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Compare Central Air vs Window A/C Unit Costs

About Central Air

Central air is a whole-home air conditioning system that is controlled by a single thermostat or several thermostats set up in different “zones.” An external air conditioning unit is connected to the duct work in your home. Cold air is blown through the ducts and released into each room through the existing vents.

The vast majority of central cooling systems are split systems, which have an outdoor cabinet that holds the compressor and a condenser coil, and an indoor coil that is usually installed on the top of the furnace. The indoor coil transfers warm air outside and the outdoor components cool the air with refrigerant, remove moisture and pump it back in through the ducts.

Less common types include packaged central air conditioners, which have a single outdoor cabinet that contains all components, and mini-split systems, which are smaller and less powerful versions of regular split systems.

How Much Does Central Air Cost?

Adding central air usually costs about $3,000 to $5,000 for an average-size home, if the home already has duct work in place. That price includes installation. High-efficiency systems cost about 30 to 40 percent more, but you’ll recoup that money over the long term in reduced energy costs.

If the home does not have ducts, the total cost could be as much as $8,000 to $10,000. (If you have a traditional furnace, your home has ducts. If you have boiler that heats with steam or hot water, you do not.)

Mini-split systems cost $1,500-$3,000 installed.

Central Air Installation Cost

Central Air Pros

  • Better cooling - Central air cools your entire home and keeps the temperature consistent. It’s a much more effective system of cooling than window air conditioners, particularly if you live in a warm climate.
  • More convenient - With central air, you control the temperature simply by adjusting a thermostat. It’s much easier than installing window units in each room and adjusting them separately.
  • Cleaner air - Central air conditioning systems filter the air as it removed from the home for cooling, removing dust and other particles. Window units also have filters, but they’re not as effective.
  • Quieter - Central air is much quieter than window units because the compressor is located outside of the home.

Central Air Cons

  • More expensive - Installing central air is expensive. The cost is many times more than what you’d spend to equip the home with window units.
  • Harder to install - You’ll need to hire a professional to install central air conditioning. And the process can take several days.
  • Higher energy bills - Generally, central air is more expensive to operate than a handful of window units.

About Window Air Conditioners

Window air conditioners are portable appliances that simply rest on your windowsills. They plug into a standard electrical outlet to cool a single room. Window units are sold in a variety of models with varying features.

With a window unit, buying the right size is very important. If the air conditioner is too small, it will waste energy trying to work hard enough to cool to the room. If it’s too large, it will waste energy constantly shutting itself off and on to prevent the room from getting too cold.

How Much Does a Window Unit Cost?

Window air conditioners start at about $100 for a small, 5,000-BTU unit that will cool up to 200 square feet. Larger, 10,000-BTU units that will cool up to 500 square feet are generally priced from $200 to $400.

Ultra-premium models with sleek designs and advanced energy efficient features can cost as much as $1,000, but these are usually more than the average person needs.

Window Unit Pros

  • Less expensive - Buying a few window units is far less expensive than having central air installed. The units themselves are cheaper, and there are no installation costs.
  • Use less energy - Unless you have a window unit in each room, and each one is constantly on full blast, window units cost less to operate than central air.

Window Unit Cons

  • Not as effective - Window units are not as effective at cooling. Typically, a single unit will cool only one room. You’re unlikely to achieve the same level of comfort as you would with central air, particularly in hot climates.
  • Inconvenient - Window units can be a pain. They have to be installed in the spring, then removed and stored in the fall. You’ll also have to adjust each thermostat individually.
  • Unsightly - Many people consider window units unattractive. They’re bulky and they block a portion of the view out of your window.

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