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Commercial HVAC, Commercial Installations

Ducted Air Conditioning Unit vs Ductless: What’s Best For You?


Taking on a commercial renovation project comes with an overwhelming number of decisions that need to be made.

You probably feel comfortable making some of those choices, such as choosing the most functional layout or even selecting furniture. But as a business owner, you may feel less than qualified to decide on the right HVAC system for your new space. A ducted air conditioning unit or a ductless one? You’re not an HVAC expert; how are you supposed to know what’s right for your space?

If you’re being pressed for a decision without fully understanding your options, you’ve come to the right place for help. Here’s some basic information on the ducted air conditioning unit and the ductless system, to guide you in making the best choice for your business.

The difference between a ducted air conditioning unit and a ductless one

You probably already know that a ducted air conditioning unit distributes heated and cooled air through a network of ducts. The air ducts are typically constructed from sheet metal and are installed behind the walls and ceilings of your space.

In many cases they are designed to serve both your heating and air conditioning systems, and carry conditioned air from a central furnace or air handling unit to registers or vents throughout your space.

Unlike a ducted air conditioning unit, a ductless unit (sometimes called a ductless mini split system) doesn’t use ducts to distribute air. These units are designed differently: instead of one central air conditioning unit that produces cool air, the ductless system consists of smaller air handlers (or blowers) installed throughout your space.

Air handler boxes can be installed inside a wall or ceiling or mounted on the outside of a wall. Each of those air handlers blows conditioned air directly into the room or area. It’s not like having multiple window units, though, since with ductless heating and air conditioning there is a central condensing unit that supplies refrigerant to each of the air handlers through conduit pipes.

So now that you understand the basic difference, let’s talk about when to choose a ducted air conditioning unit versus a ductless one.

When a ducted air conditioning unit may be the best option

You already have ducts.
If you’ve got existing walls with ductwork already installed (and you’re not removing them in the renovation) you may want to use what you’ve got and just replace the central ducted air conditioning unit. That assumes that the ducts are in good condition. Ducted AC installation will be just a matter of hooking up the new unit to the existing ducts. That often makes the ducted air conditioning price less expensive and also faster.

Your environment is humid.
Particularly if you’re running a restaurant or other business that produces humidity, a ducted air conditioning unit may be a better option. That’s because ducted systems as better at controlling humidity. Ductless air handlers don’t have the means to remove very much moisture from the air and drain it from your space.

You need better airflow.
If circulation of air is a big concern in your space (once again for restaurants, or retail stores) a ducted air conditioning unit will move more air around your space to balance air pressure conditions. Ductless systems are designed to cool each area individually and not necessarily to move air between spaces.

Related article: HVAC Troubleshooting: Surprising Symptoms of HVAC Problems

Aesthetics is a big concern.
Running a chic boutique or upscale interior design store? You may not want the look of ductless air handlers mounted on the walls and ceilings. With a ductless air conditioning unit, everything is behind the walls.

You want to minimize maintenance costs.
In many cases, a ducted air conditioning unit is simpler and less expensive to maintain, since there’s just the one outside condensing unit and one indoor air handler. Ductless systems have multiple air handers installed throughout the space that all need regular service.

When a ductless air conditioning system may be the best option

There’s no space for ducts.
This is a fairly common scenario in New York City, especially when renovating older buildings. Space is tight and extremely expensive, and you may not have room to accommodate ductwork in the walls and ceilings. In that case, going ductless can be the best option.

You’re adding on to existing space.
Are you adding square footage to your space and you already have an existing HVAC system in place that’s working fine? If so, a supplemental ductless mini split may be a good option to increase capacity without replacing the whole system.

Dust is a problem.
For some businesses, such as clean room manufacturing or even healthcare environments, dust is a serious concern. In that case, going ductless can be a good idea, since these systems don’t have ducts that can accumulate dust and spread it throughout the space.

Your space has multiple zones with different requirements.
Ductless units are commonly used as a supplemental system for retail storage rooms or even computer rooms that have different heating and/or cooling requirements than the rest of the space.

Ductless air handlers can be individually controlled, making it easy to customize comfort conditions in different areas of your space. This can also come in handy to settle those office air conditioning battles over temperature issues!

Related article: Office Air Conditioning Battles: Take Control Before Workers Do

TIP: If you want to be able to create zones and independently control the conditions in each one, look into a new type of HVAC technology called a VRF System. These sophisticated systems can be installed as a ducted air conditioning unit or as a ductless system and provide the latest in modern controls.

Learn more about them in this article: 7 Reasons to Choose VRF Technology for Your New Air Conditioning

Choose a qualified installer for a ductless or a ducted air conditioning unit

Every HVAC system is complex, and needs to be correctly designed to meet the needs of your space and your business. That’s why it pays to bring in a qualified HVAC expert to handle the design and installation. It can be a serious mistake to allow your building contractor to install your HVAC equipment.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the ductless and ducted air conditioning unit. The next step is learning about which air conditioning systems are best suited to your type of business and your building location. Get the information and answers you need to make an informed decision with this helpful resource: The Ultimate Guide to NYC Light Commercial Air Conditioning.

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