How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air Conditioning

How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air Conditioning

HVAC
By Contractors.com Team May 12, 2021

It’s hardly necessary to present the benefits of air conditioning  — it’s great for avoiding sweaty, sticky situations and chills. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, or if your system is ancient, or if you’re building a new home, it might be time to think about getting central air conditioning. The cost to install central air conditioning can seem steep at first, but you’ll thank yourself for years to come when the dog days of summer roll in. 

You’ll be happy to know that you have a few options when it comes to the price and functionality of your new central air conditioning system. There’s no need to compromise to be comfortable, and as we know, not compromising is what it means to be cool. So before things heat up too much, let’s look at the ins and outs of central air conditioning costs. 

An Overview of the Costs

On average, the total cost of buying and installing a central air conditioning system will range between $4,000 and $7,500 for the average 1,200 square foot American home. Of course, that cost varies quite a bit depending on where you live, the contractor you hire, the brand of air conditioner you choose, and the type of central air unit you choose. For example, some low-cost options such as Aire-Flo have units that go for $1,700, whereas more high-end brands such as American Standard charge north of $3,000 for their central air conditioning unit. There are plenty of options in between as well. 

If you’re in the market for something more sustainable, you might want to consider the more energy-efficient 14 SEER and 16 SEER AC units. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it’s an indicator of how energy efficient an aircon system is. The higher the SEER rating, the more energy savings you get. These systems tend to cost more, ranging between $3,000 and $9,000 to install, but the higher cost pays off with some sweet tax breaks. You also help save the planet, which is a great way of being cool.   

An Overview of the Costs of AC Installation

An Overview of the Costs of AC Installation

Let's Break It Down

Ok, so let’s say your AC system is old enough to remember when flip phones were a thing and sounds like an old propeller plane when the compressor fires up. You’re tired of that rattle and want to upgrade to something better. Well, the first thing you should do is get rid of the old rattler, and to do that you’ll need a contractor. So you go and find a licensed HVAC contractor after doing plenty of research and getting referrals, and you agree on a price for AC replacement. On average, you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $12,500 to take out your old HVAC clunker.       

Pre-Installation

If your HVAC is installed incorrectly, you risk having poor air quality and bad ventilation, which is especially bad in light of the important relationship between COVID and air conditioning.  Therefore, there are many reasons you want to hire an HVAC contractor who is licensed and certified by your state. Hiring an unlicensed contractor might be a cheaper option, and it might even be quicker, but it’s risky in the long run. Using an unlicensed contractor might void the manufacturer warranty of your AC system, which could be a big issue if you have AC problems down the line. 

A licensed HVAC contractor is also trained to tailor your central air conditioning system to fit your home’s specific cooling needs. Given that nearly half of all AC systems in the country are improperly installed, it’s important to get this step right.

Checklist Before Installing a New AC System

Checklist Before Installing a New AC System

The first job of your HVAC contractor is to conduct a Manual J load calculation. This is part of an energy audit that calculates the amount of heat your home absorbs in a day and therefore what size AC will keep it cool. This whole process will cost you around $500, but it’s well worth it since you could save as much as 30% in wasted energy by installing an AC system that is tailored to your house. As part of this energy audit, your HVAC contractor should also check your home for air leaks which could reduce your AC system’s efficiency. 

Insulation

If you have insulation that is damaged or old, your home will have a lower thermal efficiency rating. This means it will struggle to hold heat in the winter or stay cool in the summer and will overwork your AC (wasting a lot of energy) as a result. Good insulation and cladding can make a huge difference in your home’s energy efficiency. According to the EPA, you could stand to save around $200 a year, or as much as 15% in heating and cooling costs with good insulation. Installing new insulation costs $1,496 on average, but seeing as good insulation can last 20 years or longer, this is a good long-term investment.    

Factors that Can Influence the Efficiency of Your AC

Factors that Can Influence the Efficiency of Your AC

Ductwork

Most homes in the US already have ductwork installed. However, if you’re one of the few that still lives in a home where a modern air conditioning system isn’t installed, you’ll need to have ductwork installed as part of your central air conditioning system. The most affordable ductwork material is polyester, which costs $1-$4 per linear foot. For something more durable but still affordable, aluminum is your best bet since it costs only $2-$5 per linear foot. But if you want a material that will last the longest, steel is by far the best option. However, it’s also the priciest at $3-$10 per linear foot. 

If you already have ductwork installed but it is 15 years or older, you might want to consider replacing it. Old ductwork is more prone to be inefficient, break down, or become infested with mold or pests, so it’s a good idea to replace it when it outlives its service life which is usually 10 to 15 years. In total, installing new ductwork can cost as low as $1,500 and as high as $7,000.    

Central Air Conditioning Types

There are three main types of HVAC systems to choose from: central air conditioning packaged central air systems, split air conditioners, and heat pumps. 

Packaged Central Air Systems

Packaged central air systems are more compact because the three main parts of the AC unit (condensing unit, evaporator coil, air handler) are all housed in the same box. This is not as efficient as the other two types of air conditioning units, but they work well for homes where there may not be enough space for a bigger unit. They usually cost between $1,800 and $3,000 and are generally uncommon in residential settings. 

The Different Types of Central Air Conditioning

The Different Types of Central Air Conditioning

Split Air Conditioners

Split air conditioning systems are the traditional central AC unit that you see in many homes today. You can easily tell that a home has a split air conditioning system because it will have a big metal box sitting in the yard which whirs up every now and then. This is the condenser, and it is separate from the evaporator coil and air handler which usually sit indoors or in a garage. This distance between its parts is why this system is considered ‘split’, and its design brings many benefits. 

Because the condenser is outside, this system is much quieter than other AC units and is also more efficient. Split ACs are quite easy to install and maintain since every component is easily accessible. Since the average price for one of these systems ranges between $1,400 and $1,700, they’re also quite affordable.  

The Benefits of Split Air Conditioning Systems

The Benefits of Split Air Conditioning Systems

Heat Pumps

If you live in an area where the summers aren’t too hot but the winters are pretty chilly, a heat pump just might be the best option. As the name suggests, a heat pump is good at moving heat. This means that during the summer it can suck the heat out of your home to keep it cool. During the cold of winter, your heat pump can work efficiently with a gas furnace to pump heat into your home, keeping everything toasty warm. This is one of the pricier central AC types, ranging between $3,200 and $3,700 to buy.  

Why It's Worth Investing In a Heat Pump

Why It's Worth Investing In a Heat Pump

Is It Worth The Cost? 

While you may not recoup the entire cost of installation, a good central air conditioning system can increase your home’s value. In the hottest parts of the country, a central AC unit can be a lifesaver, especially during heatwaves. Of course, if you don’t want to foot the bill for a central air conditioner and you live in a part of the country that isn’t as hot, you might be able to make do with a small window air conditioner or even a portable AC unit. There are plenty of ways to keep a house cool, the air circulated, and everyone comfortable, but the central AC system is the most powerful solution.  

CT

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team

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