5 Air Conditioning Options For Homes Without Ductwork

One of the main air conditioning systems for modern homes is central air. While there are several advantages of cooling your home using a central cooling system, it is not always the best answer for older buildings and small apartments that don’t have space to install the ductwork.

Fortunately, there are other air conditioning options for homes without ductwork. And you don’t have to suffer through the heatwave just because you don’t have ductwork installed.

These central air alternatives are not only affordable but also more efficient because you can control the temperature of an individual room in your home.

5 Air Conditioning Options For Homes Without Ductwork

1. Ductless Air Conditioners

mini split air conditioner for homes without ductwork

Ductless air conditioners have become one of the most reliable ways to cool both single zones and multiple zones in a home. These systems include an indoor and outdoor unit and don’t use ductwork to distribute air into your room.

Ductless air conditioners are also known as mini-split systems and are ideal for rooms without windows, small apartments, or old homes that don’t have the ductwork necessary for a modern ducted AC system.

A ductless mini-split system may have one outdoor unit and one or multiple indoor units that blow air into the room. The indoor air handling units may be mounted on the wall or suspended from the ceiling.

Air handling units are connected to the outdoor compressor via refrigerant tubing, power cable, suction tubing, and condensate drain line. A small hole is also drilled through the exterior wall to run the conduit between the indoor and outdoor units.

While a multi-zone mini split allows you to cool various spaces in your home, each indoor unit cools the air in the room it’s employed. That’s because each unit has its own thermostat that allows you to set different temperatures for different rooms.

Some ductless air conditioners have an inbuilt heating system known as a heat pump. Such systems function as both an air conditioner and a heater. They allow you to heat and cool your home throughout the year without using your furnace or having two separate units.

Advantages of Ductless Mini Split Systems

  • They are energy efficient – can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent.
  • They are far easier to install than central air conditioning units.
  • You can control the temperature of specific rooms.
  • Require very little maintenance
  • They are very quiet
  • Long-lasting

Disadvantages of Ductless Mini Split Systems

  • Cost of installing a ductless air conditioner and heat pump can be significant since it requires a higher upfront investment

2. Portable Air Conditioners

A portable air conditioner is a single room cooling unit that is used to supplement the central air. It can be moved from one room to another and requires a window through which an exhaust hose is placed to remove hot air from the room.

These mobile air conditioning units are easy to install and operate. Once you’ve set up the exhaust hose and window kit, you can simply plug your ac into your power source and start cooling. While most portable ACs are vented through the window, there are other venting options that doesn’t require the use of a window. For instance, you can vent into a drop ceiling or through a wall if your room doesn’t have a window.

Portable ACs are not the most aesthetically-pleasing cooling options. They take up floor space and may affect the look of the window where the exhaust hose passes. Additionally, most of them are loud than other types of air conditioners since they have a compressor inside. To avoid selecting a noisy unit, look at the decibel ratings. A rating below 55dB is considered quiet, while anything over 60 is loud.

To get the best out of portable air conditioners, consider your room size to help you determine the right BTU level. Since they are to be used in small rooms, portable units have cooling capacities ranging between 5000 BTU to 14000 BTU. This will be enough to cool rooms between 150 to 700 square feet.

Advantages of Portable Air Conditioners

  • Effective in spot cooling small confined spaces.
  • It’s a self-contained system that consists of only one unit
  • Easy and quick to set up (installation kit and instructions included)
  • Mobile – can be moved from room to room if desired (wheels and carry handle included)
  • Multifunctional – can cool, dehumidify and circulate air in your room. Select units can heat a room as well.
  • Allows you to preserve window view (however, the venting kit will take up some space)
  • Easy to store at the end of the season.

Disadvantages of Portable Air Conditioners

  • Can only be used in small rooms because of the limited cooling capacity
  • Takes up floor space, which may impact your interior decor
  • The venting kit passes through the lower section of the window, so it still obstructs to a degree.
  • Typically noisier than other AC systems

3. Window Air Conditioners

installed window air conditioner in a room without ductwork


Window Air Conditioners are other air conditioning options for homes without ductwork. They are ideal for small, single rooms. They are also sometimes referred to as a room air conditioner and mounted on open windows.

These cooling units have small openings that allow outside air to be sucked into the fan. However, the evaporator coil is where the heat exchange happens. The warm air from inside the room is run over the coil where it cooled and blown back into the room.

Unlike portable air conditioners where an exhaust hose expels the moisture, window units have a drain pan that contains the water from the condenser coil. The condensate moisture is discharged to the outdoors by gravity.

