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Split System vs Ducted Air Conditioning: 2024 Comparison – Which Is The Right Air Conditioning System For You?

By Victor /

Imagine this: Summer’s relentless grip has tightened, transforming your once-cozy home into a sweltering sauna. You yearn for relief, a cool haven from the scorching heat. But before you dive headfirst into the world of air conditioners, a crucial question arises: ducted or split system?

This age-old battle royale of cooling titans has homeowners and business owners alike divided. Both systems boast their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the right one can feel like navigating a maze blindfolded. Fear not, intrepid temperature tamers! This comprehensive guide will shed light on the inner workings of both systems, empowering you to make an informed decision that’ll have you basking in blissful coolness come summer.

First things first, let’s crack the code:

  • Ducted air conditioning: Think of it as an invisible army of comfort. A network of ducts snakes through your home, stealthily delivering chilled air from a central unit to various rooms. Picture the refreshing embrace of a gentle breeze whispering through your home, banishing heat like a superhero vanquishing a villain.
  • Split system air conditioning: This champion operates solo, tackling rooms one-on-one. A single indoor unit, often mounted on a wall or ceiling, teams up with an outdoor unit to cool specific areas. Think of it as a dedicated bodyguard, keeping your chosen space at your desired temperature, while the rest of your home basks in its natural (or perhaps not-so-natural) warmth.

Now, buckle up as we delve deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of each system, helping you discover your perfect air conditioning soulmate!

Key Takeaways

  • Targeted heating and cooling for specific rooms, ideal for smaller homes or varying comfort needs.
  • Reverse cycle technology for year-round comfort, eliminating the need for separate heating and cooling units.
  • Agile installation with minimal disruption and mess compared to ducted systems.
  • Independent control for personalized comfort in each room.
  • Potential limitations: uneven comfort, limited reach, and potentially higher running costs compared to ducted systems.
  • Whole-home warmth for consistent comfort throughout your abode.
  • Centralized control for easy temperature adjustments.
  • Zoning potential for personalized comfort in different areas.
  • Potential limitations: high upfront cost, complex installation, and limited flexibility compared to split systems.

Understanding the Basics: Split vs. Ducted Air Conditioning

Picture this: the sun hangs heavy in the sky, melting the pavement and turning your home into a sticky sauna. You crave a frosty oasis, a refuge from the inferno outside. But before you dive into the air conditioning jungle, you need a map – a clear understanding of your two main choices: split system and ducted air conditioning.

Let’s crack the code, shall we?

Split System Air Conditioning: Your Cooling Concierge

Imagine a dedicated bodyguard for your comfort. That’s essentially a split-system air conditioner. This solo act consists of two units:

  • Indoor Unit: This wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted warrior chills the air in a single room like a superhero focused on a specific villain (the heat, in this case). Think of it as your personal climate control maestro, customizing the temperature to your exact liking.
  • Outdoor Unit: This hidden hero lurks outside, unseen but crucial. It houses the noisy machinery that works tirelessly to cool the refrigerant, which is then sent to the indoor unit for its temperature-transforming magic.

Think of a split system as ideal for:

  • Cooling single rooms or small spaces: Studios, bedrooms, or home offices become your personal cool zones.
  • Targeted temperature control: Each unit has its own remote, allowing you to create microclimates within your home. Say goodbye to bedroom battles over the thermostat!
  • Flexible installation: No extensive ductwork needed. Mount the indoor unit, connect it to the outdoor unit, and voila! Instant cool.

However, remember:

  • Limited reach: Can’t cool your entire house unless you install multiple units, which can be costly and require more maintenance.
  • Uneven cooling: Rooms without units might feel neglected, leading to temperature disparities within your home.

Ducted Air Conditioning: The Invisible Comfort Army

Now, imagine an army of ninjas working behind the scenes to keep you cool. That’s the essence of ducted air conditioning. This system operates like a hidden network of comfort, with a central unit pumping chilled air through a labyrinth of ducts that snake through your walls and ceilings.

  • Central Unit: This powerhouse sits discreetly, often in your roof space, quietly generating cool air. Think of it as the general of your comfort army, coordinating the flow of coolness throughout your home.
  • Air Ducts: These silent soldiers carry the chilled air from the central unit to vents in each room. Picture them as invisible pathways, delivering a refreshing breeze like whispers on the wind.

