Window Unit vs Central Air Conditioner (Cost, Pros, Cons & Options)

Most of us have had a chance to encounter both window air conditioning units and central air conditioning systems. We encounter central air in our homes, taking care of the entire house, and window units in rooms we are trying to keep cool. Both have their place in our lives.

If you are considering your air conditioning options, in general, your best bet is to get a new central air conditioning system. Central air conditioning gives you better climate control over your house, will last you longer than a window unit, and is more efficient than running several window units.  

Of course, your individual circumstances may vary, and it may make sense to get a window unit or several units instead of central air conditioning. As with most things, the best way to decide is to know more about both types of systems. This article will cover the pros and cons of both, and present the costs and options that you will encounter.

How Do I Choose Which One Is Best For Me?

The primary consideration for whether you choose a window unit or a central air system comes down to the amount of space you are trying to cool.  Window air conditioning units are good for individual rooms, while central air conditioning systems work best for cooling a house. 

There is a secondary factor that may play into your decision, however. The climate you are in may not necessitate you getting a central air system, specifically if you live in a cool climate. On the other hand, if you live in a particularly humid climate, a central air conditioning system will keep your house drier than a window unit can, even when assisted by a dehumidifier.

How Would A Window Unit Benefit Me?

If you only need to cool a small space, window air conditioning units have the advantage of being cheaper and more energy efficient than central air conditioning systems while offering all the same benefits. We will go over the costs of both a little bit more later, but in general, a window unit costs a tenth of a central air conditioning system with none of the hidden costs that come with the installation. 

Window air conditioning units do much the same job that central air conditioning units do. They cool the air when it’s hot, they can keep air circulating on fan mode when it’s not too hot outside, and they can dehumidify the air on dry mode. Also like central air conditioners, some units come with the ability to heat your space as well.

Window air conditioners are not as long-lived as central air conditioners, but they are still expected to last a respectable eight to ten years. During this time, your window air conditioning unit will be delivering you cool air while keeping the cost of energy down. And when the time comes for you to replace your window air conditioning unit, the cost of doing so is relatively inexpensive.

How Would A Central Air Condition Benefit Me?

Central air conditioning gives you an easy, efficient way to cool your entire home with less effort and energy than several wall units would. Central air conditioning also provides better climate control overall and is optimal when you are living in a humid or hot climate.

There is a lot of convenience to central air conditioning. Rather than having to turn your unit on or off manually (or with a remote), central air is automated, controlling itself with the parameters you set and keeping your home at a set temperature.

While both units will filter your air, central air conditioners are better at scrubbing out dust and toxins. Without the presence of these filters, the debris and pollutants in your indoor air can quickly rise to unhealthy levels. Central air keeps the indoor air quality of your entire home at healthy levels so that you can breathe easier.

Central air conditioning also offers an advantage over wall units that has nothing to do with efficiency or cost.  Window air conditioning units are a weak point of security in your home. Since central air does not require you to compromise your home’s integrity by opening a window, this security drawback does not exist in a home with central air conditioning.

Main Factors To Consider When Buying An Air Conditioner

While the size of your space and the climate in which you live are important, the cost and efficiency of the systems are what determine what you will actually end up buying. The cost of the unit includes installation, repairs, and other hidden costs. The efficiency of the system is how well it performs the job you need it to do and how much power it consumes doing it.

When considering costs and efficiency, the type of unit should be weighed against what is right for the size of the job you need it to do. This also needs to be placed in the context of how much work the system will end up doing over its lifetime due to the climate.

1. Cost

When you think about the costs of an air conditioner, don’t just focus on the initial cost. Think about how much the air conditioning system will cost you over its life, from installation to repairs to the monthly electrical bill. 

If you have a small house or are only concerned with cooling a single room, window units are cheaper and more energy efficient for the purpose. But if you have a larger space you need to cool, multiple window units cannot do nearly as well as a central air system, and will cost you more in electrical bills in the long run.

2. Efficiency

A window unit works very efficiently for a small space or working with homes in cooler climates. They do not draw as much power as central air does, so if the cooling requirements are low, a window unit is the way to go.  

However, the bigger the space or the hotter the location, the more energy that is required to cool it. When this is the case, a window unit’s cooling power will not be enough to affect that space.

When it comes to big spaces, central air can work more efficiently than multiple window units trying to accomplish the same task. The central air will take care of the entire house and keep the temperature down without being a drain on power.

Common Problems With A Window Unit

If you own a window unit, make sure that you maintain it regularly to avoid common issues. One of these issues is leaking water from condensation. There is a hose or tube that drains water from the back – if this tube gets stopped up, then you might have spillage in the front.

Window air conditioning units also need to have regular filter replacements, at least once every three months. The filter strains the air entering the AC and stops dust and debris from contaminating your air.  

