Mini-Split vs. Central Air, Which is Better for my Pittsburgh Home?

Our answer? It depends on how you answer the following questions:

1) How many rooms do you want cooled?

2) How much do you want to pay upfront?

3) How much do you want to pay long-term?

Below, we’ll discuss each of these factors to help you determine which cooling system is best for your Pittsburgh home.

But first, let’s start by looking at how both mini-split and central ACs work.

Want to speak with a professional instead? Each one of our technicians goes through 5 years of HVAC training and would be more than happy to speak with you about which cooling system is best for your home.

Mini-split vs. central AC: How they work

Central ACs actually cool your home by drawing heat out of it. Air from your home is drawn into the indoor unit where the heat is stripped away and carried by refrigerant out of your home and dumped outside. That air, which has been stripped of heat, is then blown back into your home via air ducts.

Ductless ACs work the exact same way, except they don’t have ducts. Instead of blowing cool air into your home via air ducts, a mini-split or ductless AC blows cool air directly out of the indoor unit and into the room or space it’s cooling.

Now that we’ve discussed how these two systems work, let’s look at a few key differences that will help you determine which cooling system is the best option for your home.

Question #1: How many rooms do you want cooled?

One major difference between a mini-split and a central AC system is a mini-split is designed to cool one room or space per indoor unit, whereas a central AC system is designed to cool your entire home.

If you want your entire home cooled (and you already have ductwork), we would suggest a central AC system.

If you only need one (or a few) rooms cooled, a mini-split is a good option.*

*A ductless system can also cool an entire home. One outdoor unit can serve 8 indoor units, meaning you can cool up to 8 rooms.

Question #2: How much do you want to pay upfront?

There are two main upfront costs associated with any cooling system: the cost of installation and zoning costs.

Installation cost:

Ductless units are generally about 30% more expensive to install than central AC units, according to

However, if you don’t have existing ductwork, adding ductwork can increase the installation cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000+, which can make a central AC system significantly more expensive to install.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

  • Ductless AC system: $3,200 to $8,000
  • Central AC system + ductwork: $5,900 to $10,000

Zoning cost:

Because mini-split systems have a separate indoor unit in every room they cool, they provide zoning naturally. You can set different temperatures in each room since each room is cooled by its own indoor unit.

If you want to add zoning to your home with a central AC system, you will need to install separate thermostats to control each zone, increasing your installation costs by $1,000+.

Question #3: How much do you want to pay long-term?

Ductless AC units are more efficient than central AC systems, which usually makes them cheaper to operate month-to-month. Why?

Central AC systems lose 20–30% of conditioned air to leaks, holes and improperly connected ducts.

Mini-split systems don’t use ductwork, which means they won’t lose any conditioned air to leaks, holes or improperly connected ducts.

That said, you may not see significant savings from your ductless system if your room is not well-insulated or it has significant heat gain.

A professional can perform a heat load calculation to help you determine if a ductless system can save you money over a central AC in the long-run.

Ready to install a new cooling system in your Pittsburgh home? Contact the experts!

A professional will take the time to assess all of the above and determine which cooling system is best for your home. If you want to learn more about ductless AC systems or central AC systems before deciding which is best for your home, feel free to contact us at any time.

If you’re ready to invest in a new cooling system…