be able to get any return vents on the first floor. The heat is going to rise to the second floor hopefully it’s going to pull that heat off there, but the cold is going to drop, and the thermostat on the first floor is going to sense that, and you’re going to be having thermostat wars. You’re going to be turning that thermostat down on the first floor to cool the second floor because the heat’s all rising to the second floor.

Now you’re cooling the whole entire home, first off with a 60,000 BTU unit in the upstairs of the home, you might not even be up there during the day or you could be up there during the day, and you got to turn that thermostat down, you get a lot of uneven temperatures.

The first floor is cold, the second floor is warm, have to turn this thermostat up and down all the time or even with a different way of central air conditioning, is you can put one unit in the basement, and duct up through the floor. Well, cold air drops, and you’ve got your registers on the floor now trying to blow up, so the cold is going to sit on the floor at that point. Then you put another unit in the attic, now you’ve got … can I put ductwork in the basement and get it up to the floors, is the basement finished is not finished.

There’s a lot of construction that goes on when you do this in the home, a lot of cutting, a lot of piping, possible ductwork in closets, things like that. With the ductless cooling system, we are just basically coming in, and putting one little unit in that room, maybe putting two pipes into a closet, and then going up into an attic or going down maybe into a basement of some sort then running to the outside, and we’re zoning the home.

Each room at that point has its own thermostat, for example, if we put on a 60,000 BTU unit, we’re probably never going to be running at a 60,000 BTU cooling load because, for example, you don’t sleep in your bedroom in the daytime, that zone can get turned off.

Now you’re in your home office, say your home office is upstairs, you can turn that on. We turning on and off zones almost like turning lights on and off in your home. Do you leave lights on in your home in rooms when you’re not there? No, it doesn’t make sense because it’s a waste of energy. Well, the air conditioning system with a 60,000 BTU system draws the most current out of anything in your home during the summertime, and you’re wasting all this electricity in areas that you’re not even in.

John: Right, you’re cooling your bedroom upstairs during the day when you’re not even there, at night you’re — maybe you have to turn it — like you said you’re [on] the second floor, which gets hotter because the heat rises, you’re turning your air conditioning down even more at night, and you’re cooling your first floor off, incredibly, and you’re not even on the first floor.

Issues with Central Air Conditioning 

Mike: One of the biggest mistakes I see homeowners make, they put in a five-ton unit, and they run ductwork down through a closet and put a thermostat on the first floor, and the temperatures are all uneven. Then we are going in there and installing a ductless cooling system in the master bedroom because their master bedroom can’t maintain temperature properly, they have to go downstairs and turn the thermostat down to do that because the thermostat only registers the temperature in that one area.

Our ductless systems register the temperature in the room at the air handler … at the one unit that’s in the room, and it’s being controlled by that one temperature in that space. The other thing is with the ductless cooling system, with it, when you buy a multi-zone system with multiple indoor units and one outdoor unit, a heating system comes with it, it’s a standard unit that comes built right into it, now you have the ability to do a heating zone in that one zone too —

John: That’s a big advantage of —

Mike:  — Huge advantage.

John: — a ductless heating and cooling system over a central air conditioning system?

Mike: Yes.

Cost Savings with Ductless Cooling Systems 

John: Is that a central air conditioning system, you have it running during the summer, but then it’s — and it’s costing you money, maybe too much money to air condition your home, and then in the winter you are not getting any energy savings at all, because you are not even running it.

Mike: If you have got a central air conditioning system in your home, and you’ve got an oil burner in your home with radiators or baseboard or wet heat running around the perimeter of your home, a ductless heating and cooling system, you have to look at before you purchase a central air conditioning system. You just have to do that because, [for] example, if you have one boiler, one thermostat, you can turn that thermostat down to 50 degrees at night, you can heat the bedroom with a ductless cooling and heating system, turn that up to 70 degrees, set the whole rest of the house back at night, pick up the oil savings or the gas savings, whatever source you used to heat your home with, and it’s a win-win for everyone at that point.

