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Central Air Conditioners Vs. Split Air Conditioners

Choosing an air conditioner is an important decision. One needs to factor in the size of the house or room, power requirements, and most importantly, money. Let's be honest: air conditioning can get extremely expensive. If you don't have the proper unit for your needs, you could be overpaying for cool air.  Furthermore, customers are often confused between central AC units and split air conditioners.  Below are some key similarities and differences between the two:

What are Central and Split Air Conditioners?

A central air conditioner circulates cool air through a system of supply and return ducts. These supply ducts and registers (i.e., openings in the walls, floors, or ceilings covered by grills) then carry cooled air from the air conditioner throughout the entire home. This cooled air becomes warmer as it circulates through the home; then it flows back to the central air conditioner through return ducts and registers.  Most central air conditioners have the evaporator, condenser, and compressor all located in one cabinet, which usually is placed on a roof or on a concrete slab next to a building's foundation.

Split air conditioners are slightly different.  Like central air conditioners, they also utilize a split design but they're significantly easier and less expensive to install than central air conditioning. A split AC has at least one unit that sits inside a building (usually the air handler) with the compressor located outside. Therefore, because a split air conditioner's compressor sits outside, it's usually very quiet and efficient. Moreover, since mini splits have no ducts, they avoid the energy losses associated with the ductwork of central forced air systems.

In general, both types of air conditioners require professional installation and have their central unit placed outdoors, and split ACs are great for areas where there is no access to a window, as it gives you the ability to cool without needing a window unit or having to vent a portable AC.  Of course, they also provide effective circulation, allowing for continuous, cool air.

 

Key Differences

One of the biggest differences between central air conditioners and split AC is their cooling abilities. Split ACs give you the ability to install an air conditioner to individually cool only the most used rooms in a building instead of the entire house. Central air conditioning, on the other hand, can cool entire homes at the same temperature. This often uses more energy because the unit has to overcompensate for some rooms that tend to be warmer then others such as rooms located on a second story or rooms that have more direct sunlight.

Thus, this increases the cost of central air conditioning. Cooling an entire house is extremely expensive when compared to cooling just one room. This is why many people often tout the effectiveness of portable air conditioners or space heaters as they work great for individual room temperature control.

Installation is another importance cost to factor in. Central air conditioning requires the use of a thorough and effective duct system. Installing ducting can be extremely costly as it will run through the entire house or building. Split ACs use a limited form of ducting and installation usually consists of simply drilling a small hole through the wall and connecting refrigerant tubing for the cold to travel to. This tubing also greatly reduces cool air leakage, results in greater energy efficiency, and saves you money.

 

Environmental Impact
Energy use and environmental impact is another major difference between both types of air conditioners. Central air conditioners are notorious energy wasters and can be harmful to the environment. They also have a tendency to emit chlorine gas as well as other ozone damaging gasses during the cooling process; split ACs do not. In fact, it's often easier to find an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly split AC than it is to find a central air conditioning unit.

For more information on split air conditioners, see our split AC information page or read our portable cooling guide for more information on central air conditioning alternatives.