Window ACs are easy to install, have high cooling power, and use energy more efficiently than portable units. The BTU rating is the measure of cooling power. The higher that number is, the bigger the room the unit can cool. For large room air conditioning, choose an AC with high BTU ratings.

Most window units are installed in windows. However, some can be installed through a wall, only if they have a slide-out chassis wall sleeve. A through-the-wall air conditioner is, however, a much better solution if you don’t have windows, and looking to install ac on a wall.

Advantage of Window Air Conditioners

  • Extremely energy efficient with high Energy Efficiency Ratio EER
  • Reasonably inexpensive to purchase and affordable to operate monthly. 
  • East to install and operate (most have installation kit included)
  • Doesn’t take up floor space (can benefit people with small rooms and want to use the space for other things).
  • Some are multifunctional units – cools, dehumidifies, and even heats during winter.
  • Can be used in many places, including living rooms, apartments, bedrooms, offices, dorm rooms, etc.

Disadvantages of Portable Air Conditioners

  • Not all window ACs can be installed in double-hung windows.
  • The window where you install the air conditioner is blocked as long as the unit is there
  • You must have exterior support to install the unit properly. Numerous cases have been reported of units falling out of the window even during installation.
  • The included installation panels can let in hot air into the room, making the ac less efficient
  • You don’t have control over where the dipping water goes. It can end up in unwanted places, such as on a pathway or vehicle.
  • Even the best installation can still leave your home or apartment at a security risk.

4. Through-The-Wall Air Conditioners

Cooling an apartment without windows can sometimes get tricky. While you can use a ductless air conditioner, the upfront fees may be too much if you’re on a budget. That is where a through-the-wall air conditioner comes in.

A wall air conditioner works like a window unit; the only difference is that it’s attached to an exterior wall and supported by a wall sleeve. These units were not popular a few years ago, but they have become one of the best air conditioning options for homes without ductwork.

Wall units require a little more skills to install than window units. The installation process is best left to HVAC professionals because any mistake can cause the AC to become faulty.

However, once you can get them to fit tightly in your wall using a wall sleeve, you won’t have to worry about unwanted drafts, a common problem with ACs that aren’t insulated properly. They are also less obtrusive and obvious since they don’t protrude out from the wall like wall-mounted ac.

One of the important things to keep in mind before installing a through-the-wall air conditioner is that it’s permanent. You also want to consult a professional to confirm that you don’t have plumbing and electrical component on the wall that may hinder the functioning or efficiency of the unit.

Advantages of Through-The-Wall Air Conditioners

  • They’re permanently installed, so you don’t have to pack or unpack 
  • They don’t block the view from the outside like window ac
  • Saves you a lot of space because they are mounted on a wall and not on the ground

Disadvantages of Through-The-Wall Air Conditioners

  • Can only cool rooms they are installed.
  • An ordinary person can’t do the installation; you have to hire a professional

5. Evaporative Coolers

evaporative cooler for small living rooms

Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, are not your typical portable air conditioners. These units use water-moistened pads to cool the air through an evaporation process. 

This is possible because of an inbuilt fan that draws in warm air from inside the room. The warm air passes through the pads that help evaporate the liquid into a gas. An evaporative cooler absorbs the gas while the pump blows out cool air into the room.

As you can realize, swamp coolers differ from air conditioners that draw moisture from the air. Evaporative coolers also add humidity to the air as it cools. This means that they’ll only be effective in hot, dry climates.

In terms of cost-effectiveness and maintenance, swamp coolers still come on top. That’s because they only use water, a fan, and a pump to cool the air. Air conditioners, on the other hand, use compressors and refrigerants.

 Advantages of Evaporative Coolers

  • A cheaper option than air conditioners
  • Add humid air to the room, reducing some of the dryness
  • Cost-effective and energy-efficient since they cost less to operate
  • Doubles as a commercial-grade fan

Disadvantages of Evaporative Coolers

  • Only effective if used in outdoor, semi-outdoor space, or hot, dry climates.

Wrap Up

Just because you don’t have ductwork installed doesn’t mean you have to suffer through the hot summer months.

The air conditioning options for homes without ductwork I’ve discussed above are smart investments because they allow you to cool specific rooms in your home. They’re also easy to install; some you can even set up yourself.

If you want to cool multiple, multiple rooms, the best air conditioning option is a mini-split system. Choose one depending on the number of rooms you want to cool.