Wondering whether to install ducted or split system air conditioning? How do you know what’s right for you?
There’s a lot of factors that will influence the decision. You may be renovating the family home or building your dream home or considering selling and want to add value. The capacity of your mains cable will also play a part in the decision process, as will your budget. So a hasty or ill-informed decision can be costly!

Split systems

A split system is an air conditioning system where part of the system (the condenser) is located outside the house, usually on an external wall. The rest of the system (the head or indoor unit) is located inside, normally fixed high on an interior wall or low as a floor standing unit.

The advantages of choosing a split system 

One of the main advantages of a split system is that it’s cheaper to buy than a ducted system and can be installed in one part of the house at a time. You might start with a main living area and add additional units as your budget allows, for example. Split systems are also your first choice for apartment living or in double storey dwellings as installing ducting between the levels are generally impossible. Split systems are also a wiser option than ducted systems in smaller properties or where only a single room requires air conditioning.

Generally speaking, a split system is operated by remote control, putting you in full control of the temperature of the room or area in which the unit has been installed. A split system has lower installation and running costs than a ducted system, too, but cost shouldn’t be the only factor in deciding which system is ideal for your home. Whilst generally cheaper to purchase, split systems have some limitations too.

Limitations of split systems

One such limitation relates to the cosmetic impact or aesthetics of a split system. The necessity of having a condenser unit located outside your home may create problems. Whilst we will always make an effort to locate the unit as discreetly as we can, it isn’t always possible to hide them away. If the unit must be located in a conspicuous place, you may need to spend extra money on screens or plants to preserve your property’s street appeal. Similarly, you may need to turn your mind to the potentially negative impact of a split system on your freedom to decorate the interior of the room in which it’s situated.

A split system’s capacity to cool can be limited to the room or zone in which it is installed. That’s not so much a problem if you choose a powerful system and have few interior walls. However, your split system’s capacity to push cold air beyond its immediate precincts relates back to some important considerations:

  • How much power it will consume,
  • How costly it will be to run,
  • The position of the unit on the interior wall, and
  • The layout of your home.

Some more expensive systems (multi-headed split systems) partially alleviate this problem. They allow for more than one room or zone to be cooled at once. However, the need to have the exterior unit relatively close to the head units will affect whether this is a suitable solution for your property. Nevertheless, a multi-headed split system may be a viable option where a ducted system is not feasible due to limited space for ducting.

An alternative solution to this problem is to install more than one split system. In considering whether that is an option for you, you need to take into account a number of factors:

  • The increased installation costs associated with having additional split systems, but this may be outweighed by upgrading of consumers mains to cope with a ducted unit
  • The limitations in terms of interior wall space and the potentially adverse cosmetic impact of having several interior units,
  • The need for additional condenser units be located outside, and
  • Any impact noise from your system may have on your neighbours’ use and enjoyment of their own properties

Nevertheless, there are definitely circumstances in which a split system is the ideal solution to the dilemma of cooling your property effectively and efficiently.

Ducted systems

A ducted air conditioning system differs from a split system in that the entire unit is concealed, usually in the roof space of your property or housed unobtrusively outside the property. The cooled air is then directed to multiple rooms or zones within the building via a system of concealed ducting. Only the vents are visible.

The advantages of ducted systems

Invariably, a ducted air conditioning system is more expensive than a split system. However, its primary advantage is that it’s a solution that will cool the whole of your property. Centrally controlled by way of a thermostat, it allows you to maintain an even temperature throughout.

Ducted systems can also be zoned, depending on the model you install. This means that you can turn off the cooling in some rooms that you may not be using. Alternatively, a zoned ducted system enables you to potentially cool different rooms to different temperatures. A zoned system is, as a general rule, more costly than a standard ducted system.

Arguably quieter and potentially more efficient depending on how it is operated, a ducted system may be more viable where you plan to stay in a property for a long time and upgrading consumers mains is not a huge burden. Whilst there may be a greater initial outlay, you may maximise the chances of recouping the costs of your investment over time.

The limitations of ducted systems

Ducted systems are not without their limitations either. A ducted system can only be installed where there is adequate space for ducting, making them unsuitable for certain structures. Critics of ducted systems also point to the fact that you are paying for the unit to cool the whole building when you might only need to cool a few rooms. Unless you opt for a system that enables control via Wi-Fi, smartphone or tablet connectivity, the controller is normally hard-wired to a wall and lacks the convenience and portability of a remote control. However, your choice to install a ducted system adds to the value and marketability of your property.

How do you decide: split system or ducted?

You want it to be tailored to suit your property’s orientation and floor plan. You need it to suit your lifestyle and budget. It has to be able to rise to the challenge thrown down by Queensland’s unique and trying climate. These are all important considerations in deciding whether to opt for a split system or a ducted system of air conditioning.

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