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Which is better – central air conditioning or window air conditioners? This question is often asked, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

In part, it depends on where you live. If you live in Maine or Montana, you might only need a/c for two weeks a year. A window unit or two could do the job. If you rent or live in an older apartment or home, central a/c might not be doable. Window units would probably be your best cooling alternative.

For Floridians, high temperatures and humidity are the norm. Heat might only be needed for a few weeks every year, but cooling isn’t something anyone wants to do without. More often than not, contractors include central air in new homes. Some HOAs don’t allow window units at all, considering them “eyesores.” However, throughout Florida, window units are still very popular, particularly in smaller and manufactured homes.

A quick note on portable and mini-split or ductless systems:

  • Portable units can be expensive, but if cooling and possibly even heating are needed in only one or two small areas, portable units are a viable option.
  • Mini-split or ductless cooling systems sound attractive, but, depending on the size of your home, could end up costing quite a bit more than central a/c.  They can be expensive and are highly efficient. They are great to use in a Florida room or when adding a small room addition to an existing home.

Energy Efficiency Ratings

In central air conditioning, energy efficiency is rated in two ways.

  • EER, the energy efficiency ratio, measures how much energy is used to cool a certain volume of 95-degree air in one hour.
  • SEER, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, measures how much energy is used at varying levels of humidity and temperature.

Central a/c units must achieve a SEER rating of at least 14.5 and an EER rating of at least 12 in order to be Energy-Star-certified. Window units are only rated by EER and are Energy-Star-certified if the units achieve a rating between 9.4 and 10.7.

The Pros and Cons of Central Air Conditioning 

Central A/C Pros 

  • Features: Central systems offer many features not found on window units.
  • Better air filtration: This feature is very important for anyone suffering from asthma, allergies, or any other health issues. Add “change a/c filter” to your calendar each month so you remember to change the filter for the best indoor air quality.
  • Reduced indoor humidity: Many homeowners find they feel just as comfortable with central a/c set to a higher temperature than previous window units because the air is less humid.
  • More even room temperatures: Window units can’t circulate the air as efficiently, frequently having cold spots near the unit and warm spots elsewhere.
  • Cools the whole house: Window units only cool one room. Central a/c vents distribute air evenly throughout the home.
  • Almost invisible: Inside, all you see are the vents. The outside unit is normally behind the house where it can be concealed with shrubbery or a low fence.
  • Resale value: In Florida, many home buyers won’t consider buying a house without central air. A well-maintained, energy-efficient a/c system generally adds to the value of the property since it’s permanently installed.

Central A/C Cons

  • Cost: Central a/c costs more to purchase and operate than window units. However, you get more cooling for your buck with central a/c.
  • Repairs: Repair costs to a central a/c system could be more than the cost of a new window unit. Central systems should be regularly maintained.
  • Cooling more area than you need to: Some people just set the temperature and forget about it. A programmable thermostat is a good investment with central a/c, combined with closing off any unused rooms.

Window A/C Unit Pros

  • Inexpensive: Cheaper to buy and easy to install.
  • One room cooling: Cool only the room you’re in.
  • No “duct loss”: Poorly installed and maintained ducts can leak, possibly reducing central air’s efficiency by as much as 30%.

Window A/C Unit Cons

  • Filtration: The best window unit can’t filter air as efficiently as central air conditioning. Air filters should always be cleaned regularly, but this is particularly important if anyone has breathing difficulties.
  • Hot and cold spots: As mentioned above, window units don’t circulate air efficiently, so hot and cold spots are normal.
  • Unattractive: Blocks part of the window inside and is a clunky box hanging out of the window outside.

Progressive Air Systems is proud to have been serving Florida’s West Coast since 1985. With us, the customer always comes first. We know how important it is to always provide prompt, knowledgeable a/c repair and maintenance. Being straight with customers and always holding ourselves to high ethical standards is key to our continued success.

We hope this or any other of our AC blogs have been useful. To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact Progressive Air Systems online or call 727-372-5717.