Window vs. Central Air Conditioner: Which is Better for You?

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Cooling down your home or office space helps keep you comfortable during hot days. Window units are cost-effective, but can only cool one space at a time within a limited area. A central air system is one of the most efficient cooling systems in the market, but is expensive. In this article, we weigh in on the pros and cons of each type of air conditioner:

What is a Window Air Conditioner?

Window AC units are standard types of air conditioners that are suitable for condominium units and apartments as they require little to no installation, can adequately cool down small to moderate-sized rooms, and fit in most vertically-sliding windows. Unlike a central air conditioning unit, a window air conditioner can only cool one room at a time.

Pros

Budget

Window air conditioners are relatively affordable compared to other types of air conditioners like ductless mini split systems, and ceiling cassette air conditioners. While window units are not as affordable as portable air conditioners, you can find a good quality window unit priced at $300-$500, with larger units costing upwards of $700.

Cooling Power

Despite their size, window air conditioners can cool spaces of up to 1,500 square feet with a 25,000 BTU rating. For small studio apartments, a 5,000 BTU window unit is sufficient in cooling the space. Window AC units have a wide range of BTU ratings that can fit into the space requirements of most spaces, whether they are small or moderately-sized areas.

Energy Consumption

Window air conditioners are energy efficient, consuming an average of 0.0874 kWh of electricity per hour for medium-powered units. While larger, more powerful compressors use more energy, a window unit is considered energy efficient, particularly for inverter window units with increased energy efficiency.

Maintenance

Window units are low maintenance, and can be easily cleaned at home by accessing the air filter and coils. Professional air conditioner services for window-type air conditioners are abundant, and help maintain the durability of the window AC unit.

Cons

Space Requirements

Window air conditioners do not require much space. They do, however, require an outdoor-facing sliding window for installation, which some spaces may not have available. Window air conditioners cannot cool multiple rooms at once, and you'll need multiple units for each room if you're looking to cool more than one zone.

What is a Central Air Conditioning System?

Central air conditioning systems work with the existing ductwork in the space to provide cooling comfort to multiple areas at a time. These air conditioner units feature powerful compressors capable of cooling down large spaces, but installing central air conditioning in the home will require pre-existing duct work, which not all spaces have.

Pros

Cooling Power

The cooling power of central air conditioners is unmatched. While window AC units can cool up to 1,500 square feet of space, a central air conditioner can cool over 2,100 square feet of space with just one unit. Besides cooling, most central air conditioner units also feature heating capabilities.

Energy Consumption

While central air conditioning systems feature powerful compressors, that doesn't mean they are energy-guzzling. Their energy consumption relative to the amount of cool air they provide is cost-effective, and modern central air conditioners use inverter compressors to optimize energy usage. Central AC units may require more energy, but they utilize it efficiently.

Space Requirements

If you have existing ductwork in your home, then a central air conditioning unit is right for your space! Central air conditioning units install into the duct work, where the central air conditioner can cool multiple spaces at a time unlike window air conditioning units, which can only cool one room at a time.

Cons

Budget

Central air conditioning systems are expensive - they can cost $10,000 on average for the unit alone, and installation costs will bring the price of the unit higher. Operation costs and maintenance fees add up over time, leading to a cooling system that is expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.

Maintenance

Central air conditioners will require professional maintenance for the best care. While you may be able to wash the outdoor unit and air filters yourself, professional maintenance is the only way to ensure your unit is kept clean and in good condition. You need to consider the availability of air conditioner service companies near you for your central AC unit.

Window Unit vs Central Air Conditioners: What's the Difference?

Factors Window Air Conditioner Central Air Conditioner
Budget Budget friendly. 4.5 out of 5 rating Very expensive. 1.5 out of 5 rating
Energy Consumption Optimized energy consumption. 4 out of 5 rating Optimized energy consumption. 4 out of 5 rating
Space Requirements Does not require ductwork; Requires window space. 3.5 out of 5 rating Requires ductwork. 2.5 out of 5 rating
Cooling Power Efficient cooling. 4 out of 5 rating Excellent cooling. 5 out of 5 rating
Maintenance Low maintenance. 4 out of 5 rating High maintenance. 2 out of 5 rating

The Verdict

Window air conditioners are great for small to moderate spaces, but when you need to cool more than one room at a time, you may benefit better from a central air conditioning system connected to your existing ductwork. While central air conditioners may be more expensive, they could save money in the long run when cooling multiple, large zones. 

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