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What's the Difference Between Central Air and Forced Air

Central air and forced air are terms that are often used interchangeably, referring to the heating and cooling elements of your HVAC system that are crucial for maintaining a quality and comfortable indoor living environment. Central and forced air essentially indicate the same system which leads to obvious confusion between them, but these two air systems do in fact carry distinct differences that are worth unpacking.

While they share some similarities, the main distinction lies in their specific roles within the HVAC system. Read on for a breakdown of the differences by the AC service professionals at WM Buffington. 

What is Central Air? 

“Central air” refers to an air system installed in a central location in your home that produces warm or cool air. Your air conditioning unit is, for example, a central air system that is independent of your home’s furnace or heating system. Designed to keep your entire home cool, this powerful system draws in warm air from within the home, cools it with a dedicated unit, and then returns the air into your home by distributing it through ducts and vents in different locations. 

The confusion begins as the central air system is usually installed to interact with the home’s forced air system. In this way, cool air can be efficiently and effectively distributed throughout the home. 

Pros and Cons of Central Air


Central air systems have the advantage of being efficient and effective at doing their job without the need for extensive maintenance. They ensure comfortable living conditions while also helping save you money on energy costs through their increased efficiency. Unlike having multiple air conditioners in different rooms, central air can cool the entire home using less power. 

Furthermore, central air systems tend to be quiet (relative to forced air) since the main unit is outside and disperses the air independently, and they can improve air quality by filtering out allergens, particles, humidity, and gasses. 


The downside of central air is that they can be more expensive to install - this depends on the type of system as well as whether or not your home has an existing duct and ventilation infrastructure. Although the maintenance is less frequent, central air systems (including the vents and ducts) do need to be cleaned and checked from time to time. However, the higher cost of this system and the costs associated with professional installation are offset by the energy savings. 

What is Forced Air? 

Forced air systems are typically used as the delivery method for HVAC systems (including central air). While forced air systems are generally associated with heating systems and furnaces, they are also used for air conditioning systems as well. The system forces or pushes the air using a blower fan through the ductwork in your home. The air comes out of vents installed in each room, and this helps create a uniform temperature.

Pros and Cons of Forced Air


The main advantage of forced air is that it ensures the equal distribution of warm or cool air throughout the home. It can be easily upgraded, requires little maintenance, and can offer lower energy bills compared to separated heating and cooling systems. Forced air systems also have the ability to produce filtered and humidified air and they can be customized with programmable and smart thermostats. The advantage of this customization is that you can create flexible zoning of your home, allowing you to adjust the temperature in different rooms in your home which allows you to personalize how each area of your home feels or limit the energy drain from rooms that don’t need temperature control. 


There are some disadvantages to forced air systems including, primarily, higher upfront costs and more noise - forced air systems are more expensive, especially when combined with a central air conditioning unit. Similar to central air systems, the vent and ductwork need to be maintained and cleaned to prevent mold, mildew, and dust buildup, and it also needs to be installed by a professional unlike isolated heating and air conditioning units. 

Central vs. Forced Air - Which One For Your Home? 

Deciding on the best type of air system for your home can be challenging, but fortunately, the  AC service technicians at WM Buffington are here to help! Central air and forced air systems can greatly improve the comfort and quality of air in your home or business, and the higher initial costs are almost always offset by their energy savings and performance. It’s not uncommon for new HVAC installations to include both central air and forced air systems, but if you’re not sure what’s best for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for help and information!

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