Central Air vs. Window Air Conditioning
Is it worth it to upgrade to central air? Or should you keep cooling your home through window air conditioning units. What about those new fangled mini split air conditioning units also called heat pumps for the winter?
This post, on central air versus window air conditioning, is perpetually popular, regardless of the time of year. It explores the pros and cons of central air.
What is central air conditioning?
Central air conditioning is a way of cooling the home by using an existing home heating system made up of ducts. You’ll probably know that your home could have central air if you have a forced air heating system. Got vents in the ceilings, walls or floors or your home? Then you likely have an existing duct system that can handle adding an air conditioning system to your HVAC. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
According to experts there are three elements that really matter when it comes to air conditioning preferences:
- the climate where you live (hot and humid Houston versus dry Denver)
- how well-insulated your home is
- your personal preferences are
Issues with humidity
If you’re looking to cool your home and lower the humidity, I would recommend trying a dehumidifier. We’ve lived in homes with un-air conditioned basements. These were always damp basements. However, once we got a dehumidifier going down there, the basement always stayed cool and dry. You can try the same in your home, if you can’t afford to install central air.
However, if you are looking for cooling efficiency, central air is your best bet.
Not only does a central air system cool your house. But a good system is able to filter the air for allergens and pollutants, and it controls humidity, too. Again, if you have a forced air heating system, getting a central air system installed should be a snap. Why not submit a Home Advisor request today?
Why your central air system needs a filter
Speaking of filters, if you have a forced air heating or cooling system, you must change filters monthly. I’ve found that when I change my filters every month, my central air system works more efficiently. That means my house stays cooler in summer, and my electric bills don’t go sky high. How do I manage to change the filters monthly without having to run to the store each time? I signed up for the FilterEasy filter service.
On a regular basis FilterEasy ships me the filters I need for my specific HVAC system. The filters cost the same as what I would pay at my local hardware or big box store. But because they come to my front door, it saves me time. Also, because I am changing those filters regularly, I am saving money, too. How? One, I’m keeping my cooling bills as low as possible. And two, by keeping a clean filter in my HVAC system at all times, I’m keeping the system clean and make it less likely it will break down.
If you have a forced air system, I would strongly recommend that you sign up for the FilterEasy filter service to save time and money on this household task.
The role insulation plays in cooling
Maybe humidity isn’t your problem. But insulation is. And that can affect how well or poorly your central air can cool you home.
Insulation isn’t just in the walls, by the way. We’re also talking about well-insulated windows and, believe it or not, a well-insulated attic. In the summer, temperatures in the attic often climb to more than 140 degrees. Even when the first floor is comfortable, this constant flow of heat from the attic can bake your bedrooms upstairs.
Most people don’t think of insulation as a way to keep cool. However, increasing levels in your attic can make a huge difference. You can install insulation yourself by buying it at a store like Home Depot. Or you can find a pro to add insulation. Again, this is where a contractor-referral service like Home Advisor can help you out.
When window units may make sense
Window units are cheaper in the short run. But if you need more than a few of them, you’re probably better off with central air.
A central air unit will use less energy overall. Also, central air will cool more efficiently than a series of window units running in tandem. Your energy bills will probably be lower, too.
Did you know that Amazon.com sells air conditioners? Don’t miss out on deals!
What is a mini split?
Many older homes without central air conditioning have had to rely on window air conditioners to stay cool. However, that doesn’t have to be the case anymore.
One of the newest ways to keep your home cool is with something called a mini split or a heat pump. Why a heat pump when we’re talking about air conditioning? Because these mini splits “split” between cooling your home in the summer and heating your home in the winter.
In our old house that had central air conditioning, we added a mini split to an addition we had put onto our house. It was much more affordable to install the mini split heat pump rather than run new duct work in the new space. In fact, another word for mini splits is a ductless heating and cooling system.
Pros of a mini split ductless system
Mini splits have no ducts, so they avoid the energy losses associated with the ductwork of central forced air systems. Duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.