Ducted air shines when:

  • Cooling your entire house: One system reigns supreme, keeping all rooms at your desired temperature, no room left behind.
  • Zoning options: Want extra cool in the living room but a more mellow climate in the bedrooms? Zoning systems allow you to customize comfort like a temperature DJ.
  • Discreet operation: The central unit and ducts hide away, leaving only the vents visible for a sleek and uncluttered look.

But beware:

  • Installation can be complex: Ductwork installation can be disruptive, especially in existing homes, and might require professional expertise.
  • Higher upfront cost: Compared to split systems, ducted systems generally require a bigger initial investment.
  • Maintenance considerations: Keeping the ductwork clean and the central unit serviced is crucial for optimal performance.

Ducted Air Conditioning: The Inner Workings of the System

Ducted air conditioning isn’t just a cool breeze; it’s a symphony of technology orchestrated behind the scenes. Let’s peel back the curtain and peek into the complex, yet fascinating, world of this comfort champion.

At the core lies the central unit, often nestled in your roof space. This mighty machine houses the compressor, condenser, and evaporator coils – the magicians who transform hot air into chilled bliss. The compressor squeezes refrigerant, raising its temperature and pressure. The condenser releases this heat to the outside air, while the evaporator coils cool the now-compressed refrigerant, turning it into a frigid hero.

The Invisible Network of Comfort

The chilled refrigerant then embarks on its heroic journey through a maze of insulated ducts. Think of them as temperature-preserving tunnels, snaking through walls and ceilings to reach every corner of your home. The air in each room gets drawn into the return air vents, passes through the central unit, gets infused with the icy touch of the refrigerant, and is then pumped back through the supply vents, transforming your home into a cool haven.

The Orchestra Conductor

Guiding this symphony of comfort is the control system. This brain of the operation allows you to set desired temperatures, activate zoning for targeted cooling, and schedule automatic operation, ensuring your home is always at your desired climate, even when you’re away.

Ducted air isn’t just about brute force; it’s about finesse and flexibility. Want cooler air in the living room during movie nights? Zone control lets you adjust specific areas without chilling the entire house. Craving a toasty bedroom in winter? Reverse cycle models can switch to heating, making ducted air a year-round comfort companion.

Split System Air Conditioning

Split systems aren’t just wall ornaments; they’re compact powerhouses delivering targeted comfort. Let’s zoom in on the intricate dance between the indoor and outdoor units that keeps your chosen space at blissfully cool temperatures.

Mounted high on your wall or nestled discreetly near the ceiling, the indoor unit is the maestro of your personal climate. Inside, a fan draws warm air from the room, passing it over chilled evaporator coils. This icy embrace transforms the air into a refreshing wave, which is then gently blown back into the room, creating your own personal oasis of cool.

The Hidden Guardian

Lurking outside, often on a balcony or mounted discreetly on a wall, the outdoor unit plays the unsung hero. This sturdy box houses the noisy machinery – the compressor and condenser – that powers the cooling magic. The compressor pumps the refrigerant, while the condenser sheds the extracted heat to the outside air, ensuring your haven of cool remains undisturbed.

Split systems excel at targeted cooling. Imagine having a dedicated bodyguard for your comfort, keeping your chosen room at your desired temperature while the rest of your home basks in its natural (or not-so-natural) warmth. This makes them ideal for:

  • Studios and bedrooms: Transform your sleep sanctuary into a cool haven, guaranteeing restful nights even in the hottest weather.
  • Home offices: Stay focused and productive without the summer swelter hindering your workflow.
  • Living rooms: Create a refreshing oasis for movie nights or afternoon tea, without overcooling the entire house.

But remember, superpowers come with limitations:

  • Limited reach: Unlike ducted systems, they can’t cool your entire home unless you install multiple units, which can be costly and require more maintenance.
  • Temperature disparities: Rooms without units might feel neglected, leading to uneven cooling throughout your home.

Split systems offer flexibility and targeted comfort, making them perfect for those seeking an individualized approach to cooling. However, remember to consider their limitations before embracing them as your personal coolness guardian.

