Window Air Conditioner Vs. Central Air: What’s the Better Pick?

If you live in Philadelphia, what’s the better option, central air or a window air conditioner? The answer depends on a few factors, including how many rooms you want to cool and the type of house you have.

Thought this past winter was harsh? Get ready for summer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts this summer in Philadelphia will be hotter than average. If your home doesn’t already have air conditioning, this might be the year you finally decide to take the plunge. When choosing air conditioning, you can decide between a central unit or a window air conditioner. Your budget and cooling needs will determine which is the better option.

Cost Factors

One of the major differences between a window air conditioner and a central air conditioning system is the upfront cost. You can head down to any hardware store or big box store and pick up a window unit for less than $200. If you want to have a central air conditioning system installed, the average cost in Philadelphia starts at $4,500, according to HomeAdvisor.

Beyond the initial investment, when it comes to choosing an air conditioner, you should also factor in the cost of cooling your home. Generally speaking, the bigger your house, the more power required to cool it, and the higher your energy bills will be for the summer. Choosing an ill-suited unit — for example, if you get a tiny 12,000-BTU-per-hour window unit to cool a 1,000-square-foot space — will hike up costs.

Energy Efficiency

Both window units and central air conditioning are rated by their energy efficiency ratio (EER). The ratio is the cooling output (in BTUs) of the unit divided by the power used in watt hours. The higher the EER, the more efficient the unit, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. For a central air conditioning system, the lowest recommended EER is 12, while the lowest recommended EER for a window unit is 11.

Even though central air conditioning systems have a higher EER than window units, window air conditioners can be more energy efficient than central units, according to Green Building Advisor. In a lot of cases, it comes down to how the air conditioning is used. Central air conditioners often waste a lot of energy by cooling rooms no one’s in, and if a home isn’t insulated, cool air can seep out of the ducts, wasting a lot of energy in the process.

How Much Do You Want to Cool?

Deciding how much of your home you need to or want to cool at any given time determines the type of unit that’s best for you. If you only need to cool a single bedroom at night, a window unit in the bedroom makes more financial sense. To cool multiple rooms, however, you might want to spring for central air.

Portability

Another thing to consider when choosing between central air or a window unit is whether you own or rent. If you’re renting, a window unit might be your best option, as you can take it with you. If you’re a homeowner, central air can be the better pick — especially since, as an attractive feature for potential buyers, it can increase your home’s value.

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