A homeowner on her living room couch points to a ductless Mini-split heat pump on the wall above the couch

Are Mini-Split Heat Pumps Ductless or Ducted Central Air?

Mini-split heat pumps can be ducted or ductless. The vast majority of mini splits installed in residential homes are ductless, but they come in ducted versions too.

Well-known HVAC brands offer multiple types of both ductless and ducted heating and cooling systems.

Ducted systems send air around the building through ducts and into rooms via vents, while ductless mini splits blow air directly into the house via a single internal air handler.

Ducted Heat Pumps

Ducted heat pumps work very similar to central HVAC systems in how they distribute air.

Ducted systems are ideal for larger homes and spaces, while ductless excel at heating and cooling single rooms and small spaces with individual air handlers.

Rigid Ducting

Usually constructed from metal, they are exceptionally durable and provide direct pathways for hot and cold air to reach all the rooms in your house.

Duckwork that's part of a rigid duct mini-split near a building's ceiling

Flexible Ducting

Flexible ducting is made up of a series of interconnected tubes that can bend around obstacles and be installed in tight areas that are unsuitable for rigid ducting.

Although they can be successfully installed in cramped spaces, homeowners must take care to avoid kinks and extremely tight bends that will reduce the efficiency of circumfluent air through the system.

Most residential homes with central ductwork have a combination of both rigid and flexible ductwork.

Rigid metal tends to be preferred, with flex being used in tight and hard-to-reach places.

Ductless Heat Pumps

Ductless heat pumps use air handlers to distribute warm and cool air into single rooms and small spaces.

These units are most commonly mounted on an exterior wall, but they can be mounted on the floor or even recessed in the ceiling.

They do not require any ductwork but if heating or cooling large spaces, multiple indoor air handlers must be installed.

Because they don’t require ductwork, they are a popular choice for homes without central HVAC (like homes that rely on boiler heat) or homes where the existing ductwork is inaccessible.

Ductless mini-split heat pumps are very efficient and are a good choice for use in an affordable net-zero house, as covered in our article on the topic here.

Pros and Cons of Ducted and Ductless Systems

Ducted Mini-Split – Advantages

  • Unobtrusive vents provide an “invisible” heating and cooling system for your home.
  • Great at removing humidity compared to ductless systems.
  • Better air circulation—ducts tend to deliver a greater volume of air, which prevents a build-up of odors and stuffiness.

Ducted Mini-Split – Drawbacks

  • Unless you already have ducts installed, a ducted system will likely prove more expensive.
  • Ducts require regular maintenance and routine checks to ensure they remain free from leaks.
  • Under the wrong conditions, mold can develop—bad news if you suffer from asthma or allergies.

Ductless Mini-Split – Advantages

  • Capable of maintaining different temperature zones in the house.
  • Ductless systems take up less space in your home.
  • Easier installation than ducted systems.

Ductless Mini-Split – Disadvantages

  • Require an indoor air handler unit, which some consider obtrusive.
  • Lower airflows mean less ventilation from the system.
  • Need multiple zones (air handlers) to heat and cool large spaces

Is Ductless Better than Ducted for Heating or Cooling Your Home?

The external component of a ductless mini-split.

If your home already has ductwork installed, it makes sense to use it and install a ducted system.

However, if you are retrofitting a mini-split heat pump in the absence of pre-existing ductwork, the cheaper and less disruptive option would be to go for a ductless system.

A ductless system comes with the benefit of operating in multiple temperature zones, but some might find the indoor air handlers something of an eyesore.

Whether a ductless or ducted system is the best option for your project is ultimately a decision for you and your HVAC provider.

Our Key Takeaways

  • Mini-split heat pumps come in both ductless and ducted varieties.
  • Ductless is easier and cheaper to install, but many find the discreet vents of ducted systems more pleasing to the eye than a wall-mounted air handler.
  • If you already have ducts in your home from your existing heating system, it makes sense to install a ducted central air heat pump that can tap straight into the existing duct network.
  • However, if your property doesn’t have pre-existing ducts then the ease of installation could swing your decision towards a ductless heat pump.
  • Whatever you decide, make sure you get good advice from a hired professional who will be able to guide you through the pros and cons of each type as they relate to your specific needs.

If you would like to read more about how efficient and eco-friendly ductless heat pumps are, take a look at this article, which covers the topic in more detail.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for writing about this topic. Going ducted or ductless usually is not in the minds of the consumers when buying heat pumps. Usually, ordinary users like me only check on how I can save efficiently on electricity and how easy to access it. Happy to know that there many types of ducts to choose from which I usually wonder when I see it from our office buildings.

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