Home Cooling Tips: Window AC Unit vs Central Air

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In your quest for home cooling tips, are you wondering about central air vs window units? Or should you keep cooling your home through window air conditioning units. What about those new fangled mini split air conditioning units also called ductless air conditioning aka heat pumps for warming your home in the winter?

This post about home cooling tips, focusing on how a window ac unit versus central air stacks up, is perpetually popular, regardless of the time of year. It explores the pros and cons of cooling your home with window air conditioning, ductless air conditioning system, and central air.

When window ac units may make sense

Window ac units are cheaper in the short run. They make the most sense if you live in a small home or apartment. Believe it or not, you can buy an air conditioner window unit on Amazon and have it shipped directly to your door.

Another air conditioning option–you can buy a portable air conditioner that you vent through a window. It looks like a large dehumidifier with a long vented tube going to the window. In fact, many portable air conditioners have a built-in dehumidifier.

Here is a portable air conditioner that you can buy on Amazon.

portable air conditioner cheap best cooling

Pros of a portable or window ac unit

There are a number of pros to buying a portable or window air conditioner to cool your home. The first pro is price. You can easily buy a portable ac or window ac unit for just a couple hundred dollars. As I mentioned above, you can buy these on Amazon and have them delivered.

The second pro is easy installation. In other words you can install these yourself. A window ac unit might be a bit heavier and clumsier to install, but you can definitely do it yourself. The portable air conditioner is super easy to install DIY. Even my college-aged daughter was able to install one in the house where she lived senior year.

A third–and bonus–pro to the portable air conditioner that looks like a dehumidifier? You can move it from room to room. So if you really want to save money, you can buy one unit per floor of your house and then just roll it from room to room during the summertime.

Cons of a portable or window ac unit

Perhaps the biggest “con” when it comes to window ac units is humidity. That is, the window units don’t always do a good job of keeping the humidity out. So if you live in a humid location and are worried about cheap home cooling tips and dealing with humidity, here is your solution. Go with the aforementioned portable air conditioner with the built-in dehumidifier.

What is a mini split or ductless air conditioning?

home cooling tips ductless air conditioning

One of the newest ways to keep your home cool without central air is with something called a mini split or a heat pump or a ductless air conditioning system.

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

From the U.S. Department of Energy: Ductless mini-split systems are easier to install than some other types of space conditioning systems. For example, the hook-up between the outdoor and indoor units generally requires only a three-inch hole through a wall for the conduit.

Mini splits have no ducts, so they avoid the energy losses associated with the ductwork of central air 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.

Getting a ductless air conditioning system installed

You have to find someone to install a ductless heating and cooling system. For this I would Home Advisor, which can help for free.

Not familiar with Home Advisor? It is the free-to-use contractor referral service that helps you find pretty much anyone to do work around your home. As a real-life Home Advisor customer, we used the service to fine a plumber, roofing professional, fence installer, wood floor refinisher and more. You can read reviews of all contractors you’re thinking of hiring.

And did I mention that it’s free to use? Check out the Home Advisor website and fill out an online service request form to see if you can find someone who can meet with you to discuss installing a ductless air conditioning system in your home.

Here are some tips if you’re concerned about your heating bill.

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.

Do you need to find a pro to install air conditioning? I’ve been relying on Home Advisor for more than a decade.

According to experts there are three elements that really matter when it comes to air conditioning preferences:

  1. the climate where you live (hot and humid Houston versus dry Denver)
  2. how well-insulated your home is
  3. 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. Because when it comes to central air vs window units and humidity, central air wins hands down.

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–now called Second Nature.

On a regular basis the company ships me home air 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–now Second Nature– 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.

Renter? You can keep your energy bills in check, too.

How to keep cool and save money

Now that you know the pros and cons of central air vs window units, here are additional tips on how you can stay cool and save money.home cooling tips

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. Here are my additional tips

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 Second Nature (formerly Filter Easy), a filter club, and saved 90% off my first first order. Second Nature 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.

Here is my review of Second Nature subscription air filter replacement service.

Second Nature 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 Second Nature 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 Second Nature and start your free trial right now.

second nature filters

Look what arrived today–my filters from Second Nature! 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.

programmable 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!

Speaking of Alexa, here is my blog post with five best Alexa hacks for the kitchen!

