When it comes to residential cooling, one of the most common questions is whether a window air conditioner is cheaper than an HVAC system. While it might seem this is an easy answer, there are actually several variables that change whether that’s the case for your situation. Discover how to tell what the best kind of air conditioning unit is for your home.
Understanding Installation Costs
Most window air conditioning units will typically run between $150 to $600 each, depending on the model and cooling capacity. Most people can install these units themselves, so you don’t have the added cost of installation.
A central air conditioner may run anywhere from about $3,000 to over $8,000 if you currently use a central air handling system. This includes not only the cost of the unit but also professional installation. If you don’t currently have a ducted heating or cooling system in your home, you may add anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 to install the ducts.
Looking at these costs, it’s easy to lean toward a window unit. Before you run out and buy a unit, however, evaluate your operational costs between the two.
Considering Operational Costs
Cooling your home requires moving the cool air around your home. A central air conditioner uses ducts to move the air throughout your home and create a light air circulation to evenly cool your space. Window units do not push enough air to evenly heat your entire home, commonly leading to multiple units in different rooms.
If you’re considering window units, you’ll want to put a unit in each room you want to cool. The larger the room, the larger the unit you’ll need. This means you may end up with three or more units to cool your entire home.
A central air conditioner, on average, uses approximately 3,500 watts per hour. This varies depending on unit efficiency, capacity, outdoor temperature and more.
A typical window unit will draw between 500 and 1,500 watts, which is the amount of power consumed if left running constantly for an hour. If you need to use three units to effectively cool your home, you’re looking at 1,500 to 4,500 watts.
When you think about operational costs, think about both the cost of electricity and the cost of repairs and maintenance. When you have multiple units, you increase your maintenance and repair costs by however many units you use.
Also, keep in mind that wind units do not provide as much dehumidifying as do central air systems. The biggest reason for this is that they simply do not circulate as much air as a central system does. This means you may also run a dehumidifier in addition to your window units, which uses an additional 300 watts to 800 watts per hour. This brings your total energy consumption for using window units to a minimum 1,800 to 5,300 watts per hour.
How Much Space Do You Want to Cool?
The big question becomes how much space are you trying to cool? If you’re only concerned about a single room, a window unit is probably a good investment. However, if you’re in a normal home, whether you’re under 1,000 square feet or over 4,000 square feet, a central air conditioner is likely a better option. These provide more efficient and even cooling in your home, especially if you combine smart thermostats with HVAC zoning. This approach gives you more control over individual areas of your home and directs the cool air where it’s needed.
The Benefits of Both With Ductless
Installing ducts in your home can become costly if added after construction. If you don’t already have a central air system, you may want to consider a ductless mini-split system. Rather than using ducts throughout your home, you have several smaller air handlers that mount to an exterior wall. These may seem very similar to a window air conditioner in appearance.
The big difference is that they run to a single condensing unit outside and have a shared refrigerant system. You get to set your desired temperature for each area where you have an air handler, so it acts much like a zoned central system.
Ductless mini-split systems average $3,000 to $10,000 for a three-zone system. However, it only uses about 2,000 watts per hour for those same three zones, making it more operationally cost-effective than both window units or central systems.
Kahn Air Conditioning has brought trusted heating and cooling services to people around Northridge, CA for more than 50 years. Our expert technicians offer heating and air conditioning installation, maintenance and repair together with energy management and indoor air quality solutions. Call to schedule a consultation with one of our friendly installation experts today.