Related reading:

Best Ducted Air Conditioners in Australia

Best Ducted and Split System Air Conditioner – Review of 2024

Best Air Conditioner Buying Guide for 2024

Key Differences Between Split and Ducted Air Conditioning

Installation Prowess

  • Split System: Think “quick and nimble.” Installation is relatively straightforward, often requiring minimal disruption and professional expertise. Mount the indoor unit, connect it to the outdoor unit, and voila! Instant cool.
  • Ducted System: Picture a “complex operation.” Ductwork installation can be intricate, especially in existing homes, requiring professional expertise and potentially causing some disruption.

Cost Considerations

  • Split System: Think “budget-friendly (initially).” Individual units are generally cheaper than ducted systems upfront, making them ideal for those on a tighter budget. However, adding multiple units to cool your entire home can increase the cost over time.
  • Ducted System: Imagine a “bigger investment.” These systems require a higher upfront cost due to the central unit and ductwork installation. However, if you need whole-home cooling, they can be more cost-effective in the long run compared to installing multiple split systems.

Comfort Control

  • Split System: Think “individualized cool.” Each unit has its own remote, allowing you to create microclimates within your home. Say goodbye to bedroom battles over the thermostat!
  • Ducted System: Imagine “centralized command.” You control the temperature from a single source, ensuring consistent comfort throughout your entire home. Zoning options, available in some models, add an extra layer of customization.

Maintenance Musings

  • Split System: Think “simple upkeep.” Regular cleaning of filters and occasional professional servicing are typically all you need.
  • Ducted System: Picture “routine attention.” Maintaining clean ducts and servicing the central unit are crucial for optimal performance and a long lifespan.

How Split System Works

Think of a split system air conditioner as a dynamic duo, a cool crime-fighting team battling the villain – the sweltering heat. Let’s crack open the casing and delve into the crucial components of each unit, the heroes keeping your chosen space refreshingly cool:

The Indoor Unit

  • Evaporator Coil: Imagine a frosty hero, covered in icy crystals. This coil absorbs the room’s warm air, transforming it into a refreshing wave thanks to the circulating refrigerant.
  • Fan: Picture a tireless warrior, pushing the chilled air back into the room, creating your personal oasis of cool.
  • Air Filter: Think of a vigilant guard, trapping dust and allergens before they can infiltrate your cool haven.
  • Control Panel: Imagine a command center, that allows you to adjust temperature, set timers, and unleash other cooling commands.

The Outdoor Unit

  • Compressor: Picture a muscular powerhouse, squeezing the refrigerant gas, raising its pressure and temperature.
  • Condenser Coil: Think of a heat-dissipating warrior, radiating the extracted heat from the refrigerant to the outside air, keeping your cool zone undisturbed.
  • Expansion Valve: Imagine a pressure regulator, controlling the flow of refrigerant and ensuring optimal cooling efficiency.
  • Fan: Picture a silent sentinel, drawing air over the condenser coil to aid in heat dissipation.

Why Ducted Air Conditioning Might Be Your Match

The sun scorches down, transforming your home into a sweltering sauna. You yearn for relief, a haven of cool that encompasses every corner of your abode. This, my friend, is where ducted air conditioning shines. But amidst the cool breeze, why should you choose this system over its split system sibling? Let’s explore the reasons why ducted air might be your perfect summer soulmate:

Imagine an invisible army of comfort, quietly delivering chilled air to every room through a network of ducts. Ducted air isn’t just about targeted cooling; it’s about conquering the heat in every corner, ensuring consistent bliss from your bedroom haven to the bustling kitchen.

Centralized Command: Think of a single control center for your comfort kingdom. With a ducted system, you reign supreme over the temperature from a single source, no more battling over the thermostat or feeling neglected in distant rooms.

Zoning Prowess: Craving extra cool in the living room for movie nights but a mellower climate in the bedrooms? Ducted air systems with zoning options grant you the power to customize comfort like a temperature DJ, catering to everyone’s preferences.

Discreet Delight: Unlike their split system counterparts, ducted air heroes operate behind the scenes. The central unit sits hidden, often in your roof space, while only vents peek out, preserving the sleekness of your interior design.

Year-Round Bliss: Many ducted systems offer the magic of reverse cycle technology, transforming them from summer saviors into winter warmers. No need for separate heating systems; enjoy year-round comfort with a single investment.

Allergy Ally: The hidden advantage? Ducted systems can filter the air as it circulates, removing dust, pollen, and other allergens, creating a haven for allergy sufferers and breathing new life into your indoor environment.

