Forced Air vs Central Air: What are The Differences

Forced Air vs Central Air

Regarding heating and cooling your home, there are two main types of systems to choose from: forced air and central air. Both have pros and cons, and your best choice will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Forced air systems use air ducts to distribute heated or cooled air throughout the home, while central air systems use a central unit to cool the entire house.

In this article, we will take a closer look at forced air and central air systems, comparing their features, benefits, and drawbacks to help you decide which is best for your home. Whether you’re looking to heat a small apartment or a large house, we’ll provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of forced air and central air systems.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Central air system uses forced air channels like vents, plenums, and ductwork to deliver desired temperatures.
  • A forced air system delivers cooled air to buildings, although it’s commonly known for heating.
  • A technician can easily combine Central air and forced air systems to operate concurrently.

To control temperatures in our homes, places of work, and other public meeting spaces, a system for heating and cooling, such as a forced air system and central air system, is required.

We reviewed the two systems to provide you with all the information needed to help you make an informed choice.

Forced Air vs. Central Air: What Are the Differences?

Below is a table detailing the differences between the forced and central air systems:

Forced Air Central Air
  • A forced air system allows your HVAC system to distribute conditioned air throughout your home via ductwork and registers.
  • Produces cold or hot air in a central location.
  • With a central air conditioning system, the exterior unit contains the evaporator coils, condenser, and compressor, which circulates cooled and recycled air throughout the house.
Pros and Cons
  • You could be recirculating dust and other allergen-laden air into your home if you don’t change the filters regularly and keep up with maintenance.
  • They are low-maintenance, allowing the system to function reliably for years without much attention.
  • You’ll have more control over your home’s temperature while spending less money on heating and cooling.
  • Central air systems can maintain a constant temperature throughout the house all year.
  • They are more expensive and noisy.
  • They also work far more silently than other forced air systems.

What is Forced Air?

Any heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system that employs ducts and registers to distribute conditioned air throughout a building is called a forced air system.

To regulate temperatures, forced air uses a thermostat. When the temperature drops to a set limit, the thermostat triggers the heat exchanger to produce hot air. When it’s too hot, the thermostat will again signal the furnace burner to stop.

Related: Heat Pump vs. Central Air – Detailed Comparison 2023

 

Types of Forced Air Systems

To help you understand better how this system operates, we look at the different types of forced air systems commonly used in households. We explore operating systems, cons, and pros. 

Electric Forced Air

An Electric forced air system uses an electric heating source to warm the air. When the temperature is low, the thermostat is triggered, and the blower pulls in air to heat it and circulates it around the house. 

Pros

  • It’s easy to maintain and control
  • Environmentally friendly because it does not produce poisonous gases like carbon monoxide that could escape into the ventilation

Cons 

  • Quite expensive to run as it consumes a lot of energy. For this reason, many households usually pair it up with heat pumps to reduce the cost of electricity.

Heat Pump

A heat pump is the most commonly used form of the forced air system. Heat pumps work by extracting ground air from the environment, it then uses a pump to push heated air around the ducts to various rooms.

Pros

  • It requires less energy than other types of forced air system
  • Very efficient and works very fast
  • It can also be used as a cooling system

Cons

  • During cold climates, the source of energy may not be efficient. We’d recommend pairing it with the electric coil.

Hydronic Coil

This system uses hot water to regulate the temperature. It uses a water heater and air handler to drive heated air through various vents. When the thermostat is triggered, the boiler is ignited, which initiates water flow to the heat exchanger coil. Once heated, the blower is activated and distributes the heated air to the registers in various rooms. What’s more, the hydronic coil can be used to produce hot water in the shower and laundry.

Pros

  • Less maintenance 
  • Quite easy to operate 
  • It can be combined with your air conditioner 
  • Very quiet when functioning

Cons

  •  Compared to the heat pump, hydronic forced air takes time before water is heated to produce warm air. Worry not; your house will have steady, even warmth in minutes.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Forced Air System?

Let’s look at some advantages and drawbacks of the forced air system.

