Central Cooling and Heating: Save Money by Mixing and Matching

Need central cooling and heating? Here are some solutions that will work with your existing system

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Despite serving opposing purposes, central cooling and heating largely rely on the same mechanisms and infrastructure to set your indoor temperature to the preferred level. Not all central cooling systems include heating, and not all central heating systems include cooling, but by mixing two similar systems you can curb the cost of comfort.

Here are some options for mixing and matching central cooling and heating systems.


Forced air furnaces and central air conditioners can work in conjunction through the same ducts that channel air throughout a home. Most furnaces, including gas, oil, and electricity, are forced air systems, capable of utilizing the same ductwork as central air systems.

Therefore, if you have ductwork from a forced air furnace, your primary concern should be centered on which central air conditioner will lead to better savings.

Central air conditioners come in two main varieties: packaged systems and split systems.

If your house does not have central heating, a packaged system will likely be the preferred choice. If you already have central heating, a split system may be the better option.

In split system central air conditioning, an indoor unit houses the evaporator and an outdoor box holds the condenser and compressor. The air conditioner hooks to an indoor furnace, meaning if you already own a furnace, but not an air conditioner, a split system can cost less than a packaged system.

In a packaged system, a single outdoor box contains a condenser, compressor, and evaporator. Often, these central cooling and heating systems will include electric or natural gas furnaces, erasing the need to buy an additional heater. Natural gas as a fuel source costs far less than electricity, making it the preferred system if gas is available in your area.

In split system central air conditioning, an indoor unit houses the evaporator and an outdoor box holds the condenser and compressor. The air conditioner hooks to an indoor furnace, meaning if you already own a furnace, but not an air conditioner, a split system can cost less than a packaged system.

Expected central cooling and heating cost, including installation. Note that this can vary widely:

  • Central air conditioner: $3,000 to $5,000
  • Gas furnace: $2,500 to $8,000
  • Oil furnace: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Electric furnace: $1,000 to $1,5000
  • Boiler: $2,500 to $9,000
  • Ductwork, if necessary: $3,000 to $5,000


Heat pumps, which perform double duty as central cooling and heating systems, have experienced a recent rise in popularity courtesy of a technological shift from bulky, noisy systems to compact, quiet, and efficient units.

Heat pumps come in two varieties: air source and geothermal. Both units create warm or cool air through a high-efficiency refrigerant, rather than fuel combustion, which allows heat pumps to separate warm and cold air from the outside atmosphere and push it into your home. Both units are powered by electricity, and cost about half as much to operate as a standard electric furnace. But the source of outside air is different.

Air source heat pumps pull air from the outside atmosphere. While this is far less expensive to operate--about half as much as electric furnaces or less--you may need a back-up heating system when outside temperature drops to around freezing or lower. The heat pump usually can’t pull enough hot air to warm your home in these temperatures.

Geothermal heat pumps pull air from underground, where temperatures rarely drop below 45 degrees. This allows homeowners in most climates to heat their home year-round. Generally, geothermal heat pumps cost less to operate than air source heat pumps.

Average cost, including installation:

  • Air source heat pumps: $4,500 to $6,000
  • Geothermal heat pumps: $11,000 to $26,000


If you already have a ductless heating system but no cooling, and vice versa, there are multiple options that you can combine with your existing systems.

Window units:

Window units are the most popular air conditioning systems available and cost the least. You can install window units yourself without any construction. An open window is all you need. However, window units are among the most costly systems to operate.

Average cost: $100 to cool a 100-square-foot room to $800 to cool a 800-square-foot room

Wall-mounted units:

Wall-mounted units are similar to window units, but mount into a wall and appear flush with the wall. These are generally slightly more efficient than window units, but the efficiency is comparable.

Average cost: $400 for a 400-square-foot area to $700 for a 1,000 square-foot area. If you hire a contractor for installation, add several hundred dollars. If you’re planning a do-it-yourself installation, add about $100 for materials.

Ductless split air conditioner:

Ductless split air conditioners, or mini-split air conditioners, use an outdoor unit that holds the condenser and an indoor unit that regulates air flow. The two are connected via a small conduit, which can cool up to four areas of a home with individual thermostats. Vents are flush with walls and mini-split air conditioners are extremely efficient. Generally, these systems are more efficient than central air conditioner, which loses some cool air through the ducts.

Average cost: $1,500 to $2,000 per 600-square-feet of cooling area


The following is a rundown of expected cost of standard ductless heating units, which you can use to mix and match with cooling systems:

Average cost with installation:

  • Electric baseboard: $400 to $1,500 for three rooms
  • Wood-burning and pellet stove: $1,000
  • Solar heating: $5,000
  • Radiant heating: $4 to $6 per square-foot
  • Space heater (single room): $15 to $250
  • Central Heating & Cooling

    About the Author

    Rachel Wright is an SEO content editor at Reply! with more than 10 years of editing experience. She enjoys interior design and gardening. To share home improvement ideas, find her on Google+.