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Wall AC vs Central Air

Picking an AC for your apartment is challenging because there are so many different types of air conditioners.

We put this article together to help you figure out if a wall AC or central air conditioner is best for you.

What’s the difference  between Wall AC vs Central Air

The difference between wall AC and central air is that wall AC is wall-mounted and cools the space near it whereas central air cools multiple rooms by distributing cold air through ducts.

A wall AC is designed for much smaller spaces than central air. A wall-mounted unit absorbs heat from a specific room which is then passed through the walls via a refrigerant pipe that connects to an external unit. The external unit releases the heat into the outdoor air.

This design means that the cooling capacity of a wall AC is focused on the room in which the wall AC is located.

A central air system offers a lot of cooling capacity produced at a central location. Cold air is then transported via a system of ducts to different rooms in the house.

This means you get a large internal unit that produces a lot of cold air. This unit is out of the way in some kind of storage room. You can then cool any room in the house from that central location. 

Cooling Capacity

Central air offers significantly more cooling capacity than a wall AC system. Central air produces 18,000 – 60,000 BTUs of cooling power while wall AC offers just 9,000 – 14,000.

Let’s give some context to what those numbers mean. A BTU measures thermal energy and an air conditioner with more BTUs can cool a larger space.

A typical wall AC with a cooling capacity of 9,000 – 14,000 BTUs can cool a room of 350 – 700 square feet. That’s enough power for a one-bedroom apartment on the upper end of the spectrum.

A central air system with 18,000 BTUs can cool a room of 700 – 1,000 square feet while 60,000 BTUs of cooling power is enough for basically any residential property. 


Central air is considerably more expensive than wall AC. Central air costs $4,000 – $8,000 while wall AC costs $3,000 – $6,000. That’s a 25 – 33% cost increase for choosing central air over wall AC.

Why the difference in costs? There’s a lot more work that goes into installing a central air system than a wall AC. You’ll need to build a lot of ductwork to connect the cooling system to different rooms of your house.

Also, you will generally pay more for higher-capacity air conditioners. Central air systems can hit much higher levels of cooling capacity so higher-end central air systems are much more expensive than less-powerful wall ACs.

Energy efficiency

Central air is more energy efficient than wall AC. A typical central air system has an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 18 – 21 while a typical Wall AC offers just 9 -12. 

An EER is a measure of energy efficiency. It’s an air conditioner’s cooling capacity in BTUs divided by its power usage in watts. A higher EER means an air conditioner is more efficient.

Central air is more efficient than wall AC because it is better insulated against heat loss. 

Should I buy a Wall AC vs Central Air?

You should buy central air over a wall AC if care more about capacity and energy efficiency than you do about price. The big advantage of wall AC over central air is that it is about a third cheaper upfront.

If you’re going to use your system a lot, then the energy efficiency savings of a central air system will likely outweigh the higher upfront investment. 

Central air systems offer much higher upper limits of capacity compared to wall ACs. So central air is a better bet for those needing to cool large properties.