You are saving energy, you’ve got a heating system, you’ve got a cooling system, it just makes so much sense. These are systems that people need to look at, and never mind from a construction standpoint, our systems go in one to two days, a system like that with central air conditioning cutting holes through closets, cutting holes in ceilings and — it’s just major construction, and you are losing closet space, you are losing attic space, you are putting ductwork in places, if space is limited, you want to look at that too. A lot of times after people go install the central air condition system, they are like, “Oh my God, I lost … I’ve got this big piece of ductwork now in my closet, and it’s going to downstairs.” These make sense you’ve got to look at this product before you go look at a central air conditioning system.

Look at both of them, compare both of them. From an energy standpoint, you are going to save money operating that system over a central air conditioning system, I promise you that.

Advantages of a Ductless Cooling System 

John: Now, you mentioned that with the ductless heating and cooling system, you still have some have some pipes and things like that, that you have to maybe run down through a closet, but what size pipe are we talking about as compared to a ducting for a central air system?

Mike: A central air conditioning system you could have a 8′ x 10′ or 8′ x 12′ inch duct in your closet, or maybe a 10′ or 12′ inch round piece of ductwork in that closet.

Our system, if you looked at the outside of your home and looked at the size of your gutter, that would be about what we would need, we’d probably need about 3 x 4 inches in the corner of the closet, and we’d just encase that in a nice white plastic gutter type material. It’s not really gutter, we call [it] line-hide, it hides the lines, it’s just a two-piece system where we tuck them into the front part of the line-hide and the cover snaps on the front of it. We typically go to the front corner of the closet or the back corner of the closet and just run it down in the corners.

John: You don’t even notice that.

Mike: You don’t even notice that. Once your clothes and shoes go into that closet, it’s in the back corner somewhere you don’t even see it. And that could run down under the basement or run up into the attic from there. It’s not taking up major space and losing closets space. A lot of times you get into some of these older homes, we all know older — you get a home in the early 1900s or 1920s up to the ’40s and ’50s, closet space was very limited at that time. They didn’t make homes with a big walk-in closets like we have today in new construction. Closet space comes at a minimum in some of those homes, even if there was even any in the bedroom at sometimes.

Why Homeowners Don’t Need Central Air Conditioning 

John: Right, right. Homeowners really need to stop thinking, I want to air condition my whole home, and so I need central air conditioning. That central part of that is actually not what you want, you don’t want to have one central control over your whole home, you want to have individual units that you can control separately.

Mike: I want to control the temperatures in the zones that I live in, and when I live in them. A lot of times we go into homes, and we’ve got what we call the empty nester lives in the home in it, it’s the husband and wife and the kids have moved out, they’ve got a four-bedroom colonial on they want to put a central air conditioning system in the home. And I ask them, I say, “Well, where [do] you live in the home?” I always find out they lived in three to four places in the home. They live in the living room, the kitchen, in the bedroom and possibly a home office of some sort. I say, “Well,” and they say, “Well, we use that bedroom once in a while or that’s our storage room,” and I say to myself, “Why do you want to waste energy and air condition the storage room of your home. You don’t even live in there.” We moved on with the ductless system, we put on three or four zone ductless system in there, they save money on the heating bills and they love it. They always come back, they always come back. They refer people, I hear from them all the time after we put it in, we love the system.

John: That’s the best choice.

Mike: That’s the best choice we ever made in our home. It’s something you really, really need. If you are considering a central air conditioning system for your home, do yourself a favor and at least give the Mitsubishi Ductless Heating and Cooling Systems a chance to at least let us come out there and explain it to you.

John: Right. All right, that’s great advice, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me.

Mike: Thanks, John.

John: Have a good day. For more information, visit the N.E.T.R. website at www.netrinc.com or call 781-933-NETR, that’s 781-933-6387.

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