What's the Difference Between a Window Unit and a Central Air Conditioner?

Scott Dylan Westerlund
Updated June 24, 2022
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  • While a window unit typically costs between $150–$550, installing central air costs around $7,500.

  • Adding central air can increase your home value by up to 10%.

  • Central air is superior for consistent indoor air temperatures.

  • In addition to being visible, window units require you to keep windows propped open.

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The best way to chill out over sweltering conditions in your home is to add an air conditioner. But should you commit to a new central air system? Or will tried-and-true window units be enough to keep you comfortable? 

Deciding between the luxury of central air and the "good enough for now" convenience of a window unit can be tough. That's why we've done a side-by-side comparison to help you see which way the cool wind blows in terms of getting the best value.

Window Unit Pros and Cons

The side wall of a cabin house with a window unit
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You may be tempted to just go pick up a window unit if you're desperate to cool your home ASAP. A window unit can be popped in easily for instant cooling. However, you're definitely getting all of the downsides that go with a "quick fix" when you opt for a window unit.


  • Affordable: The big benefit of a window air conditioner is that it's pretty inexpensive. You may decide that the cost of a window unit air conditioner is worth it if you can get one for the typical price between $150 and $550.

  • Room-by-room cooling: Window units can actually be less expensive to operate becuase you only have to worry about cooling a specific spot in your home. For instance, an air conditioner in your bedroom allows you to pay to cool a single room instead of keeping a household system on all night.

  • DIY Installation: Of course, the big cost saving comes in the form of a simple DIY installation. Anyone can install a window AC unit on their own (though you might need some help with the heavy lifting).


  • Not a whole-house solution: The price can add up quickly if you're putting a unit in every room. Consider what paying $150 to $600 for every window you want to use a unit in would look like.

  • Sub-par air filtering: Dealing with asthma or allergies? You may find that a humble window unit doesn't leave things clean enough.

  • Uneven cooling: You also have to worry about those dreaded hot spots with window air conditioners. Due to the inferior air circulation they provide, window units often create inconsistent temperatures within a single room.

  • Fitting your windows: Your window style can actually impact the cost of your window unit. If you have unconventional casement windows, the average cost for casement window air conditioners is between $400–$600.

Central Air Conditioner Pros and Cons

A professional inspecting a central air conditioner
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Central air conditioning can drastically improve the resale value of your home. The key benefit of central air conditioning is that you're getting a permanent, efficient system that allows you to control the temperature settings throughout your entire home with a single system.


  • Efficiency: Central air conditioning is much more efficient than a window unit. 

  • Air filtration: Central air also blows window units away at air filtration. In fact, people with allergies or asthma often consider central air to be a high-priority feature.

  • Even cooling: Central air also provides even temperatures throughout a home. No more battling between warm and cold spots!

  • Year-round solution: Your central air conditioning is part of your home all year long. That means you never have to deal with swapping your window units in and out with the seasons. 


  • Cost: Price is the biggest barrier to entry with central air. Expect a new whole-house cooling unit to cost an average of $7,500. Some systems can cost $10,000 with installation factored in.

  • Repairs and maintenance: While modern cooling systems are generally pretty dependable, there is always the concern that you'll end up with a big repair bill if your central air is on the fritz. You should also be paying for annual maintenance and inspections to keep your system in top shape. While the cost for general central air maintenance isn't high, it's still an added household cost.

Window Unit vs. Central Air Conditioning

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No need to sweat the decision over which type of air conditioning to get for your home! Think about what is most important to you to make the right decision.


Window units are mounted to a window. That means that they're visible from both the inside and outside of your home. By contrast, central air is essentially invisible. However, you will have to deal with a condenser unit right outside your home if you pick a system with an exterior condenser unit.

Most Attractive: Central air conditioning


A single air conditioning unit is just a fraction of the cost of having central air installed. However, it also provides just a fraction of the cooling power. You also lose some of the cost advantage of using a window unit if you're purchasing multiple units for your home.

Most Affordable: Window unit

Ease of Installation/DIY-ability

It's actually impossible to install your own central air system. You'll need the help of a licensed local HVAC technician. By contrast, anyone can purchase and install a portable AC unit in a single day.

Easiest to Install: Window unit

ROI and Resale Value

A new HVAC system can increase the worth of your home by 5% to 7%. Some estimates even say 10%. By contrast, window units really only provide short-term benefits without adding any value to your home.

Better ROI: Central air conditioning

Can You Run a Window Unit and Central Air?

Though it may seem redundant, you can absolutely have a central AC unit and a window AC in your home. In fact, if you place a window AC unit near your central air, it can help move the cooler air throughout your home. But doubling up on your AC methods can get pricey, so factor in cost accordingly.

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