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Central Air Conditioner Costs

Don’t let your remodeling budget go over-board by hidden surprises – understand what the average installed costs for a Central Air Conditioner Systems is near you by using our handy calculator.

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As an experienced licensed home improvement contractor, I know first hand what it should cost for various levels — from Basic, Better, and of course the best.

The Central Air Conditioning Systems estimator will provide you with up to date pricing for your local area. Simply enter your zip code and the units needed, click update.

Central Air Conditioner Costs Calculator

Zip Code Units
Basic Better Best
AC Unit Cost $1745.00 – $1850.00 $2155.00 – $2325.00 $2650.00 – $2900.00
Installation Cost $550.25 – $675.35 $790.50 – $820.05 $950.00 – $1390.00
Total $2295.25 – $2525.35 $2945.50 – $3145.05 $3600.00 – $4290.00
Total Average AC Unit Cost

$2410.30 $3045.28 $3945.00

How Much Does  it Cost to Install a Central Air Conditioning unit?

Installing a central air conditioner costs between $3500 and $5950 — the average homeowner spends $4400 for a mid-sized AC unit plus professional installation. Other cooling options include portable and window air conditioners, available for less than $200, to ductless mini splits ranging from $590 to $4600.

Central Air Conditioner Prices

Central air conditioner prices range between $750–$4700 depending on size and features. A contractor can evaluate your home, budget and cooling preferences and make a recommendation.

Central Air Conditioner Price By Size

Air Conditioner Installation Cost By Ton
Size of AC Unit House Square Footage Average Installation Cost
2 Ton Up to 1,000 Sq. Ft. $3,350
3 Ton Up to 1,600 Sq. Ft. $4,600
4 Ton Up to 1,900 Sq. Ft. $4,900
5 Ton More than 2,000 Sq. Ft. $5,900

Air conditioners are rated by ton or BTU. The term “ton” doesn’t refer to the weight of the unit — it reflects it’s cooling power. The name comes from a time when people purchased ice by the ton to cool their homes. Each ton is equivalent to 12,000 BTU, or British Thermal Units. A BTU is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Professionals suggest choosing a central air conditioner based on the square footage of your home using these guidelines:

  • Up to 1200 square feet requires a 1-2 ton air conditioner. Prices range from $750–$1200.
  • Up to 1800 square feet, choose a 2–3 ton model for $900–$1300.
  • Up to 2500 square feet, select a 3–4 ton unit. Prices range from $1400–$2000.
  • More than 2500 square feet requires a 4 ton or larger AC. Prices range from $2000–$4700.

In addition to square footage, climate and other factors such as your home’s floor plan also factor into choosing an optimally sized air conditioner. An HVAC professional who has evaluated your home is the best source of guidance.

Central Air Conditioner Price by Brand

Air conditioners come in a wide range of sizes with features for every budget. Some manufacturers focus on making either small, budget-friendly models or larger, feature-packed styles — others have a full line in every price range.

Consider the average cost of these popular brands when you shop:

Average Cost Of New AC Unit

AC Unit Brand Average Cost
Trane $2,300
Lennox $2,250
Carrier $2,200
Frigidaire $2,100
York $2,250
Amana $2,000
Rheem $1,850
Armstrong $1,800
Whirlpool $1,750
Tempstar $1,700
Ducane (by Lennox) $1,650
American Standard $1,600
Aire-flo $1,400
Coleman $1,693
Armstrong $1,300
Bryant $1,200
Goodman $950

Some contractors install any brand AC — others work exclusively with select manufacturers.

Cost to Install Central Air Conditioning

Few home improvement projects have as many variables as installing central air conditioning — it’s the most comprehensive, yet complex, cooling option. For example, replacing an existing AC is simple, but retrofitting a home with the necessary ductwork for a new central air conditioner can be complicated and costly and would need to be professionally quoted – get a free quote here.

Cost to Replace an Existing Air Conditioner

The average cost to replace an existing mid-sized central air conditioning system is $4400 — the AC unit and labor each contribute roughly 50% of the price.

Cost To Add Central Air To Existing Forced Air Furnace

Older homes with forced hot air heating systems have an advantage when it comes to installing a new central air conditioning system — the necessary ductwork and vents are already in place. Installing a new AC unit using existing ductwork costs $3200–$5500 depending on the model you choose, including necessary site upgrades.

Cost To Install Central Air Conditioning with No Existing Ductwork

If you have an older home with convection or baseboard heat, installing central air requires adding ductwork. Adding flexible, insulated ducting to a 1200-square foot home adds $1800 –$3100 to the price of installation.

