If you don’t have an existing duct system, installing a new one can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive. Not to mention unsightly.

Even if you do have an existing central air system, you may be looking for alternative ways to heat and cool other areas in your home such as garages and add-ons. If you have a small space, you don’t need a duct system.

Duct System Alternatives

Here are some different HVAC distribution methods you can use without a duct system:

Portable Heaters and Air Conditioners

Portable heaters and air conditioners can be plugged directly into your wall outlet to provide targeted heating and cooling. They will need to be placed near a window to the vent the warm air outdoors. Electric space heaters are the only kind of unvented space heater safe to operate in the home.

While these methods are less energy and cost-efficient as central air conditioning, by only heating or cooling rooms that are occupied, you could potentially save money and energy.

Remember to follow all manufacturer instructions and turn them off before leaving the area.

Keep in mind that unvented combustion space heaters are not recommended. Vented combustion heaters should be professionally inspected every fall before the heating season begins. Learn more about portable heaters.

Window Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

Installed directly into the window, window units can now provide heating and cooling while helping to dehumidify and filter the indoor air. While not suitable for primary heating, window heat pumps can provide nice supplemental heating.

Window units can be energy efficient, but only if you turn off your central HVAC system while the window units are running. Look for the Energy Star label when shopping for window units.

Ductless Mini-Split Units

For the most professional and effective duct system alternative, you’ll want to go with the ductless mini-split heat pump. Using heat pump technology, similar to how an air conditioner works, the ductless unit is connected to an outdoor unit via a small conduit in the wall. Without using ducts, the mini-split unit pumps cold or hot air into the room. The condenser and evaporator tubes are connected through a small hole.

The best thing about ductless units is that you can install multiple units in your home, providing you with HVAC zones that can each be independently controlled with their own thermostat. Used strategically, this can save you a lot of money. Plus you won’t have to worry about air duct leaks, inefficiencies, or periodic cleanings.

Ductless units are quiet and sleek, however, some people don’t care for the look. In most cases, ductless mini-split units can be hidden. Speak with a professional about your ductless mini-split options.


Fans are an old, but effective way to cool off. They’re cheap to run as well. Costing only pennies an hour, a ceiling or plug-in fan can allow you to turn the thermostat up around 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort (U.S. EPA).

Additionally, most ceiling fans today can help you feel warmer in the winter. By flipping the small black switch at the base of your ceiling fan, you can reverse the ceiling fan direction. This causes the air to blow upward, creating and updraft that brings the warmer air near the ceiling down to the floor level.

Remember that fans don’t actually cool or warm a room. They simply make you feel cooler or warmer. Turn off any fans before leaving the room.

Ductless Types of Heating Distribution Systems:
Radiant Heating
Hot Water & Electric Baseboards

Alternatives to air duct systems include window-mounted air conditioners, boilers and radiators, and ductless mini-split systems. If, however, you already have a duct system in place, it may be more cost-effective to simply apply duct cleaning and sealing services to your existing system.


Contact OnTime Service for your free consultation and personalized recommendation: (205) 942-1405

We work with all types of heating systems and can help you decide on the right HVAC and distribution system for you.

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