The window air conditioner uses a lot of power – anywhere from 600 to 1,200 watts. If the window air conditioner is sharing a circuit with other appliances that require a lot of power, it can trip the breaker.

Common Problems With A Central Air Conditioner

Central Air has its own share of common problems, and like a wall unit, must be regularly maintained.  One of these problems is that your central air requires the airflow in your house to be maintained. A blocked vent can cause problems for your air conditioner, and they require an inspection to ensure that they do not remain closed for a long period of time.

Central air units have filters as well, which must also be replaced at least once every three months. Since the system isn’t as visible as a window unit, it is a little bit easier to forget about.

Cost Of A Window Unit

Window air conditioning units vary in price depending on the make, model, and British Thermal Units (BTUs) that the air conditioner is capable of, but the cost is generally somewhere around $400. It isn’t too technical to install a window air unit, so the cost of installation is low.  You can do it yourself, but if you want to hire someone else to do it, a professional may charge you between $60 and $200 to do so. 

The best part about the installation of your new unit is that there are usually no other components you need – there is no ductwork or special wiring that needs to be done. Setting up your window air conditioner will take you at most an hour or two to install.

Make and ModelBritish Thermal Units (BTUs)Cost
Friedrich Chill Premier Smart Window A/C6,000 BTUs$300
Frigidaire 115-Volt Window A/C5,000 BTUs$200
Soleus Air Exclusive Over The Sill A/C6,000 BTUs$530
Frigidaire Gallery Inverter Quiet Temp Smart Room A/C8,000 BTUs$470
Windmill A/C8,300 BTUs$350
Friedrich Kuhl Series Room A/C9,700 BTUs$1,030
LG LW1016ER 115V Window-Mounted A/C10,000 BTU$420

Cost Of A Central Air Conditioner

Central air units on average cost an average of $5,000 to $9,000 for a new installation. The good news is that the average total cost tends to be on the lower end of this. The cost of the unit by itself averages out to about $2,000. 

Each make has its own installation costs, some of these being higher than others. American Standard, for example, has an installation cost between $1000 and $5,000, in addition to the price of the unit. 

In addition to installation costs, there may be other hidden costs to consider. Your local government may require a permit or an inspection of the system to ensure it is up to code. Make sure that you check with local ordinances before installation.

Ductwork too may not be included in the cost of installation, though not every system requires ducts. If your system requires brand-new ducts, a new installation will cost you between $2,000 to $6,000.

MakeSeasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rangeStarting Cost (Unit Only)
American Standard14 – 22$1,345
Heil13 – 19$895
Trane14 – 22$3,380
Bryant13 – 26$3,300
Goodman13 – 19$985
Amana14 – 24.5$1,310
Carrier13 – 26$1,525

What Are Some Window Unit Options?

If you are considering a window unit, you have a few good options depending on your needs. One of the best window unit options is the Friedrich Chill Premier Smart Window Air Conditioner.  

As you can expect from the name, it is a ‘smart’ air conditioner, meaning that you can control it from your phone or tablet.  This air conditioner is also fairly affordable at $370.

If you are looking for something with fewer bells and whistles, the Frigidaire standard model is a good buy, especially if you are looking to cool a single room. While you can find air conditioners at a lower price, this model is reliable for its cost ($200).

What Are Some Central Air Conditioner Options

Central air conditioners are much pricer and come with a lot of hidden costs (see the section on costs of a central air conditioning unit). So if you are trying to find a quality air conditioning unit on a budget, Goodman is one of the best ways to go.

Goodman’s products are durable, have excellent warranties, and come at affordable costs. They work great in hot climates and are surprisingly quiet.

American Standard is also another great option, though the cost of installation tends to be pricier.  However, one of the biggest positives of American Standard is the energy efficiency of their machines. If you are going to be in your home for a long time, the savings in energy may just end up recouping the high upfront costs.

Which Air Conditioner Should I Choose?

If you are cooling a house in a hot climate, a central air conditioner is a must. If you live in a cooler climate or are only concerned with a single room or two, a window air conditioning unit is the way to go. Remember, a window unit will cost you around $400 to cool a room, while central air will cost you $5000 to cool the house.

Whatever brand or type of air conditioner you go with, try to stick to one that you have heard of. The big-name brands have reputations to uphold and will be more reliable for you than one that this is new to the market.

If you don’t have room for the ductwork required by a central air conditioner but need something a bit more powerful than a window air conditioner, you can also consider a minisplit system. Minisplit systems allow you to control the temperatures in individual rooms and can be very energy efficient.


Central air conditioning is good for big spaces, both for cooling and general climate control. However, it will cost you more overall and is not as efficient as window units.

If you can get away with only cooling a single room, a window unit does all the things that a central air conditioning system does, albeit for a smaller space.

Whichever system you get installed, it is important that it be installed correctly.  More issues are caused by improper or poor installation than because of any other reason. It is recommended that you hire a professional to do your installation, even if you are only buying a window unit.

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