Additional Cost Factors to Install New Central Air Conditioning

Unit Pads

A new air conditioner needs an even, well-ventilated space to sit on. Leveling an appropriate area and adding a concrete or crushed gravel pad adds $200 –$400 to the price of installation. The cost may be itemized separately or be rolled into an hourly rate.

Electrical Upgrades

Most central air conditioners require a dedicated 240V 20A circuit, adding another $90, on average, to the price of installation.

Duct Upgrades

Older, poorly insulated ductwork decreases the efficiency of a new air conditioner — especially if it’s in the attic. Recommended upgrades can add up to $3000 to the cost of your project, including the labor to remove old ductwork. The good news is — it’s a one-time investment that pays for itself in energy savings over the long haul.

Insulation

Having a well-insulated home lowers both heating and cooling costs, so there’s no better time to add insulation than when you’re installing a new central air conditioner. Assuming most homes have at least adequate insulation, the cost to add more should range between $600–$1500.

Permits and Fees

Adding a central air conditioner requires a permit and a safety inspection in most areas to ensure it meets building code. Fees range from $25–$125.

Disposing of an old air conditioner and ductwork is also costly. The costs to capture environmentally hazardous refrigerant — that’s never a DIY job — and dispose of bulky equipment ranges from $40–$110.

Choosing the Right Central Air Conditioner

A central air conditioner is an investment — it’s critical to choose a model with features that meet your needs — beginning with the right size.

Choosing the right size air conditioner is essential because it affects both comfort and efficiency. Units that are too small won’t cool sufficiently, and models that are too big will cycle too often — resulting in poor dehumidification and high utility bills.

In general, however, the larger your home, the more BTU’s of cooling power you need, but other factors including climate and your home’s layout also matter. In persistently hot areas of the country, 1 ton of capacity is recommended for every 500–600 square feet of home. Size down if you live in a cooler climate or if your home has better than average insulation — unless you plan to build an addition in the near future.

Air Conditioner Efficiency

The total long-term cost of owning an air conditioner includes the price of energy. New efficiency standards make today’s air conditioners more cost-effective than ever to operate.

Air conditioners have two ratings — EER, or Energy Efficiency Ratio, and the newer SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. Both help when comparing similar models. What’s the difference?

EER Rating

The Energy Efficiency Ratio reflects how effectively an air conditioner cools a home when the outdoor temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit — pros use it to tell how well an AC will perform under stress.

SEER Rating

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio indicates how efficient an air conditioner will be at a range of temperatures between 65 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It gives homeowners a better idea of how much energy an air conditioner will use year-round, helping them determine electricity costs.

Single-Stage vs. Two-Stage and Variable Stage Air Conditioners

Central air conditioners come in three types — single-stage, two-stage and variable speed.

Single-stage Air Conditioners

Single-stage air conditioners turn on when the indoor temperatures exceed the setting on your thermostat. If you set the thermostat to 70 degrees, the air conditioner will run whenever the indoor temperatures reaches 71 degrees. When the temperature drops, it turns off.

Most homes in the United States still use single-stage air conditioners. They’re the least complicated and therefore the most economical to buy, but they may not be the best choice for saving energy.

Single-stage air conditioners turn on frequently — and because most of their power draw occurs during start-up, they’re more expensive to operate.

Two-stage Air Conditioners

A two-stage air conditioner runs most of the time — at full capacity when it’s warm out and at a lower level when it’s cool. Two-stage units don’t constantly run like a variable-speed air conditioner, but they do cycle on and off less often than a single-stage air conditioner, making them more energy-efficient.

Variable Speed Air Conditioners

Variable-speed air conditioners run continually. That sounds like a recipe for high energy consumption, but it isn’t because they draw low levels of electricity consistently without the high-power startups.

And because variable-speed air conditioners control moisture more effectively, homeowners feel more comfortable at higher temperatures, so the thermostat doesn’t have to be set as low.

Variable-speed models cost more initially, but they’ll lower your utility costs long-term, and they are ideal for allergy sufferers.

Are Super High-efficiency Air Conditioners Worth the Price?

Super high-energy air conditioners use the latest technology to pinch pennies on power — but it comes at a cost. Models with the best SEER ratings are usually variable-speed and include special features such as thermal expansion valves for high-efficiency operation when the temperature is hot.

On average, however, you’ll pay up to 40 percent more for one of these units. Over the expected 15 –20 year lifespan of an air conditioner, the energy savings are rarely enough to make it a good return on investment.

Alternatives to Central Air Conditioners

There are three popular alternatives to central air conditioning: ductless mini split, window and portable air conditioners. Each has pros and cons.

Cost of a Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner

Ductless mini split air conditioners are similar in construction to window versions but with no window required. Available since the 1970s, mini splits have two parts — an outdoor condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. Mounted in a ceiling or wall, they vent through an exhaust pipe leading outdoors. They’re the next best thing to a central air conditioner if you want to cool a single room without blocking your window-view.