In comparison to other add-on systems, mini splits offer more interior design flexibility. The indoor air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Floor-standing models are also available. Most indoor units are about seven inches deep and have sleek, high tech-looking jackets. Many also offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it’s positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling.
Cons of a mini split ductless system
The cost of installing mini splits can be higher than some systems, although lower operating costs and rebates or other financial incentives — offered in some areas — can help offset the initial expense.
Some people may not like the appearance of the indoor part of the system. While less obtrusive than a window room air conditioner, these units don’t have the built-in look of a central system. There must also be a place to drain condensate water near the outdoor unit.
How to keep cool and save money
Now that you know the pros and cons of central air, here are additional tips on how you can stay cool and save money.
Not surprisingly the demand for electricity rises as the weather gets hot and air conditioners start humming. There’s no reason your budget has to suffer just so you can be comfortable. I’ve come up with these 8 ways that you keep cool and save money this summer.
1. Sign Up for Service That Helps You Change Filters Monthly
When was the last time you changed the air filters in your central air system? If you’re like I am–or should I say, I used to be–then that’s no way to keep cool and save money. A dirty filter makes your a/c run harder. Or conversely it’s a well-known fact that a clean filter helps your central air run more efficiently, thus saving you money.
I mentioned earlier that the way I made changing my filters easier on myself is by signing up for Filter Easy, a filter club, and saved 90% off my first first order. Filter Easy works a lot like Dollar Shave Club, in that it sends me filters for my central air system so I don’t have to run to the store.
Filter Easy is saving me money, too. I paid $4.50 for three filters for my first delivery. That’s because rather than sign up for one filter every month, I signed up for three filters to arrive every three months. This way I saved 90% on those first three filters rather than just one. In three months, when Filter Easy sends me my next batch of filters, I’ll pay about $44. That’s what I would pay in the store anyway. Shipping is free, and, most importantly I don’t have to go to the store!
While that 90% off offer has expired, you can still sign up for Filter Easy and get $20 off your first month. Considering my filters cost about $14, that’s like getting your first filter free!
Look what arrived today–my three filters from Filter Easy! You bet I changed out my old filter right away. Boy, was it dirty!
2. Install a Programmable Thermostat
Installing a programmable thermostat is smart. You can raise the setting to the highest comfortable temperature when you’re out of the house. No reason to cool an empty house. You can program your thermostat to kick in right before you get home from work. You can save 3 to 5 percent on your air conditioning costs for each degree you raise the thermostat. A programmable thermostat is one of the best ways to keep cool and save money. FYI, if you happen to have an Alexa, the Nest smart thermostat works with it!
3. Close Doors
There are probably lots of doors throughout your house or apartment that you should keep closed on hot days. I’m not just talking about your front door either. You should close doors leading to uncooled and vacant parts of your home. If you have central air conditioning, close off vents to unused rooms.
4. Use a Ceiling Fan
Using a ceiling fan can make a room feel cooler on your skin. This is true, even if you have air conditioning. Many of the rooms in our house have ceiling fans. These can help people “feel” cooler without cranking the a/c. Best of all ceiling fans don’t use a lot of energy.
5. Seal Holes and Cracks Around Doors and Windows
Eliminate air leaks around window air conditioners with foam insulation or weather-stripping. You can do this sealing and weather stripping yourself on a weekend day. Or you can hire a professional to do it for you. It’s so easy to fill out and submit an online service request form on HomeAdvisor.com.
6. Block Out the Sun
Close blinds, shades and draperies facing the sun. This will keep out the sun’s heat. This is an easy way to help fans and air conditioners cool more efficiently.
We always get blackout drapes to help keep the sun out. I love the ones on Amazon with the grommets at the top!
7. Turn Off Power Sources
TVs, computers and other electronic devices draw power when they are in standby mode or turned off but still plugged in. Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power switch when the items are not in use. Some of them give off residual heat that could raise the temperature of the room so turning them off is a good idea.
8. Invest in a Dehumidifer
As I mentioned earlier humidity levels affect your ability to feel cool. You can reduce the humidity level in your home by investing in a dehumidifier. Putting one in your basement, like we have done, can help cut down on musty smells as well.