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.

Here are some additional tips to stay cool in summer.

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.

Finally, if all else fails, it might be time to bring in an expert. That’s what we did when had a home energy audit. It let us know, in real time, how we could improve the energy efficiency of our home. You should be able to use the site HomeAdvisor.com to find someone for this job.

8 thoughts on “Home Cooling Tips: Window AC Unit vs Central Air”

  1. They also mentioned a dehumidifier. By reducing the humidity and using a ceiling fan you can notice a significant difference.

    For night/sleeping:
    Wether or not central air is better for you or not really depends on how many bedrooms are used at night. If it’s just 1 or 2 you are going to want to use window units. If it’s 3+ and the house isn’t huge then maybe the central air is better. If you are running 3+ bedrooms then chances are you have a big house and again window units are probably better.

    The reasoning is simple even if the window unit is half as efficient you are going to cooling much less than half of your home. During the day I run the central air. I have an electronic damper that shuts off the bedroom as long as it is unoccupied and the doors are closed.

    I also bought a $25 temp sensor that plugs into the wall. It came from SONOFF. I also bought 10 of their single channel smart switchs. They cost around $6 ea and you have to wire it into the cord or in the device.

    That controls the on/off functionality of the window unit.

    ——-

    Lastly if you live in a climate that works well with heat pumps then I’d recommend looking into a mini-split system. With a mini split you choose which rooms get a system and even though usually all the interior units are connected to the same exterior unit you will still be able to control each split separately.

    With a mini-split you don’t have to worry about getting too big of a unit either so you can buy a nice big one with just 1 or 2 ducts and add on later. Being oversized does NOT reduce its efficiency like a standard central air conditioner.

    If you live in a heat pump capable area the mini-split can heat your room very well using the heat pump method.

    Lastly I also have a space heater. I converted it over to be a smart system (can only do this if your heater has dials and switches not button). In the winter the house gets set to 60 and the bedroom is kept at 67-68. Even though electricity cost much more than gas the simple fact that I’m cooling 120 square feet vs 1400.

    The smart switches I use are from SONOFF. I have a stack of the single channel units and a few multi channel pros. The pros respond to wireless radio remotes that you can put on your keychain. So those are more for lights and garage etc.

    Reply
  2. Maybe central air is more efficient technically but in reality much more expensive to buy and use. You’re supposed to have them serviced yearly at around $100 a call. All units get old and become less efficient than new units but replacing central will cost thousands while window units are only a couple or few hundred dollars. Window units are essentially zone cooling while central uses thousands of watts of electricity when running to cool the whole house. If you don’t mind wasting money and electricity, have a giant house or don’t care about the environment you probably prefer central. But if you’re frugal and want to replace your units every 5 to 10 years to keep them up to date then window units are the best way to go. Technicians make a living from central air, they make nothing from window units. Guess which ones they recommend. Unfortunately, apartment dwellers usually have no choice but they don’t own any of it anyway and only have to pay the utility bill.

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  3. I know this thread is old but I was wondering what would be the best way to cool a mobile home that is affordable. My in-laws have window units but I just wanna make sure.

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    • I would think that mobile homes have special needs. I don’t feel comfortable making a recommendation but would suggest you ask a professional A/C person. Good luck.

      Reply
  4. A lot also depends on your house. A lot of older homes in Northern climates still have radiators to heat the home and were never built for central air. I lived in Northern Ohio (which was a very typical house in my community) and the only downside was it had radiant heat. The cost to rip out radiators and upgrade to central heat and air was obscenely expensive. So sometimes you have to factor in the costs of installing central air.

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  5. We just remodeled (big time, I’m still recovering) and one change is the addition of a ceiling fan to the master bedroom. Oh, my, I love it! It has a remote control, too. For this, I might forgive my husband and the carpenters for the four weeks I had to use a laundromat while they were building the new laundry closet….

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  6. I use window units for my small house. They don’t use much energy and I only cool the lower floor during the day. Another benefit: my allergies have almost disappeared since going from central air to window units.

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    • Wow! Thanks! Good to know that! I have bad allergies and 3, 4 legged fur babes, part of my allergies.lol Never thought of this. Glad I read all comments. Looking to possibly move from central a/c to window unit home. And researching. So thanks for this info.

      Reply

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