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Split AC vs Central Air

When the summer heat starts to penetrate the comfort of your home, choosing the right air conditioning system becomes a cool necessity. But in the battle of chill, which contender is best suited for your living space: Split AC or Central Air? 

This article dives into the frosty details of each system, helping you decide which one will turn your home into a refreshing summer retreat without breaking the bank. From understanding the nuts and bolts of installation to sizing up energy efficiency and costs, we’ve got the scoop on how to keep your cool when the temperatures soar. 

Whether you’re looking to outfit a cozy studio or a sprawling estate, read on to find out how to make an informed decision that’s as comfortable for your living space as it is for your wallet.

What’s the difference between Split AC vs Central Air

The difference between split AC and central air is that central air distributes cold air around your home via a series of ducts while split AC cools down an area local to its internal unit.

Split ACs work with two separate units. An internal unit generates cold air inside your apartment while an external unit dispels excess heat outside. A refrigerant line connects the two and acts like a conveyer belt for heat.

A central air system works by having a high-capacity air conditioner in a single fixed location and then moving the cold air to specific rooms. This design allows central air to cool a wide array of rooms without having specific units in each one. 

Understanding Split AC Systems

Split AC systems consist of an outdoor unit (compressor/condenser) and an indoor unit (evaporator/fan). They’re ideal for cooling specific areas and are easy to install, requiring no ductwork. The indoor unit is typically wall-mounted and directly cools the room in which it’s installed, while the outdoor unit expels heat outside.

Central Air Conditioning Explained

Central air systems cool the entire home using a single large compressor that connects to an indoor coil through ductwork to circulate air. They’re controlled by a central thermostat and can be more discreet, with most equipment out of sight. Central air is often integrated with home heating for efficiency.

Installation Considerations

Split ACs are less invasive to install than central air systems, which may need extensive ductwork and can involve significant alteration to your home’s structure. Split systems are flexible for homes without ducts, while central air is better for a uniformed look and feel, requiring a more substantial initial setup.

Cooling Capacity

Central air is more powerful than split AC. Central air produces 18,000 – 60,000 BTUs of cooling power while split AC offers just 8,000 – 14,000 BTUs. These are systems for very different kinds of properties.

A BTU is a measure of the cooling capacity of an air conditioning system. One BTU is the amount of thermal energy needed to change the temperature of a kilogram of water by a single degree Fahrenheit. 

Measuring Cooling Power: BTUs Explained

The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), which indicate the amount of heat it can remove from a room. A higher BTU rating means a larger cooling capacity. Central air conditioners typically range from 18,000 to 60,000 BTUs, suitable for residential and commercial spaces, while split AC systems usually offer between 8,000 to 14,000 BTUs, making them ideal for single rooms or smaller apartments.

Split AC: Ideal for Room-by-Room Cooling

Split AC units are perfect for cooling individual rooms or specific areas. Their lower BTU output means they consume less power per unit, translating to cost savings when only certain areas need cooling. This can be particularly beneficial in homes where room usage varies throughout the day or in climates where full-house cooling isn’t always necessary.

Central Air: Efficient Whole-Home Climate Control

Central air systems are engineered for whole-home cooling, with a high BTU output to maintain consistent temperatures across multiple rooms. They are efficient for large spaces due to their ability to distribute air evenly and maintain a steady climate throughout the home. This makes central air a preferred option for larger homes or those with open floor plans.


Central air costs more than split AC. A central air system will cost $4,000 – $8,000 while a split AC costs $2,000 – $5,000. 

This difference primarily comes down to a difference in cooling capacity. You will pay a lot more for an air conditioning system capable of cooling a larger space. 

Central air is more expensive than split AC but they also cool a very different scale of property.

Initial Purchase Price: Split AC vs. Central Air

The initial cost of purchasing a split AC system typically ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, while central air systems can set you back $4,000 to $8,000. The price difference reflects the capacity and scale of the systems, with central air conditioning designed to cool larger spaces and split AC units intended for smaller areas or single rooms. When considering the purchase price, it’s important to factor in the size of the space you need to cool and whether your home already has the necessary ductwork, which can significantly affect the overall installation costs for central air.

Long-Term Costs: Efficiency and Maintenance

Beyond the sticker price, the long-term costs of an air conditioner include maintenance, repairs, and energy consumption. Central air systems may have higher maintenance costs due to their complexity and the potential for duct cleaning and repair. However, their higher energy efficiency can lead to lower utility bills, particularly in larger homes where air is circulated more effectively. Split AC units, while having lower initial costs, may be less efficient overall if multiple units are required to cool the entire home.

Value Addition: Enhancing Property Value

Installing central air can increase the value of your home, offering a return on investment when it comes time to sell. Buyers often view central air as a desirable, value-adding feature, especially in hotter climates or higher-end markets. While split AC systems can be an attractive feature for individual rooms or additions, they don’t offer the same property-wide appeal as a central air system.

Energy efficiency

Central air is more energy efficient than split AC. A split AC has an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 13 – 17 while a central air system offers 18 – 21.

You can calculate an air conditioner’s EER by dividing its cooling capacity in BTUs by the amount of watts of energy it uses. A higher EER means an air conditioner has greater efficiency.

EER and SEER Ratings: The Efficiency Metrics

Energy efficiency in air conditioning is measured by two main metrics: the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). EER is calculated by dividing the cooling capacity (in BTUs) by the power input (in watts) for a specific temperature. SEER, on the other hand, represents the expected overall performance for a typical year’s weather and is calculated over a range of outside temperatures from 65°F to 104°F. While split AC systems have EERs ranging from 13 to 17, central air systems typically boast higher EERs of 18 to 21, making them more efficient on a seasonal basis.

Split AC Efficiency: Advantages of Inverter Technology

Split AC units with inverter technology offer improved efficiency over traditional fixed-speed AC units. Inverter technology allows the compressor to operate at variable speeds, adjusting the power used to provide precise cooling control. This not only conserves energy but also reduces wear and tear on the compressor, potentially extending the life of the unit.

Central Air Efficiency: The Benefits of Ducted Systems

Central air systems have the advantage of cooling multiple rooms with one unit, which can be more energy-efficient than operating several split AC units in a larger home. The efficiency of central air is also enhanced by features like programmable thermostats and advanced filtration systems, which help maintain consistent temperatures and reduce energy waste. Moreover, the latest central air systems may include multi-stage compressors that adjust cooling output to the current demand, further improving energy efficiency.

Should I buy a Split AC vs Central Air?

You should buy a central air system if you need to keep a larger space cool. The difference in price between central air and split AC is mainly down to a difference in cooling capacity.

Central air also offers better energy efficiency and lower running costs. So, its a better choice if you plan on using a lot of energy to cool your home. Savings on your electricity bill will outweigh you initial investment costs considerably after a while. 

Assessing Home Layout and Cooling Requirements

Before deciding between split AC and central air, evaluate the layout of your home. Split AC may be the right choice if you require cooling in one or two rooms or if your home lacks ductwork. For larger homes with many rooms, central air is more practical, providing uniform cooling throughout.

Considering the Climate and Usage Patterns

In areas with hot summers, central air can offer more comfort with its powerful, consistent cooling. However, if you live in a moderate climate or only need occasional cooling, a split AC unit’s lower initial cost and installation flexibility could be more beneficial.

Balancing Cost with Long-Term Benefits

Central air systems may have a higher upfront cost but can be more energy-efficient and add value to your home. Split AC units are cheaper to install and run but may not be as efficient for large-scale cooling needs. Consider both the short-term and long-term financial implications, including potential energy savings, when making your decision.