Most Australians are aware of the different types of heating and cooling systems they can install in their homes, but not everyone knows the specific features of each that make one better than the other in a particular property. For instance, will you benefit from having split-system air conditioning if your home boasts a large open-space living room? Or do you really need to splash on ducted air conditioning if you intend to heat continuously just your baby’s room while enjoying your fireplace in the lounge room on a chilly evening?

Well, this post will try to give you a clearer picture of the differences between these two heating options, their pros and cons, as well, so you can make an informed decision when the time to choose the right air-con system comes.

So if you:

  • wonder about what type of air conditioning system will suit your home best;
  • wish to learn about the pros and cons of ducted air conditioning and split-system air conditioning;
  • want to know which one is more energy efficient;
  • are interested to know more about the potential cost of your investment;

Then, you’ve come to the right place.

Table of Contents

How does ducted air conditioning work?

Let’s make one thing clear here that a contemporary ducted air conditioning system may be often referred to as central heating, but as the name suggests, it actually conditions the indoor air to whatever temperature you want, due to its reverse-cycle mechanism of working. This means that you can both heat your home and keep it nice and cool during the hot summer months. And this is not all, air conditioning also means that the air quality and the humidity levels can be also controlled in your home or place of business.

So, what exactly is a ducted air conditioning system?

To put it simply, it consists of several components – an exterior and interior units (connected via copper piping) that distribute heated or cooled air through a network of ducts, which are installed above the ceiling or under the floor.

The airflow enters each room through small vents. A thermostat controls the temperature, as well as the airflow to each room by closing off or opening up a damper, fitted within the ductwork. The latter applies to systems with a zoning functionality, meaning one can “shut off” a room from the system at any time and thus, use the ducted air conditioning in an energy-efficient way.

Ducted air conditioning – the pros and cons

Like anything, a ducted air conditioning system has its advantages and disadvantages. Some of these can only be considered as such when taking into account the specific type of property (regarding structure and size) that the system is going to be installed in.

Right then, let’s have a more detailed look at the pros and cons of ducted air conditioning!

Advantages

  • Cost-effective (running costs) – You can save on your electricity bills by controlling the indoor climate of individual rooms via the system’s zoning functionality.
  • Aesthetic solution – All ducts, as well as the indoor unit are out of sight, hidden in the roof space or under the floor. This, of course, saves on wall space, too, unlike the situation you’d have with a split-system air-con system.
  • It’s not noisy – Modern ducted air conditioning units (both the interior and exterior) are rather quiet in comparison to older models.
  • Energy-efficient – By using the thermostat controls in each room, you can turn off the system, where not needed and thus, avoid wasting energy, which is, of course, the right environmentally friendly approach to take.
  • Excellent longevity – A ducted air conditioning system can easily serve you without a hitch for over 15 years with good and regular maintenance.
  • Healthy indoor air – The system has air-filtering properties, as well as humidity reduction controls, so you can rest assured that you’ll enjoy a healthier environment, especially if a member of your household has allergies or is asthmatic.
  • Increases property value – Naturally, a potential buyer will be more willing to pay more (and purchase the house in the first place), if the property has an already installed convenient, energy-efficient cooling and heating system.

Drawbacks

  • It’s a pricey investment – The system is not that cheap to buy.
  • And expensive to install – Its installation is also pricey and it requires the expertise of licensed installers, accredited by the Australian Refrigeration Council.
  • Not suitable for all properties – It is suitable for selected properties only, where the roof or underfloor space is big enough to house the interior unit and ducts.
  • Requires careful planning before installation – From choosing where to place the exterior and the interior unit, as well as the ducts to selecting the right spot for each vent register, the job can easily take a whole day to plan and execute.
  • The installation involves small or big interior changes – This could mean cutting through walls and ceilings to fit the vents, removing roof slates to install the interior fan coil unit or installing vertical ducts (droppers) through specially designed bulkheads, inside cupboards and wardrobes, in order to heat/cool a two-storey house.

What is split-system air conditioning?

Split-system air conditioning also consists of two units – an exterior one, installed outside, and an interior air conditioner, mounted on a wall in a said room. The two units are connected by piping. The system can cool or heat individual rooms in your property. The interior unit and the exterior unit (condenser) have air-filtering properties.

Another important thing to mention is that split-system air conditioning can be standard or inverter, with the latter being much more efficient in terms of energy consumption and of course, cost.

The difference between the two is that standard air-con units have two settings with regards to the compressor motor’s speed – on and off. So, when the desired temperature is reached, the motor stops until it needs to start again, when the room gets below or above the initially set temperature. The going-back-into-motion process of the motor uses up quite a bit of energy, making the system less efficient.