Unlike a whole-home central air, installing a ductless mini split can be a DIY job. Prices range from $850 to $4100 installed, depending on the model you choose.

Cost of a Window Air Conditioner

Window air conditioners are among the most cost-effective to own and they fit in most standard windows, but they’re usually limited to cooling a single room.

What size room air conditioner do you need? Rated by BTU, the easiest way to size a room air conditioner is to multiply the number of cubic feet in your room by five using this formula:

(Length x width x height) x 5 = minimum recommended BTUs

This formula is more effective than using square footage alone because it takes into account your room’s height — an air conditioner designed to cool a standard 10-foot wide by 10-foot long by 8-foot space may struggle if the ceiling is higher than average.

Room air conditioners are cheap — prices range from $99 for a 5,000 BTU model to $600 or more for 12,000-plus BTUs — and installation is an easy DIY job for two people. But beware — not all air conditioners dehumidify.

Compared to dehumidifiers that can draw up to 70 pints per day of moisture out of the air, a room air conditioner’s ability to control humidity is weak — 0.8- 1.5 pints per day is average. The better the dehumidifying capability, the higher the price. Convenience features including remote controls, timers and variable speed fans also bump up the cost.

Cost of a Portable Air Conditioner

Portable air conditioners are similar to window units, but they’re freestanding and can move from room to room on wheels. They can be vented through any window using adapter kits — some styles even work with casement and crank out windows — something window air conditioners can’t do. To preserve your view, however, they can also be vented through a hole in the wall — this is a good option if it’s staying put in one place long-term.

Available in sizes from 8000 to 18,000 BTUs and higher, prices range from $399 to $800 depending on size and features. Most, but not all, also dehumidify, and some can function as heaters.

FAQs

Is it true that energy-efficient central air conditioners qualify for tax incentives?

Yes! The federal government has extended the Residential Energy Efficient Tax Credit through December 31, 2021 — additional credits and rebates may also be available at the state level.

Only air conditioners that meet criteria, however, qualify. Most homeowners can expect a $250 – $350 credit for AC systems with an EER greater than 12 and a SEER greater than 14. Your contractor will provide you with the documentation needed for your taxes.

What kind of air conditioning system is best?

There’s no single type of air conditioner that’s best for everyone — only one that’s best for your home. The best cooling unit will be one that fits your budget and is powerful enough to keep you comfortable.

Central air conditioners are expensive. Are they worth the price?

Central air conditioners can not only keep your entire home cool and comfortable, but the right system can also improve air quality and ease allergy symptoms. Those are impressive capabilities for the price, but only you can decide if it’s worth it.

Does central air conditioning improve my home’s resale value?

There’s no guarantee it will, but it’s among the features that attract buyers the most. In good condition, a home in a warm area will likely sell faster if it has a central air conditioner.

How long does it take to install a central air conditioner?

Replacing an existing unit takes as little as a day or two. If installing ductwork is necessary, it could take 7–10 days.

How long is the average warranty on an air conditioner?

The average warranty for a window or portable air conditioner is 1–3 years.

Central air conditioners and ductless mini splits may carry up to 10 year warranties. Some are also covered by home warranties, and extended warranties or service contracts may be available through the manufacturer.

How to Hire a HVAC Contractor

A central air conditioning system is a substantial investment — get it done right by hiring a knowledgeable, professional contractor.

  1. Ask family and friends for referrals and research consumer reviews.
  2. Obtain at least three estimates from contractors rated A or better with the Better Business Bureau.
  3. Choose only contractors that are state-licensed and insured — otherwise, an accident could leave you on the hook for a personal injury or damage to your home.
  4. Request local references.
  5. Get written, detailed estimates — they allow you to compare which services are included for the price among competing bids.

Final Thoughts

Your home is your castle — why avoid it because it’s too hot inside? A new central air conditioner can you be your ticket to year-round comfort and energy savings for less than a few days at Disney World — it’s a better investment.

View other Heating & Cooling Options: Gas, Oil, Propane, and electric systems

  • Furnace & Boilers
  • Cooling & Fan Systems
  • Dehumidifiers & Air Cleaning

External References:

  1. Energy.gov – Department of Energy: Furnaces and Boilers. Added on July 20, 2015
  2. Hud Path homes – US Department of housing and urban development. Added April 16, 2022

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Author S Krone

A lawyer never retires. So I would just say that I am not as active as I used to be. Now I simply dedicate myself to fishing, my hobby, and my grandchildren. For Business Finance News I write about legal aspects of mortgage policies, mostly regarding the rights of policyholders. I also have articles about personal injuries.

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