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Central vs. Ductless Heating Systems

Central vs. Ductless Heating Systems

There are many ways to heat our homes, but the most common is by using forced air. We use appliances that heat the air and then blow it throughout our homes. This can be accomplished either locally or by using ducts and vents.

Each of these methods has merits, and they also have disadvantages. We’re breaking down the similarities and differences between these types of heating systems so you can decide which may be right for your home.

Central Heating

While there are many ways to heat your entire home through a centralized system (baseboards, radiators, etc.), the most common forced-air method is through a central furnace. In a furnace, whether fueled through gas, oil, or electricity, the combustion process creates heat, which is then blown through ducts using a fan.


Furnaces are highly effective at warming your home, which explains their popularity. With advancements in technology, modern furnaces can be over 90% efficient. That means that over 90% of the energy produced goes toward heating, with the rest being wasted.

Furnaces can also be hidden in a basement, garage, or another part of the home, as long as it has access to a vent and duct system.


Due to the variables involved in furnace heating, it’s easy to lose efficiency if not maintained or installed properly. For example, the ductwork needs to be insulated and sealed in order to not lose heat or air produced by the furnace.

If you operate a gas or oil furnace, you need to be careful to have proper ventilation and operation of the system, as the byproducts of combustion can be harmful. Carbon monoxide is a risk when operating a gas furnace, so you should always have CO detectors installed if you run a gas furnace (or any gas appliance).

If you run a furnace, you’ll need to use an air conditioning system alongside it for the warmer months. This increases your maintenance requirements and system costs, as well as your HVAC system’s physical footprint.

Ductless Heating

Ductless heating operates—you guessed it—-without any ductwork. Ductless systems go by the name “heat pump” or “mini-split” and are often a combined heating and cooling system. Instead of using combustion as a means of heating, ductless systems simply move warm air in either direction, depending on the time of year.


The biggest advantage of ductless heating is its efficiency. With a heat pump, you can avoid heating loss from ductwork or the combustion of fossil fuels. Ductless systems also give you flexibility for each room, since you’ll likely have a unit in every room that requires heating and cooling. This offers similar benefits to a zoning system.

Heat pumps are also simpler to install than furnaces. They only require mounting to the wall and a connection to an outside unit. And you’ll save money on the operation of the unit because they don’t generate heat or cool air, it just moves the air inside or outside. According to ENERGY STAR, heat pumps use 60% less energy compared to electric furnaces for heating and 30% less energy compared to room air conditioning systems.

You can use ductless units to supplement a central heating or cooling system, as they are installed independently. This alleviates the need to add ductwork to a garage or home extension—a potentially expensive endeavor.


A disadvantage of heat pumps is a higher upfront cost, as they will likely require a setup installation. You also need to have room on your walls to fit the inside unit and a corresponding outdoor unit.

If you want your heating and air conditioning system to be hidden, a heat pump may not be the best option, since it does protrude from the wall.

Specializing in All Heating Systems

The Ostrom Electrical Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning team is here to help you with all your home heating needs this winter. Contact our expert technicians today at (540) 253-1559!