Article • April 23, 2024

Why ductless air conditioning is better than central air

The heat pump — not central air — is the best way to cool your home.

While the exact degree of the perfect indoor temperature varies from person to person, most of us agree on what the perfect indoor temperature feels like, and that’s: comfortable. 

So, the best ways to cool your home should include the ability to ensure all members of a household feel comfortable, from the parent who runs hot to the newborn whose room should be the coziest. The heat pump allows all of this to happen when it comes to heating and cooling. 

Central air has typically reigned as king when it comes to keeping things cool in the warmer months. But its reputation as the premium way to cool your home is dwindling as homeowners in the U.S. start to learn more about — and embrace — heat pumps. 

Heat pumps are more efficient than central air, and that’s just the beginning. Quilt’s system in particular provides a tailored-to-you comfort that central air simply can’t match. (If you’re familiar with the concept of an “office blanket,” blame central air for the discrepancy in communal comfort.)

Want to learn more? We dive into the benefits of heat pumps for refreshing home climate control and why they beat our central air below. 

Let’s start simple: What are ductless heat pumps, really? And how do ductless mini-splits work?

Ductless heat pumps, also known as mini-split heat pumps, are highly efficient heating and cooling systems that don’t need ductwork to distribute air throughout a building. They consist of an outdoor compressor unit and one or more indoor units, connected by refrigerant lines and electrical wiring.

Here’s how they work: A heat pump takes the heat from outside and runs it through a compressor to heat it even further, then pumps this inside your home to warm it up. In the summer, the reverse happens: It pulls heat from inside your home and pumps it outside, which cools down your living spaces.  

Wait, so heat pumps also provide air conditioning?

We’re with you: The name alone suggests that heat pumps are for heating. But, as mentioned above, the same heat pump system that heats homes can cool rooms, too. Quilt’s ductless heat pump system is an all-in-one solution: It can replace a home’s air conditioning units and its furnace. You can learn more about how this actually works in our explainer piece

Ductless heat pumps vs. central air: the major differences

Heat pumps and central air both work to keep homes cool, and that’s about where their similarities start and end. As for their differences? Let us count the ways: 

1. Ducted vs. ductless

Central air relies on a ducted system, which is a network of ducts installed throughout a home or building. Ducted systems are inefficient, in part, because ductwork loses 30% of energy right off the bat.  Think of it this way: If the system outputs 100 units of energy, 30 units are lost traveling through the ducts. 

Mini split heat pumps like Quilt, on the other hand, are ductless. There’s one outdoor unit (the condenser) that connects to one or more indoor units (evaporators). These indoor units can be distributed in a specific room or area of the home, and they can be controlled independently. One of the features of Quilt’s smart technology — room-by-room control — allows for customized temperature settings in every room. Quilt also has temperature preconditioning, so it knows not to waste energy heating or cooling empty rooms. That is true efficiency, no?

2. Central cooling vs. individual room control

Central air is appealing because it cools multiple rooms at once. But this is actually a disadvantage for residential spaces when it comes to efficiency and your energy bill. 

Most of the rooms in your home are empty most of the time. If you’re spending the day in your home office, for example, your bedroom is likely unoccupied. To keep your home office cool, you need to run your central air throughout the house, which will have the system needlessly cooling unoccupied rooms.  In other words, central air’s “central” promise is inefficient. 

Thanks to the ductless system, heat pumps are installed in units that are dispersed throughout the home, supporting different rooms or zones. Each indoor unit, while part of one, holistic system, can maintain a different temperature in its zone. The heat pump system saves energy in this sense, because it’s not needlessly pumping out cool air in your child’s empty bedroom during the school day. This energy saving is good for the planet, of course, but it also gets reflected on your energy bill, which will be reduced when you’re not needlessly cooling every room in the house on full blast. 

3. Convoluted installation process vs. one team, one dream

If you decide to outfit your home with central air, that decision is just the first of many in a potentially arduous process. Oftentimes, after purchasing your system from one vendor, you’ll need to hire a separate team to install it. This puts the onus on you to do your research, get various quotes, and make sure your installation team has experience with the system you choose. 

While this isn’t true of all heat pump systems, when you choose to heat and cool your home with Quilt, you're investing in an all-in-one experience where the journey is already mapped out. Everything from the design of your system to its installation to its maintenance is included with Quilt. At no point will you need to compare quotes, hunt down contractors or involve yourself in any of the headaches that have become tropes of the HVAC industry. You’ll never question who you’ll need to go to for support because the answer is always: the Quilt team. 

4. Pay out of pocket vs. get rewarded with rebates and incentives

You won’t win any trophies for installing a new central air system in your house. When you buy a heat pump, however, there are tons of opportunities to feel like you’ve won something. 

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), an enormous climate and health care package that was signed into law in 2022, homeowners across the U.S are being offered rewards for upgrading their home appliances to run on electric energy. 

Many of these rebates can save you thousands (and thousands) of dollars — the number will vary depending on different aspects of your home and where you live (you can find more information on the U.S. Department of Energy website).

We love that the U.S. has set up a system to incentivize homeowners to go electric, and so we’ve built the rewards into Quilt’s purchasing process: Our team is equipped with a custom rebate calculator to assess every possible way you can save. Once we calculate all those rebates, we’ll subtract them from your final bill upfront, so you save instantly. 

Beyond rebates, you can qualify for tax credits up to $3,200 a year in tax credits for making energy efficient updates to your home. (Check out the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit page on the IRS website to learn more about these potential savings.)