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Understanding HVAC Systems: Is Central Air System Different from Forced Air System?

There are several HVAC systems available in the market today. And for brand new homeowners like you, choosing which one to install may be overwhelming.

Forced air and central air systems, for example, are two of the most used HVAC systems today. Both can provide conditioned, temperature-controlled, and purified air. In fact, both systems are sometimes combined for a better and much more cost-effective cooling and heating system.

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However, that does not mean that both share the same qualities and level of efficiency. There are also a few differences that you should be aware of before making a purchase.

As such, in this post, we will take a closer look at both systems and highlight some of the pros and cons of each one.

Let’s start.

Understanding the Difference Between Forced Air and Central Air Systems

Forced air and central air systems are two, separate—yet in a way similar—types of Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. Homeowners often used the two terms interchangeably and cause confusion about which is which. 

However, while they vary in several aspects which tells they are two different things, it is best not to compare them as these two work together as well. Hence, also the reason why people began using the two terms synonymously. 

Still, each HVAC system functions differently and offers varying qualities. As such, to help you understand the two further, below are brief explanations of how the two differ from one another. 

Forced Air System

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A forced-air system literally refers to how the system works. The term was inspired by an HVAC component called the “handler” which forces or pushes conditioned air through a network of ducts and vents and out into multiple rooms. Hence, essentially, it is the way temperature-controlled air (warm and cold) is delivered throughout the house via the use of vents and ducts. 

Some of the heating and cooling appliances that utilize a forced system are furnaces and heat pumps. Consequently, the system has eventually been referred to as a house’s “heating system” too—perhaps because the majority of furnaces come with a handler. Most whole-house air conditioners are equipped with handlers as well.

Central Air System

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The central air system, on the other hand, refers to the HVAC unit itself. A central air conditioner is a combination of two components—one is an outdoor unit and the other is an indoor unit. Each unit consists of different elements. The former, for example, has condenser coils, a fan, and a compressor inside, while the latter comes with evaporator coils. 

But the thing about the central air system is that it usually needs a network of ducts to efficiently distribute temperature-controlled air throughout the house. In other words, it will need a forced air system to work efficiently.

A Side-by-side Comparison of Forced Air and Central Air Qualities

Now that you know what is forced air and a central air system, let’s talk and compare each of their qualities. 

Cost

There are a number of different aspects that affect the price of an HVAC system. And between the forced air system and the central air system, the former is significantly cheaper compared to the latter. 

Based on Remodeling Expense’s estimated cost, the price of a basic heating and cooling unit for a forced air heating system ranges between $500 and $750, while the cost of a basic central air conditioner ranges between $1,745 and $1,850. 

But that is for the units alone only.

If you add up the installation cost, using a central air system is still much more expensive as homeowners typically pay around $550 to $675. On the other hand, installing a forced air system costs around $150 to $275 only. 

Keep in mind that the mentioned prices are for basic units and installation only. As such, if you prefer an advanced unit—or if the installation process is a bit complicated—prepare to pay twice or thrice the mentioned amounts.

Air Quality

The quality of air that both systems produce is, by standard, safe. However, between the two, central air conditioners provide cleaner and well-filtered air compared to forced systems. It is because the central air system is designed to naturally filter the air that goes in and out of the unit. 

Essentially, the air is being filtered during the process in which central air conditioners pull out air from your house through return ducts. Modern units are built with filters that can purify the air from microscopic allergens, airborne particles, allergens, and other harmful pollutants. 

Some units also come with an option to integrate an additional air purifying system.

 Similarly, HVAC units that use a forced air system are capable of producing dehumidified and filtered air too. It is also simple to upgrade its filtration system. 

Noise Level

Another aspect to consider in choosing an HVAC system is the noise level. Because some heaters and air conditioners operate a bit louder compared to others.

That said, the central air system operates more quietly compared to the air forced system. The former is ideal if you want to maintain a quiet atmosphere in your home or your space. Although keep in mind that you may still hear a very low and soft humming.

Installation

When it comes to the installation process, both require a thorough setup. It is specifically needed when installing a forced air system given that it comes with an intricate network of ducts and vents and will require a professional to do the job. And if combined with a central air system, it will cost you more money-wise.

The same goes with the central air system Although the installation process may be slightly cheaper compared to the forced air. 

Maintenance

All HVAC systems require some sort of maintenance, including forced air and central air systems. However, the former requires thorough cleaning and regular maintenance unlike the latter.

As explained earlier, a forced air system comes with a network of ducts and vents. Some heaters, specifically furnaces, use gas to operate which can cause an undesirable “messy look.” It can cause mold and mildew buildup as well. 

 In general, on the other hand, the central air system must be professionally cleaned once a year, while the forced air system may need two or (if needed) more.

Final Showdown

The forced air system and central air system are two separate systems that provide varying benefits. And to decide that the latter is better than the former or vice versa would be a disservice to homeowners with specific needs and preferences.

With that being said, choosing which one is the right system for your home is heavily dependent on your preference and needs. If, say, you want to maintain a calm and quiet atmosphere in your house, then it is best to use a central air system. Or, say, you want a budget-friendly system, the best option would be a forced air system.

All in all, it is all about what you, as a homeowner, need and like. 

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