Luckily, these days manufacturers focus on producing inverter split systems, where the motor never switches off but is regulated via its useful functionality that graduates the speed. Or in other words, inverter split-system air conditioning uses less energy (up to 30% less) than fixed speed split systems.

We should also note here that one can have multi-unit split-system air conditioning installed, where multiple interior units are connected to one condenser unit.

Split-system air conditioning – the benefits and drawbacks

Now, let’s see what are the pros and cons of split-system air conditioning, so you can have a better understanding if you decide to go down this road.

Pros

  • Efficient climate control – As they are installed in individual rooms, one can easily control the climate in each, independently of the others.
  • Versatile and flexible option – The indoor units can be installed almost anywhere in a room, unlike a window air conditioner, for instance. You can also go for a multi-unit system, as mentioned above, which means that you’ll only need to find the right spot outside for one condenser that connects to multiple indoor air conditioners.
  • Easy to install – Fitting a split system is generally much easier than installing ducted air conditioning.
  • Less expensive to buy – Of course there are different models with different price tags. The number of units you need is also a factor when it comes to the final cost. But on the whole, split-system air conditioning is less of an investment in comparison to having a ducted air conditioning system fitted in your home.
  • Perfect for smaller properties – One- or two-bedroom houses are better off with being heated/cooled by a couple of air-conditioners. The same goes for apartments in a building that has not been fitted with a central heating system, for instance.
  • Affordable to maintain – Maintaining your split system is not that expensive even when you require a specialist to service the units, check or top up the refrigerant and so on. Don’t forget that part of the maintenance involves cleaning the indoor unit filters regularly, which many folks prefer to do themselves.
  • A great alternative for homes with no roof or underfloor space – It goes without saying that if your property cannot accommodate a ducted system, then investing in split-system air conditioning is a good way to go.

Cons

  • Don’t last that long – Generally, the units can eventually show signs of wear and tear after about 5 years. This doesn’t mean that they cannot be fixed, however.
  • They are not that inconspicuous – Although the market is full of sleek designs and modern-looking indoor air conditioners, you’ll have to get used to the idea that the units will become part of your home interior.
  • The units take up space – And they’ll take some of your wall space, meaning, you’ll have to re-evaluate the positioning of any furniture, such as wardrobes, shelving or bookcases, as well as any wall decorations like paintings and posters.
  • Need regular cleaning – As noted earlier, regular cleaning maintenance is important when it comes to the units’ safety, efficiency and lifespan.
  • Older models are not that energy-efficient – Again, older standard air conditioners can easily burn a hole in your pocket (regarding your monthly energy bills), when compared to inverter split-system air conditioning units.
  • Your home may require an electrical upgrade – Older properties may need to have their electric switchboard upgraded before the installation of the units goes ahead.
  • Outdoor noise pollution – Although the indoor bodies are as quiet as they can be, humming soporifically all day long, the exterior condensers can be rather noisy, possibly disrupting yours or your neighbours’ peace and quiet.
  • Exacerbation of chronic health conditions – Contemporary inverter air conditioners have air-purifying properties, however, it’s not unheard of that the system can dry the air in the room, bring in air-borne particles that worsen allergies or cause a respiratory disease.

Split-system vs. ducted air conditioning – the verdict

Now that you understand the pros and cons of both types of air conditioning systems, let’s draw up a final comparison between the two for an easier reference.

FeaturesSplit-system ACDucted AC
CostVaries, depending on the model, type, brand, various ratings and features (ex: HEPA filter), as well as on the number of indoor/outdoor units you need (price per unit from $600 to $2000 and higher)Depends on the size of your home and the complexity of the job (ex: a two-storey house with vertical ducts) – from $8,000 to $10,000 – starting price for the installation
AestheticsBoth the exterior and the interior of your property will be “affected” by having multiple units mounted on and taking up your wall spaceThe ducts and interior unit are out of sight and only the small vent registers will be visible indoors
Property sizeSmall apartments and houses may benefit from having a couple of AC units, especially if the owners prefer to selectively heat/cool individual roomsProperties with 3 bedrooms and more are better off with a ducted system, providing they have the space to install it under the floor or roof
Climate controlEach unit is controlled independently via an individual remote controlModern ducted systems have zoning functionality, so one can stop the airflow to a said room
MaintenanceSplit-system AC is easy to install, but it requires regular cleaning maintenance and annual servicing to avoid breakage and ensure good indoor air qualityDucted system installation requires expertise, planning and more effort, and annual servicing and maintenance are also strongly recommended
AdvantagesAffordable
Easy to install
Quiet
Versatile
Air-filtering properties
Energy-efficient
Ideal for large properties
Long lifespan
Inconspicuous
Good climate control
Increased property value
Not noisy
DrawbacksShorter lifespan
Not that aesthetic
Noisy condensers
Potential respiratory issues
Not ideal for big properties
Significant investment
Good for some properties
May need interior changes
Potential energy loss /ducts/
Harder to install

What to consider before deciding on the best air conditioning system for your home?