Advantages of Forced Air 

  • It produces filtered air, and the filtration process can be upgraded for better quality.
  • Forced air systems naturally dehumidify the air, making it convenient during humid days.
  • When the temperature is high, it cools the house perfectly without adjusting. 
  • Easy to install and maintain due to the single unit of a furnace and fans  
  • It uses modernized technology that is compatible with smart programmable thermostats
  • It’s energy efficient
  • Works faster—it uses very hot fuel sources

Disadvantages of Forced Air System

  • The installation process is expensive as it requires a professional touch to avoid errors. Buildings with existing ductwork provide for a simple installation.
  • Requires channels like ductwork that take up space and are hard to maintain
  • It isn’t quiet like any other system.
  • It uses a central control, making it difficult to adjust the preferred temperature when needed.
  • If the ductworks and the filters are not properly maintained, you risk getting contaminants like dust, dirt, or mildew pet dander blowing through your space.

What is a Central Air System?

Most whole-house air conditioning systems are called “central air” or simply “central AC. The Central Air system takes the warm air out of your home and replaces it with air that has been cooled by passing over cold coils. 

Central air conditioners can be divided into packaged and split systems. A packed system is helpful when there is limited space because it is contained in a single outside unit, whereas a split system consists of an inside and outdoor unit.

Advantages of Central Air 

  • Easy to install with existing ductwork
  • Full house coverage cooling option 
  • Not noisy
  • With modernized technology, most are easy to operate using smart technology.
  • Works well with other HVAC like air purifiers, humidifiers, and energy recovery ventilators 

Disadvantages of Central Air System

  • Expensive to maintain.
  • It requires duct maintenance.
  • Higher energy bills due to the cost of running

Is Central AC Forced Air?

The two systems share some similarities when it comes to functioning. Central air uses the same route as forced air to deliver controlled temperatures to different rooms. Central air, like forced air, uses installed ductwork, vents, and plenums to distribute cool conditioned air. 

The central air uses a boiler that generates its controlled temperatures from a central point before being distributed. Forced air uses a heat pump and furnace as part of the HVAC to efficiently deliver cooled and heated air to the rooms. Central air is the air conditioning system, while forced air is the distribution system.

Does Forced Air Keep Your House Cool?

Yes, the forced air system delivers cooled and heated air energy to registers in various rooms in a building. As mentioned, the central air delivers cooled air from a central location through forced air duct works, vents, and plenums. The forced air heat pump also produces cooled air that can be circulated to the house.

How Does Forced Air Cooling Work?

The forced air system can cool or heat your home’s air to maintain the desired temperature. A blower distributes air through your home’s duct system. You can find these vents in your home’s walls, ceilings, or floors. Depending on the size of your home, air circulation could occur anywhere from three to five times each hour.

What Does it Mean When a House Says Forced Air?

Forced air can only mean the house uses a heat pump or furnace with a forced air system to deliver heated and cooled air to the rooms. The house is installed with heat exchangers, coils, thermostats, air filters, ductwork, plenums, and vents to distribute and control the air that circulates.

Central Air vs Air Conditioning

The two are inseparable when it comes to functionality. Your air conditioning is the central air that distributes variable temperatures to room registers.

However, when it comes to size. Central air conditioners are big and take up space compared to room air conditioning. The good thing with Central air is you can cool down a whole house.

Central air also has extra features like dehumidifiers and air filters, making it the perfect choice for many. Room AC is limited to cooling. So you will need to install a humidifier separately.

To get the best out of a room air conditioner, it’s advisable to know the measurements of your room and get the best size that will cool your space evenly.

Can You Add AC to The Forced Air System

Yes, Whether it is practical to add air conditioning to your home’s central heating system depends on several factors. These include whether:

  • Your house has adequate ductwork. The AC requires vents and ductwork to deliver the desired temperature. If your house has previous ductwork, it will require a few alterations. A technician could connect your central air conditioner to the forced air system.
  • Are you willing to pay the price? Without ductwork in place, the installation of a new system is costly. 

Which is Better? 

The answer to this question will depend on what works best for you. Consider the system’s advantages and disadvantages, maintenance and installation cost, noise, efficiency, and energy reservoir. While forced air and central air share many things in common, we hope this guide has clarified the way to go.

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