Of course, every hero has limitations. Installation can be complex, especially in existing homes, and the upfront cost might be higher compared to split systems. But for those seeking whole-home comfort, centralized control, and year-round climate bliss, ducted air conditioning remains a powerful contender in the battle for ultimate coolness.

Comparing the Running Costs of Split Systems and Ducted System

Budgeting for comfort? The battle between split systems and ducted air conditioning extends beyond initial costs, reaching into the realm of running expenditure. So, who wears the crown of energy efficiency and keeps your wallet happy in the summer heat? Let’s crack the code:

Targeted Efficiency vs. Whole-Home Symphony:

  • Split Systems: Champions in focused cooling, their running costs depend on usage and unit size. Cooling only specific rooms can be more energy-efficient than running a ducted system for the entire house. However, multiple split systems running can negate this advantage.
  • Ducted Aircon: While seemingly expensive to run, newer models boast high energy efficiency ratings, especially when cooling large spaces. Efficient central units and zoned options can minimize wasted energy compared to multiple split systems running simultaneously.

Factoring in the Numbers:

  • Power Input: Look for the “power input” (kW) on your system’s label. Multiply this by your electricity tariff per kWh to estimate cost per hour of operation. For example, a 2.5 kW split system running for 4 hours at 0.20 $/kWh costs $2.
  • SEER Rating: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) measures cooling efficiency. Higher SEER (above 20) generally indicates lower running costs. Choose models with high SEER ratings for both split and ducted systems.
  • Usage Patterns: How often and for how long you run your system significantly impacts costs. Consider your lifestyle and cooling needs when comparing systems.

Understanding Installation: Ducted vs. Split Systems

The journey to cool nirvana isn’t complete without navigating the installation frontier. Choosing between a ducted system and a split system impacts not just your comfort but also the installation process. So, before the chill descends, let’s peek behind the curtain of installation:

Steps to Installing a Ducted System

  • Pre-Installation Preparations: Brace yourself for some reconnaissance! Professionals will assess your home’s layout, insulation, and electrical capacity to determine the ideal unit size and ductwork placement. Expect measuring, marking, and potentially discussing potential obstacles like walls or existing wiring.
  • Indoor Unit Placement: The central unit, the heart of your cool crusade, needs a strategic home. This often involves installing it in a discreet location like a roof cavity or dedicated service area. Be prepared for some minor construction if access needs to be created.
  • Ductwork Installation: This is where the magic happens! A network of insulated ducts snaking through walls, ceilings, or even floors will transport the cool air throughout your home. Expect some disruption, especially in older homes, as channels are created and ducts are fitted.
  • Outdoor Unit Positioning: The condenser unit, your connection to the cool outside world, needs a designated spot. Think about noise, accessibility for servicing, and proximity to the indoor unit for efficient refrigerant flow.
  • Electrical & Control Systems: Prepare for some electrical wizardry! Wires will connect the various units, and a control panel will be installed to grant you command over your cool destiny.
  • Final Testing & Commissioning: Once everything is in place, it’s time for the grand finale! Professionals will test the system for leaks, airflow, and overall performance. After fine-tuning and ensuring everything runs smoothly, your haven of cool comfort awaits.

Remember, ducted system installation can be complex and disruptive, especially in older homes. Expect a few days of work and potential changes to your daily routine.

What Does Installing a Split System Entail?

Unlike the grand installation symphony of a ducted system, split systems offer a more nimble, two-act performance:

Act I: Indoor Unit Placement

  • Location, Location, Location: Choose the perfect wall for your indoor unit, considering airflow, aesthetics, and access to the outdoor unit. Expect some drilling and mounting magic to secure the unit firmly.
  • Electrical Hookup: A dedicated power line will be connected to the unit, ensuring it receives the juice it needs to churn out cool air. Expect some minor electrical work near the chosen location.
  • Control & Connections: Your cool command center, the remote control panel, will be installed at your convenience, granting you instant access to temperature adjustments. Additionally, wires will connect the indoor and outdoor units for seamless communication.

Act II: Outdoor Unit & Final Touches

  • Outdoor Oasis: The condenser unit finds its home outside, usually on a sturdy platform or mounted on a wall. Be mindful of noise and proximity to windows. Expect some lifting and securing magic from the installation team.
  • Connecting the Dots: Refrigerant lines and a drain pipe will be carefully run between the indoor and outdoor units, ensuring the cool cycle flows smoothly. Prepare for some minor drilling and discreetly concealed piping.
  • Testing & Tuning: Once everything is connected, the grand finale arrives! Professionals will test the system for leaks, airflow, and optimal performance. After fine-tuning and ensuring everything chills perfectly, your personal haven of cool is ready to be enjoyed.

