Photo of a window air conditioner vs central air conditioner

If you landed on this page, then one of the following things is likely true:

  • You have a central air conditioner and are tired of the high monthly costs. (Can a window air conditioner really lower your bill?)
  • You’re interested in buying a home but it doesn’t have central AC. (Will a window AC be sufficient?)
  • You’re just curious about central air vs window units and how they work. (Are they really that different?)

If you’re wondering anything about window AC vs central AC—and which one is right for you—this post can help.

Thes days, it’s all about using an air conditioner that meets your needs for feeling comfortable.

And that’s what this guide on central AC vs window units is going to do. It will cover the pros and cons of each system as well as give you a comparison of the monthly costs you can expect out of each unit.

Comparing Window AC Units

After reading this post, if you do decide that a window air conditioner is right for you, we have another guide for you.

Our list of the best window AC units here can help you pick the right size and model that’s right for you. It also includes the top features to look for in a window AC unit so it meets your individual needs.

Central Air vs Window Units: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Central Air Explained

Central air conditioners are the most commons systems installed in newer homes.

What makes them so attractive is that they’re specifically designed to provide an even and consistent cooling experience throughout the entire house.

The way central AC units work is by sending cold air through ducts (square aluminum enclosures) that are installed in the ceiling and floors. This network of ductwork allows central air to reach every corner of the home, from top to bottom.

Central air conditioners are split systems that contain two parts:

  • An outdoor condenser unit that contains the condenser coil, compressor, electrical components, and a fan.
  • An indoor evaporator coil that’s located inside an air handler or attached to the furnace.

A series of refrigeration lines connect the two parts of the system together. A thermostat panel is used to control the temperature indoors.

Window Units Explained

Window air conditioners are appliances that are designed to cool just one room of a home.

They’re self-contained units with all of the air conditioning components located in one device and are installed inside a window sill.

Window AC units feature a double shaft motor which has two fans on either side of the unit. One fan is next to the condenser and the other by the evaporator.

The side which faces in the room is the side with the evaporator. This is the part of the window air conditioner that works to cool down the temperature indoors.

The other side of the unit is positioned to face outside the home and has the condenser. This is the part of the window air conditioner that deposits hot air that the air conditioner collects to the outdoors.

See all of Amazon's Best Selling Window AC Units

Window AC vs Central AC: Pros and Cons of Each

There are several advantages and disadvantages to using each type of cooling system.

To help you better compare window AC vs central AC, we’ve broken down the pros and cons for you.

Window AC Unit Pros

1. Energy Efficient

One of the best things about window air conditioners is that they’re very energy efficient.

In fact, most window AC units use one-eighth the amount of electricity compared to central air systems.

That equates to about $20-30 per month to use a window air conditioner for around eight hours per day.

The newest models have fantastic Energy Efficiency Ratios (EER), which is a measurement that tells you how well the window AC units is doing its job based on the energy output.

The best window air conditioners have an Energy Star Certification, which means they use as little energy as possible to cool the air inside a room.

2. Easy to Install

Window air conditioners are made for people who want efficient cooling without the hassle of a difficult installation process.

These devices are simple enough for anyone without technical skills to install without much of a problem.

The basic process includes opening a window, placing the window unit onto the sill, closing the window, and securing the window shut with a few screws so the unit doesn’t fall out.

If you like DIY projects and are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can install a window air conditioner through a wall. However, it must be a through the wall air conditioner model that allows this type of installation.

If that interests you, take a look at our free guide on through the wall air conditioners. It explains everything you need about find a top quality product.

3. Affordable

If you’re on a tight budget, there’s no need to worry about a window air conditioner breaking the bank.

There are dozens of great models out there that cost around $100 or less for small rooms. That said, it’s important to remember that each appliance’s price is an indication of its energy efficiency and cooling capacity.

A window air conditioner’s cooling capacity is measured by the device’s British Thermal Unit (BTU). The BTU number tells you how large a room the air conditioner can cool. The higher an appliance’s BTU, the more expensive it will be.

This is why it’s a good idea to figure out what size window AC unit you need before making a purchase. That way you don’t waste money on an overpowered device.

Here’s an idea of the BTU number relates to room size coverage in square feet (sq. ft.):

  • 5,000 BTU (150 sq. ft.)
  • 8,000 BTU (350 sq. ft.)
  • 9,000 BTU (400 sq. ft.)
  • 10,000 BTU (450 sq. ft.)
  • 12,000 BTU (550 sq. ft.)
  • 14,000 BTU (700 sq. ft.)

