Central Air vs. Forced Air Heat: What Is the Difference?

Oct 17, 2022

If you’re building a new home or want to upgrade your home’s heating system, you’ll need to decide on a heating and cooling system. As you choose the right type of HVAC system for your home, you should know the difference between central air systems and forced air heaters. Knowing more about each option can help you select the perfect system for your home and receive the best heating performance possible. 

What Is a Forced Air Heater?

A forced air heater refers to a cooling or heating system that employs air as a heat transfer medium. With one of these systems, the forced air heater will push warm air into your home through ducts and vents. Essentially, a forced air system will pull the air inside your home into it, heat the air it’s drawn in, and then a blower will push the air back into your home through ducts. If the system features a heat pump, it may also distribute cold air into your home when you need it.

Typically, forced air systems heat the air with a furnace or a heat pump designed to use ductwork. The forced air system will draw air in via a return vent, and then the furnace or heat pump will heat the air. The furnace or heat pump may use propane, oil, natural gas, or electricity to heat the air. Once the air is warm enough, the blower will distribute the air into your home via ductwork and vents.

What Is Central Air?

Central air usually refers to a system that cools air from a central location and uses one or more blowers to distribute the air into your home via ductwork and vents. These systems will use an air conditioner compressor to compress refrigerant gas and send hot air out of the home. Usually, central air conditioning uses either a packaged system or a split system to cool the air. 

A packaged system combines its compressor, evaporator, and condenser in one unit installed outside the home. In contrast, a split system will have an outdoor unit containing the compressor and condenser and an indoor unit featuring the evaporator. Either option may also connect to a furnace or other heating device to provide heat during the fall and winter. 

What’s the Difference Between Central Air and Forced Air Systems?

Central air and forced air often get used interchangeably due to their similarities. Since you can classify anything that distributes air through ductwork as a forced air system, some central air systems can fit under the category of a forced air system. Where these systems differ, however, is that a central air system can also refer to a system that utilizes pipes instead of ductwork to transport hot water or steam from a boiler to radiators or a radiant floor system.

So, while some central air systems are forced air systems, not all central air systems fit under the label depending on how they generate and distribute heat. Additionally, a central air system usually only refers to a cooling system, meaning you’ll need a furnace, heat pump, boiler, or another heating device to produce heat. However, many central air systems come with a furnace or other heating device attached to them to meet a homeowner’s heating or cooling needs. 

Should You Choose a Central or Forced Air System?

Since central air and forced air systems are so similar, you’ll likely want to look for a central air system that connects to a furnace or heat pump that uses ductwork to distribute air throughout your home. With one of these systems, you’ll have a forced air system that can heat or cool your home. However, everyone’s needs are different, so it’s best to consult a professional HVAC technician about the right HVAC system for your temperature preferences, energy-efficiency goals, and home layout. 

Choose Newcomb and Company for Custom HVAC Installation in Raleigh

If you’re preparing for winter and looking for HVAC installation services near you in Raleigh, Newcomb and Company can help. When you turn to us for your HVAC needs, our team can inspect your home and go over your goals before designing a custom HVAC system for you. By designing a system for your home, we can maximize its performance, ensuring your system is energy efficient and distributes air evenly between rooms. Besides offering custom-design services, we can also replace old ACs with brand-new models and provide furnace installation services. 

Learn more about our HVAC design and installation services today. If you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

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