In many regions of the country, air conditioning is a necessity to survive the sweltering hot summers. But while forgoing AC in your home may not be an option, you could be faced with a choice between using central air or installing one or more window or wall units. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of using a central air conditioner vs. a wall unit vs. window unit, and how to decide which model is the right one for you.
The Difference Between Window vs. Wall Cooling vs. Central Air
Although the main goal of air conditioning – to cool your living space – is the same no matter what type of unit you use, different models are appropriate for different uses, depending on the infrastructure of your home and what your cooling needs are.
A central AC unit uses ducts to circulate treated air throughout your entire house. If you heat your home using a forced air furnace, it’s a relatively simple matter to hook a central air unit into your existing ventilation system. If you don’t already have vents in place, the introduction of central air becomes a much more expensive and invasive process, as you would need to install the necessary ductwork through the walls and floors of your house, assuming there is even enough space. Even if you already have a duct system in place, the price tag of a central air unit alone typically runs several thousand dollars, but it’s by far the most powerful option for keeping your entire home cool.
Wall air conditioners, as the name suggests, are installed directly into the wall, and don’t use ductwork to circulate treated air around the house. The downside is they only cool the rooms in their immediate vicinity. Many modern wall air conditioners also function as heaters, allowing you to spot-heat the rooms they occupy in the winter. Wall air conditioners generally cost between $500 and $1000, meaning they are cheaper than central air units, but that advantage deteriorates quickly if you have to purchase several of them to cool a large area of your house.
Window air conditioners have the benefit of being the least expensive to purchase as well as the easiest and least invasive to install. Instead of cutting a hole in the wall, you just set the unit in the window and let it do its work. On the flip side, the cooling power of window units is limited to the room they are in, and since they aren’t airtight it’s necessary, though cumbersome, to remove them in the winter so you can fully close your windows.
What Uses More Electricity: Window or Wall Units, or Central Air?
In addition to the purchase price, another important fiscal consideration when purchasing an air conditioner is how efficiently it will operate. Your ongoing energy costs will be affected by which uses more electricity, a window unit or central air or wall unit, so you should know what you’re getting into before you buy so you aren’t shocked when your monthly utility bill shows up.
In terms of total energy use, a central air unit will use the most by far. Window and wall units typically use between 500 to 1,500 watts, while a central AC may be in the neighborhood of 3,500 watts. However, the central air unit is much more efficient with how it uses its wattage, so it needs to run less frequently to perform its job. You would need at least three wall units to cool the same amount of space that your central AC can handle. Central air units also have more variable settings which allow them to tailor their operations more closely to match the cooling and dehumidifying requirements of the house, which means you can often get an acceptable level of comfort with the thermostat set a few degrees higher than you would with a wall unit.
Other Factors in Play When Purchasing Your Air Conditioner
Whatever type of air conditioner you purchase, it’s important to match the power of the unit to the amount of space you need cooled to wring the maximum efficiency from the equipment. Don’t overlook the variation between different models of the same type, either. Central air conditioners carry a seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, while room units are ranked by an energy efficiency ratio, or EER. In either case, look for models with higher numbers to ensure that you are using less electricity and saving money on your utility bills.
All in all, if you only need to cool a room or two, a window or wall unit is probably your best bet, but if you need to control the temperature in the entire house, a central air unit will be significantly more efficient. If you need central air, learn more about how to choose what size air conditioner you need our Learning Center.