Window AC Units Cons

1. Doesn’t Cool Your Entire Home

Obviously, the biggest issue with window AC units is that they’re meant to cool only one room in your home.

Therefore, unless you’re planning to install a window air conditioner in every single room of your house, don’t expect your entire home to be cooled with one unit.

That being said, you can cool multiple connected rooms with one window air conditioner; however, the cold air won’t be even. The room with the unit will be the coldest, while the other rooms will have an incrementally higher temperature the farther away they are from the device.

2. Must Be Stored During Winter

It’s not a good idea to keep a window air conditioner installed during the colder months. The poor weather conditions can cause the exterior of the unit to take a beating and get damaged.

Therefore, you need to take the unit out of the window and store it during the winter. Then, reinstall it when summer approaches.

If you choose to use a through the wall air conditioner, as we mentioned previously, then you won’t have to remove the unit. These style of air conditioners remain installed all year round. Plus, some models even include a heating function for you to use as a supplemental heat source.

3. Limited Cooling Capacity

While there are various sizes of window AC units available, they do have a maximum room size for cooling.

The biggest window air conditioner you’ll find is a likely a 25,000 BTU unit. That amounts to about 1,600 square feet of cooling coverage.

If you have an area larger than that to cool, a window unit may not be the best choice; unless you want to put two units in one room.

Central AC Unit Pros

1. Consistent Comfort

One of the best things about central AC vs window units is that every single room of your home can be at a desirable temperature.

With a simple turn of the thermostat dial, you can enjoy air conditioning no matter where you are indoors.

2. Filtered House Air

Central air conditioners suck in the existing hot air from your home and pass it through a filter before pushing cold air back into the house.

This is great for people who want cleaner air to breathe or have allergies or asthma. The air filter in a central AC unit can remove a large number of particles that cause allergies to flare.

3. Lower Humidity

Since central air conditioners filter the air inside the whole house, this also lowers the humidity throughout the home as well.

The key, however, is to keep the doors to all of the rooms open so that moisture can be removed from every indoor space.

Central AC Unit Cons

1. High Energy Bills

Central air conditioner units are notorious for causing spikes in your electric bill, especially during the raging heat of the summer.

The average cost for running a central AC unit for 8 hours per day is around $100-200 per month.

That said, if you try incorporating some of these alternatives to air conditioning, you won’t have to keep your central air conditioner on for the whole day—meaning that you can cut back on the amount you’re spending on energy.

Additionally, some people do choose to supplement their central unit with a window air conditioner. That way, they can keep a room that’s used most (e.g. living room or bedroom) nice and cold and only turn on the central air system only when it’s necessary.

2. Requires (Costly) Professional Installation

A huge disadvantage of central AC units is that it takes a trained professional to install them. You can’t just buy the parts of the system and put them in yourself without proper training.

Also, the cost for the units and running ductwork range between $5,000 to $10,000, which is an expensive upgrade for any homeowner.

That’s why many people who purchase houses that don’t already have central air choose window AC units. They’re cheap and easy to install and provide an adequate amount of cooling comfort for a majority of homeowners.

3. Duct Maintenance

Since a ton of air is passed through the ducts of your central air conditioner each year, it’s important to have the ducts regularly maintained. If not, bacteria and other hazardous particles can become trapped or recirculated throughout the entire home.

Ideally, you should have your ducts cleaned once a year by a professional HVAC technician. The cost ranges between $300 to $500 for a standard size home. Price is determined by the number of ducts and the configuration with the average price being $35 per vent to clean.

Window AC vs Central AC: The Consensus

When it comes to determining which of these types of air conditioning systems is right for you (window AC vs central AC), it mostly comes down to a few determining factors: cost, energy efficiency, and your desired comfort level.

If you’re looking for an energy-efficient device that doesn’t break the bank, a window air conditioner is the most logical choice.

However, if cost is not a concern, but rather ensuring there’s even and consistent cooling throughout your home, then a central AC unit is the way to go.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on central AC vs window units and now have a better sense of which option is best for you.

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About David Morrison

David is an Air Quality & Comfort Technician. He has expert knowledge on the technology and design of air purification, air conditioning, and heating systems. His main role is to write content that helps people get the most value out of their air purifiers, air conditioners, and heating units. (See Full Bio)