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Central Air Conditioning vs Window Units

Published on: February 11, 2013

Cost – Always a Factor

Purchasing a central air conditioning system is a big investment when you consider the equipment, ductwork and installation. Depending on the size of your home, you will probably spend less by purchasing a number of window units rather than a central AC. The difference will become more significant if you are considering an addition or standalone structure that has very few rooms. In that case, a clear edge goes to window units on the economic front.

Efficiency Matters

Most would assume that this category would be a slam-dunk for central air conditioning, but that is not necessarily the case. In general, central air conditioners are more efficient than their window unit counterparts. The minimum efficiency allowed for a window unit is approximately 20 percent lower than for a central AC, so the central units definitely have an advantage. It is in the use of the equipment where the differences lie. Unless you have a zoned system, you are forced to have your entire house at the same temperature whenever the system is running. With window units, it is easy to turn them off if you are not using a particular room, thus lowering the overall demand for cooling or heating. If you are judicious, you can actually use less energy with window units.

Another factor in the favor of window units is that there is no ductwork to wear out or leak. Also, ductwork is frequently installed in areas that are unconditioned, and so they are exposed to extreme temperatures that affect the conditioned air within. Installing ductwork within the conditioned space can offset this, but not every homeowner is going to be agreeable to having exposed ducts in their living space. Installing foam insulation at the roofline turns the entire house into a conditioned envelope and will greatly diminish the issue of exposure. You may also consider zoned systems or mini-split ductless equipment, but these options are going to be more expensive.

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Air Conditioning Repairs

Finally, there is the issue of longevity and repair costs. A typical central HVAC system is designed to last for a minimum of 10 years, and most last much longer if they are properly maintained. Window units can be repaired, but it is generally not worth the effort because it is more convenient to buy a new one. This can get expensive over time, but it is a fact of life. You can potentially eliminate the need for air conditioner services by installing window units, but you will probably sacrifice in quality. The aesthetics for window units may also influence your choice. Not everyone would be comfortable with the look of a window unit in every room of the house. It would also be difficult to determine the long term costs for window units because of the replacement factor.

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