What Is Forced Air Heating vs. Central?

When it comes to HVAC systems, there are technical terms that can be confusing to a shopper who simply wants to add or replace a system and be done with it. The two most common terms you’ll encounter are central air vs. forced air – and people sometimes confuse these two as the same thing.

That’s because people often use these terms to refer to the same system in the house. What is forced air heating vs. central air systems, really?

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

Industry professionals often use the term “forced air” to describe air heating systems in general. Some technicians may, however, mean a furnace or heat pump system. However, any HVAC system that blows temperature-controlled air through venting and ductwork can be called a forced air system. Central air systems use the forced air system’s vents and ducts to send cool air into your home. That’s where some of the confusion lies in central air vs. forced air systems.

Central air systems can produce hot or cold air in a centralized area and distribute the conditioned air into your house. The air conditioner is a centralized system separate from your furnace. It uses an outside unit to make cool air by relying on a condenser, compressor, and evaporator to loop refrigerated and recycled air around the home. The condenser and compressor outside work with the evaporator coils to suck in hot air and release cool air via the ducts and vents.

Think of forced air as a type of delivery method for HVAC systems that use venting and ductwork to send conditioned and temperature-controlled air into a home. In general, forced air systems are associated with a house’s heating system since they originate from furnaces or heat pumps.

How Does a Furnace Work?

Electric, gas, and oil furnaces work in similar ways and heat homes through a process that looks like this:

  1. Electricity, natural gas, propane, or oil generates heat for the furnace.
  2. The air passes through a heat exchanger. Then, it’s sent through the ductwork.
  3. The air is warmed as it flows through the heat exchanger.
  4. The furnace’s blower finally pushes the air through the ductwork to circulate the warm air around the home.

Many people also call furnaces “forced air furnaces” since they push heated air through the home using a blower.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

A heat pump and an air conditioner both have many similarities. However, a heat pump is different because it provides both warm and cool air to a home.

During hot weather, it retrieves heat from the house and emits it into the air. During cold weather, the heat pump takes heat from outside and pushes it into the house.

Heat pumps work in the following way:

  1. An evaporator takes heat from outside and sends it to the heat exchanger. Different heat pumps can retrieve heat from the air, ground, or even nearby water.
  2. When the heat comes into contact with the refrigerant, it evaporates and is sent to the compressor. The fluid compression then amplifies the heat.
  3. The refrigerant fluid becomes a gas, returning to liquid form, and travels to the condenser, a secondary exchanger that allows water from the central heating system to take in heat.
  4. The system distributes heat throughout the house.

Some heat pumps use motorized blowers to distribute hot air into the ducts. Others use heated water to warm a home by sending it through the pipes under the floors or into radiators.

How Do Central Air Systems Work?

How do central air systems keep a home cool and comfortable? Most central AC systems use a closed circuit of refrigerated air to do the job, as outdoor and indoor units work together.

Central air systems work in the following way:

  1. A vent retrieves warm air from your house and pushes it over evaporator coils, which absorb the heat and return cold air through the ducts.
  2. The heat is transformed into a gaseous state from a liquid state. The gas is shifted to the compressor.
  3. The compressor reduces the volume of the gas and raises its pressure and temperature.
  4. The gas is sent to the condenser in the outside unit and releases heat outdoors. A temperature change occurs that converts the gas back to a liquid state.
  5. When the refrigerant cools, it’s returned through the system to repeat the process.

Central Air vs. Forced Air: Which Should I Choose?

What is forced air heating vs. central? We learned that sometimes the terms get used almost interchangeably, and given that, selecting which system works best for you can be confusing.

Central air systems require little maintenance and can last long without much upkeep. This system also operates more quietly than forced air systems and regulates temperatures more consistently year-round. Additionally, they promote better air quality by filtering out allergens, airborne particles, harmful gasses, and humidity, allowing your family to breathe better. Unfortunately, central air systems can be expensive to install and should be professionally cleaned once annually.

Forced air systems produce both filtered and dehumidified air that allows for the home to be comfortable. Temperatures may be controlled with smart and programmable thermostats, and you can usually heat your home with lower energy bills. Unfortunately, forced air systems are much noisier than central air systems. Forced air systems can get expensive when combined with a central air conditioning unit. Ducts must also be cleaned and sealed every few years to avoid buildup and mold, along with regular filter changes.

There are many energy-efficient and high-performance air conditioning units on the market. If your house always feels humid, a forced air system may be best for you. Alternatively, sticking with a central air system may make the most sense if your house has a functioning air duct system. Ideally, the best service will also offer both maintenance and installation of heating systems before colder weather sets in – with 24/7 emergency services available like we have at Mitchell Heating.

Always rely on a dependable HVAC technician to install your system to ensure optimal performance. Contact us to request a top-notch service and the best estimate today.