Estimating Ducted vs. Split System Installation

The path to cool comfort isn’t complete without navigating the financial frontier. Estimating the cost of installing your air conditioner, whether ducted or split system, can feel like deciphering ancient hieroglyphics. But fear not, the intrepid seeker of cool bliss! Let’s crack the code together:

Ducted System: A Symphony of Costs

Prepare for a multi-part concerto when budgeting for a ducted system installation. Consider these cost contributors:

  • Unit Size & Efficiency: Higher capacity units and those boasting higher SEER ratings generally cost more.
  • Ductwork Complexity: Extensive ductwork routing, especially in older homes, can significantly inflate the price.
  • Existing Ductwork: If renovations are needed to utilize existing ductwork, expect additional costs.
  • Installation Labor: The complexity of the job and the number of technicians involved impact the labor cost.
  • Permits & Inspections: Local regulations might require permits and inspections, adding to the overall expense.

Split System: A Nimble Budgetary Ballad

While generally less expensive than ducted systems, split system installation costs still have their own melody:

  • Unit Size & Efficiency: Similar to ducted systems, larger units and higher SEER ratings will cost more.
  • Number of Units: Each additional unit adds to the total installation cost.
  • Wall Mounting & Electrical Work: Installation complexity and potential electrical upgrades can influence the price.
  • Location & Accessibility: Difficult-to-reach locations might require additional labor and specialized equipment.

The Estimated Duet

Here’s a rough ballpark of installation costs, remembering these are just starting points and can vary significantly based on your specific needs:

  • Ducted System: $5,000 – $20,000+
  • Split System: $1,500 – $7,000+


The ideal air conditioning installation cost depends on your specific needs, budget, and priorities. Consult with qualified professionals for accurate estimates based on your unique situation. They can guide you through the financial maze and help you choose the perfect cool crusade champion that fits your budget and delivers refreshing comfort for years to come.


In our commitment to providing accurate, insightful, and up-to-date information, we meticulously selected each reference based on its relevance, authority, and comprehensiveness. These references were instrumental in offering a balanced and detailed perspective on the comparison between split system and ducted air conditioning. In line with our editorial policy, we strive to ensure that the information presented is not only informative but also adheres to the highest standards of journalistic integrity and expertise in the field of HVAC systems. The following references have been instrumental in providing the foundational knowledge and technical insights that have enriched the content of this article, making it a reliable guide for those navigating the complexities of choosing the right air conditioning system.

  1. F.H. Furr Blog – Choosing Your HVAC System: Split Vs. Ducted:
    • This resource provides a detailed overview of split systems, explaining how they function as standalone HVAC systems that focus on processing heating and cooling to a centralized location. It elaborates on the types of indoor units used in split systems, including wall-mounted, portable, or ceiling-installed units, which can offer valuable insights for your article​​.
  2. Always On HVAC – The Comparison: Ducted vs Split System Air Conditioning:
    • This article discusses the main components of ducted air conditioning systems, such as the indoor unit containing the evaporator and blower, and the outdoor unit housing the condenser and compressor. It’s a useful reference for understanding the technical aspects and operation of ducted systems​​.
  3. Home Base Project – Split System vs. Ducted Cooling: Advantages and Disadvantages:
    • This comprehensive guide offers a thorough comparison of split and ducted air conditioning systems, covering aspects like room size suitability, efficiency, cost, and the pros and cons of each system. This source is particularly beneficial as it provides a balanced view, making it easier for readers to understand which system might be better suited for their specific needs​​.



Air Conditioning certified specialist in Sydney, Australia. Victor is a highly skilled and certified air conditioning specialist based in Sydney, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in the HVAC industry, John has become an expert in the installation, maintenance, and repair of various air conditioning systems, including split systems, ducted systems, and multi-head units. John began his journey in the HVAC field after completing a comprehensive apprenticeship program and obtaining his trade certificate. He then worked with several reputable air conditioning companies in Sydney, honing his skills and gaining valuable insights into the industry. In 2010, Victor received his Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Council (ARC) certification, further solidifying his status as a trusted professional in the field.