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Forced air vs central air: a comparison guide

Central air, often confused as an alternative to forced-air systems, is actually an additional component that can be added to them.

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Forced air vs centra air. Photo by mira_foto on Flickr.Forced air is an HVAC system designed to push air through the ductwork of a home or an office building. Central air applies only to air conditioning and is often, but not always, included within forced-air systems. Read on for the basics of forced-air vs. central air systems. 

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Forced air

Forced-air systems can be found in most residential and corporate buildings. These systems use ducting to efficiently deliver heating and cooling to where it is needed. A forced AC unit is one of the most popular types as nearly all contractors are familiar with this system.

When it comes to cost, forced-air vs. central air conditioning depends largely on the size of the house, the quality of the ducting and the AC unit itself. Be sure to hire a contractor who is well known in your area to provide you with a forced-air system estimate.

Before making a purchase, consider the following aspects of forced-air AC units:

    • Price range from $711 to $1,192.
    • Easy to install.
    • Comes with energy-efficient options.
    • Comes with heating and cooling elements.

The question of forced air vs. central air is really about whether a basic system is sufficient or whether the convenience of central air justifies the additional costs.

Central air

Central air, often confused as an alternative to forced-air systems, is actually an additional component that can be added to the existing forced-air system. The central air conditioning unit is for cooling only. It uses a condenser and a complex series of coils to send blasts of cold air throughout the entire building.

The condenser portion of a central air unit is located outside the home or office building. It converts air from the environment into cold air.

You should hire a contractor to install an AC unit, such as central air.

Central air units range in price from $3,500 to $4,000 for an average-sized home of around 2,000 square feet. So, it is important to remember that this cost is in addition to the initial cost of a forced-air system.

One of the primary benefits of a central air system is that, unlike other HVAC systems, it delivers cool air to the entire house almost instantly. For a lot of homeowners, this convenience is worth the cost. Central air is an especially popular addition to homes located in parts of the country with warm and humid climates.


Due to their complex system of coils, central air units do tend to require maintenance as time passes. For this reason, it is recommended you purchase a central air system that comes with a lifetime warranty. Although such warranties may add to the upfront cost of a unit, they are a great way to save money on replacements and repairs over the lifetime of your product.

The forced air vs. central air debate is really more a question about cost and convenience. Central air is expensive, but the convenience of instantly cooling your home may compensate for the additional cost. 

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Photo credit: mira_foto via Compfight CC.