Central HVAC Vs. Ductless HVAC

With so many different heating and cooling options available, it can be hard to know what to select for your home. If you’re building a new home or upgrading your existing HVAC system, you may end up choosing between central HVAC and ductless HVAC. To help you decide, we’ve created a breakdown of the main differences and similarities between these two options.


Ductless HVAC systems work very similarly to central AC, but rather than just cooling, they leverage this technology for both heating and cooling. Central heaters generate heat, which takes a lot of power. They actually use more power than they generate in heat. In contrast, heat pumps don’t generate heat. They move heat.

Moving heat takes much less energy than generating heat, and this is why heat pumps are so much more efficient than most central heating. They have a coil in their outer compressor and one in the indoor air handling unit. During the winter, the outside coil absorbs heat and sends it inside where it warms up the indoor coil. Air blows over that coil to heat up the room. In the summer, this process happens in reverse to move hot air out of your home.


Central HVAC systems have a furnace and AC in a central location, and then, they use ducts to move cold or hot air throughout your home. As the air moves through the ducts, some of its coolness or warmth inevitably seeps out of the ducts, which compromises the efficiency of the system.

Ductless HVAC systems, in contrast, don’t need ductwork. Rather, they deliver warm or cool air to your home through an indoor air handling unit. As a result, you don’t have to worry about losing air in the ducts, and you don’t have to breathe in air that has traveled through dirty ductwork.

However, if desired, you can connect a heat pump to ductwork. Often, people connect air handlers to short ducts which move the air from the unit to a nearby room. For example, you might put an air handler in the ceiling above two small rooms and have ducts running to each room. You can also get air source heat pumps that connect to your existing central HVAC ducts, which can be a great option if you have ductwork but want to upgrade the efficiency of your system.

Expansion Capabilities

Central HVAC is designed to heat and cool your whole home. Similarly, a whole home ductless HVAC system also takes care of the heating and cooling needs throughout your whole home. But what if you need to expand? What if you put on an addition, decide to add a room over the garage, or make other changes to your living space?

In that case, ductless HVAC is the easier option. If you have a multi-zone compressor, you simply need to add a new indoor air handling unit to your new space. Then, an installer can easily run lines between that unit and your compressor.

In contrast, it’s much more challenging to connect a new space to your central HVAC system. Running ductwork to the new space is messy and expensive. Additionally, your central HVAC equipment should be sized to your home. If you add additional space, the system will need to work harder to keep up, which can lead to repair issues and shortened equipment life span.

A ductless mini split can also help in this situation if you currently have central HVAC. If desired, you can always add a single-zone ductless mini-split to any room of your home. It’s great for additions and areas not connected to your central HVAC, but some people also use these units in rooms they use a lot so they don’t have to heat/cool their whole home when they’re just using part of it.


Central HVAC systems have a single thermostat that affects your entire home. Regardless of your personal preferences, every room gets cooled or heated to the same target temperature. If some rooms have extra heat or drafts, they will be hotter or cooler than the rest of your home, and the only way to compensate is by adding expensive space heaters or fans.

In contrast, ductless HVAC systems have zones. Each indoor air handling unit creates its own zone with its own thermostat settings. You can adjust the settings based on the preferences of people in the room. You can also adjust settings as needed based on the heat loads of the room. For example, a drafty bedroom may need more heat than a kitchen where the oven gets used regularly.

Cost Differences

The cost of central and ductless HVAC is relatively comparable. Multi-zone ductless systems typically cost between $6,500 and $8,000 for equipment and installation, and they tend to cost more if you have a large home. Gas furnaces range from $3,800 to $10,000 depending on the size of your home and the efficiency of the furnace.

Central AC costs between $3,800 and $7,500, without considering the cost of ductwork. If you need to replace both your central furnace and AC, you will most likely save money by switching to a ductless HVAC system.

Contact N.E.T.R., Inc to Talk About Ductless HVAC

At N.E.T.R., Inc., we have installed and serviced a lot of traditional central HVAC systems, but we also have extensive training and experience with ductless HVAC. Which option is best for your home? To learn more about the benefits of ductless and to get a comfort consultant to come to your home, contact us today.