So, you can guess now that before investing in the most appropriate air conditioning system for your place, you should take into consideration a few points. Let’s list them below so that you can easily make up your mind.

  • Location and local climate: For instance, if you live in Perth, famous for its hot dry summers and mild winters, you may decide to invest in a cooling-only AC system, rather than in a reverse-cycle ducted one.
  • Budget: Naturally, the cost matters and no matter what you’d prefer – if you don’t have the means to purchase and install a ducted AC system, then you’ll need to think of other alternatives.
  • Size and type of your property: Larger properties are more suited to having ducted air conditioning installed, as heating them and keeping them cool in the summer will be more affordable and energy-efficient in the long run.
  • Other heating/cooling sources: Say, you have a 2-bedroom house with a nice fireplace in the living room and ceiling fans and each room for those hot sticky nights. Then, naturally, it will be more cost-effective to install a couple of AC units in the bedrooms to keep them nice and warm during the cooler months of the year, instead of investing in a smaller-sized ducted system.
  • Household members: Do you have baby triplets and a toddler, or elderly parents living with you, who should be comfortable at all times? Is anyone in your family asthmatic? These are some of the specific factors that you may need to take into account before fitting your home with the right AC system.
  • Structural features of your property: As we’ve already mentioned, not all properties can house a ducted air conditioning system, due to lack of space to accommodate the interior unit and ductwork.

These factors will help you weigh out all the pros and cons of getting one or the other type of AC system, but we couldn’t stress enough that it’s important to seek an expert, who can consult you professionally on the matter. A specialist will be able to advise you on the best size, capacity and model of AC unit for each room, based on how big it is, and tell you if you’ll be better off with having a ducted system installed and so on.

How much does it cost to install a split-system and ducted air conditioning system?

The answer to this question is strictly individual, but we’ll try to clarify a few price-formation factors for you that you can keep in mind. Or in other words, ask yourself the following questions. Their answers will narrow down your options, in terms of what type of system to choose, as well as how much it would cost you.

1. Is your house one-storey or it has two/three floors?6. Do you need to heat/cool a large open-space room?
2. Do you need to heat/keep cool your entire home at all times?7. Do you use other heating/cooling sources?
3. How many rooms are you planning to be air-conditioned?8. What is the local climate?
4. Are the selected rooms south-facing, north-facing, etc.?9. How well is your house insulated?
5. Do you have sufficient room under your roof or floor?

To sum up, depending on your objectives and priorities, you can evaluate your options and make the most cost-effective decision that will lead to having a comfortable home, which is energy-efficient and thus, eco-friendly.

Here’s just an example of what split-system AC and ducted AC can cost you:

If you decide on ducted air conditioning, you’ll be looking to pay about $7,000 for a smaller single-storey place 3-bedroom single-storey house and easily around $10,000-$12,000 for a larger two-storey property.

The ducted air conditioning installation cost will depend on the number of zones you are going to have, on whether you’d need vertical ducting installed and concealed (droppers), on the location of the system (in the underfloor space or under the roof), on the size of your property (the total length of the ductwork), on the model of the system and its advanced features (air-filtering qualities and humidity control properties) and so on.

How much it costs to install a split-system air-conditioning, on the other hand, will depend on the number of units you plan to have, their brand, capacity, size, model, ratings and advanced features they come with. Of course, the more interior units you need, the higher the cost.

The price per unit can be anything from $600 to $2,000 – $3,000 and even higher for a high-capacity air conditioner.

Installation cost will come on top and it will depend, again on the number of units you need mounting indoors and outdoors, as well as on the complexity of the job (ex: height of the building, access to the exterior installation site, etc.). For instance, a multi-unit split-system AC requires the installation of just one condenser (the exterior body), so naturally, this will be reflected in the final cost.

Takeaways

  • An AC system is not a small investment, so consider carefully what the best one is for your home;
  • All types of air conditioning systems have their advantages and limitations and understanding those will help you make the right choice;
  • Both ducted air conditioning and split-system air conditioning should be installed by a licensed and experienced technician;
  • The higher cost of one type should not necessarily deter you from investing in it, as it may prove more cost-efficient in the long run;
  • Always call in a professional if you need to repair, clean or service your AC system.

Did you find this article helpful? Have you got a better idea now on what type of AC system you should invest in? Please, share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

  • Last update: September 28, 2020

Posted in All Articles, Home Improvement

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