Forced Air vs Central Air: What’s the Difference?

While installing an HVAC unit, you are likely to encounter technical terms that may sound confusing to you. One such common confusion is with forced air vs central air.

Want to find out the difference between these two?

What is a Forced air System?

Forced air is generally referred to as a heating system like a furnace. But, in reality, it refers to any heating and cooling system that pushes air through ducts to heat or cool a home.

It is essentially any HVAC system that throws the temperature-controlled air into your home. This means your furnace is certainly a forced air system, but, at the same time, even your central air conditioning system is no different.

The Function of a Forced air System

Its function is to maintain a uniform temperature inside a building. This could be either by heating or cooling air in a central location and then pushing it through the ductwork.

air conditioner on roof top

Types of a Forced air System

The heating element of a forced air system is fueled in 4 different ways:

Natural Gas

This type of forced air system is the most popular among North American homes. Gas furnaces are highly efficient, smart home compatible, affordable, and can be installed easily.


A propane furnace is best in areas where other fuel sources are unavailable, expensive, or scarce. Here, a propane tank needs to be installed outside your home to operate a propane furnace.


An oil furnace is typically readily available. However, due to concerns with efficiency, emissions, and operating costs, it has become a less popular option over the years.


Electric furnaces use electric heating elements to produce heat. However, the higher operational costs make it a less popular furnace choice for heating homes.

Benefits of a Forced air System

Air Quality and Comfort

A forced air system has the potential to improve the air quality in your home. The furnace filters in the system trap allergens and airborne particles while protecting your family from getting sick. You may even consider adding humidifier and dehumidifier units to this system to control the humidity level without adding excess energy usage.

Energy Efficiency

The new forced air systems operate at a higher efficiency level when compared to the older models. These efficiency ratings will ensure that your system will function properly, enabling you to have the desired temperature at home.

Combined Heating and Cooling

The forced air systems are the only HVAC systems that can combine both heating and cooling. It means that the ductwork that pushes the hot air can also distribute central air conditioning throughout your home.

What is Central Air Conditioning?

single outdoor unit

Simply put, central air conditioning is a part of a forced air system. Using a closed-loop of refrigerated and cycled air, a central air conditioner provides crisp coolness to your home. It consists of three parts – the condenser, compressor, and evaporator coils. The outdoor unit contains the condenser coil, compressor, electrical components, and a fan. The evaporator coil is usually installed on the top of the gas furnace inside your home.

The Function of a Central Air Conditioner

Air conditioning is a process of cooling your home by removing heat and moisture from your home. Keeping the indoors cool and comfortable is the top priority of any air conditioning system. Additionally, it also dehumidifies the indoor air and helps with enhanced air circulation within your home.

Types of a Central Air Conditioner

There are two types of central air conditioners:

A Split System

Here, an outdoor metal cabinet contains the condenser and compressor for the central air system, and an indoor cabinet contains the evaporator. The evaporator coil is installed in the main supply duct of the furnace or heat pump. Consider installing a split system if your home already has a furnace.

A Packaged Unit

In a packaged unit, the evaporator, condenser, and compressor are all located in one cabinet, usually placed on a roof or even on a concrete slab near your house foundation. The air supply and return ducts are connected to this packaged unit through the home’s exterior wall or roof. The packaged conditioners generally include electric heating coils or a natural gas furnace, eliminating the need for a separate indoor furnace.

Benefits of a Central Air Conditioner

Indoor Comfort

During warm weather and hot summers, central air conditioning helps keep your home cool while reducing the humidity levels.

Cleaner Air

The air conditioner draws the air out of your home through return air ducts. This, in turn, removes airborne particles like dust and lint from your home. The filtered air is then pushed back inside your home through the ductwork.

Quieter Operation

The compressor-bearing unit is located outside the home. Hence, its operation’s indoor noise level is quite low compared to any free-standing air-conditioning unit.

Forced Air vs Central Air – What is the Difference?

The main difference between the forced air and central air is that the former is a heating or cooling system that uses ducts and vents to provide the desired temperature to your home. Whereas central air applies to the cooling systems. It has nothing to do with the heating systems. In fact, it uses forced air systems to transport cool air through ducts and vents.

However, the difference is small, and this is the main reason why the majority of people get confused between the two terms. Hope this guide helped you clear the air.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of your heating or air conditioning needs, it is vital to overview your HVAC system. This will help in ensuring that you are getting the right system installed for your home. You can also seek guidance from the professional companies that you trust.

Investing in a new unit altogether or getting regular servicing of the HVAC system will not only keep your home comfortable but also reduce your energy bills up to a great extent.

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