How much does central air conditioning repair cost?
Across the nation, the average cost for central air conditioning repair is between $50-$100 for a service fee and $300 if you need both labor and parts. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies, also known as HVAC companies, typically charge flat rates for whatever service is needed.
When your air conditioner stops cooling your house properly, it's often an unexpected, out-of-pocket expense and no fun for homeowners to deal with. Whether you're tracking down a leak that caused your energy bills to skyrocket, or panicking because your AC just gave out in the peak heat of August, don't sweat (well, not too much). This guide will take you through average AC repair costs, as well as tips on how to save, so you can estimate how much you'll spend.
What's in this Cost Guide?
- What's included in an air conditioning repair?
- What affects the cost of air conditioning repair?
- How long will an AC repair take?
- How can you save money on an AC repair?
- What should you ask your HVAC contractor?
The services your HVAC professional provides will depend on what part(s) of the HVAC unit is broken.
Your HVAC unit is made up of two parts: your outdoor unit and indoor unit. They work together to cool your house. Your indoor unit, usually in a basement or closet, absorbs heat from your house. Your outdoor unit, located outside your house, takes releases the heat your indoor unit absorbed.
AC units work by blowing air across coils filled with a refrigerant that has been cooled into liquid form by a condenser. The refrigerant starts as a gas that is squeezed by a compressor into a liquid, which releases heat. The heat is then vented outside the house.
This cycle of heat transference is assisted by fans to keep the house cool. An evaporator removes water from the warm air inside your house which also cools down the air. When your air conditioner breaks, it's typically one or more of these parts that is broken.
The total price to repair your air conditioning depends mostly on what part of it you need to fix.
Your rates will be based on whether the technician needs to replace parts or add refrigerant, how far you are from the HVAC shop and seasonality (rates tend to be higher in the summer). The total for all of this is called a service call fee. As a rule, the older the unit, the more expensive a repair is likely to be.
Below are some cost factors you might encounter:
Type and amount of refrigerant
The gas in the air conditioning system is sometimes referred to as Freon, which is a generic term for the class of AC refrigerants or coolants typically used. It's essential for cooling the air that blows out of your air conditioner.
There are two types of refrigerant your unit might use: Freon, also known as R-22, and Puron, also known as R410A. Since 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun phasing out R-22, which does damage to the ozone, and R-22 refrigerant will be completely obsolete by 2030. So if you bought your AC in 2005 or later, there's a good chance yours uses R410A refrigerant.
Replacing or topping off refrigerant is a common AC repair. For this, you will have to pay for your HVAC professional's service call, as well as the supply of refrigerant they use.
David Earls of Cobalt Home Services says his rates for refrigerant replacement depend on whether your AC uses R22 or R410A. He typically charges $349 for three pounds of R22 and $199 for the same amount of R410A refrigerant, which has replaced R22 in newer AC systems.
Note that R22 and R410A cannot be used interchangeably. If your AC unit uses R22 refrigerant currently, you will have to replace it with R22 and cannot substitute it with R410A refrigerant in attempt to lower the price of your repair.
Detecting and repairing a refrigerant leak
It is fairly simple and routine maintenance to replace your AC refrigerant. However, fixing a refrigerant leak is a larger issue in an AC system. You might have a leak in your AC unit if you hear strange noises from your air conditioner, notice your AC's output has decreased or see dirt on the AC lines. Leaks commonly impact the following parts of your air conditioner:
- Copper tubing
- Shipping valves
- Filter canisters
- Weld joints
- Valve cores
If you have a leak, your technician will be able to locate and fix it. The repair cost to detect and fix a refrigerant leak could be anywhere from $225–$1,000 or more, depending on the extent of the problem.
Repairing a clogged drain line
Water leaks can also occur, and the cost to fix it depends on the cause and extent of the leak.
Typically, this is caused by a clogged drain line. Fortunately, clearing your drain line is a pretty straightforward procedure. After locating the clog, your contractor will pour a cleaning solution down the PCV drain line.
If a water line from the condenser becomes clogged, it will cost about $150 to clear it.
When components can't be repaired, you will need to replace them. This cost is commonly covered by warranties. However, if you don't have an AC warranty, or your original one has lapsed, you may have to pay out of pocket for these new parts.
Purchasing a new component will add to your total cost of air conditioning repair. Below are the average prices of common air conditioning replacement components. This cost will be on top of the rate you pay your HVAC technician to repair your AC:
- Thermostat. This sets and controls the desired temperature. The cost to replace a thermostat is generally between $90-$120, with the price of a new thermostat ranging from $20-$40 for something basic, to $100-$250 for a wifi enabled thermostat.
- Capacitor. This stores the electric charge used to start the system. The price of a replacement capacitor will be around $100–$400.
- Circuit board. This serves as the system's central nervous system. The price for a new circuit board typically runs between $120–$600.
- Condensing fan motors and lines. These carry the refrigerant from coil to compressor. A new condensing fan will typically cost between $400-$500.
- Evaporator coil. This is the part that absorbs heat from your house. A replacement evaporator coil is about $710.
- Compressor. This is the pump, or "heart" of an air conditioner. A new one can be $1,000 and up.
Replacing the entire air conditioning system
If the value of an air conditioning unit is beyond its repair cost, you will need to replace it and install a new HVAC system. Fortunately, a replacement is cheaper than installing air conditioning for the first time in your house, since you'll already have the ductwork and infrastructure to support it.
When ductwork is already in place, labor costs to install a new system are about $600, according to Faye Hogoboom, owner of Air Necessity, based in Cape Coral, Florida. The AC unit itself and all parts, copper lines and fittings increase the total price to about $1,800. In total, they charge $2,400 to replace an existing HVAC system.
If the installation job requires putting in more ductwork or additional electrical wiring, the costs increase even more. To learn more, get the full breakdown on HVAC installation costs.
If a duct system doesn't already exist, ductless air conditioners are an alternative to laying down new ducts. You can place them in your entire house, or just one room, so they're a great alternative if you don't want to extend your ductwork to just one or two rooms, but still want to cool them.
There are a couple of ways you can save money or prevent the need to fix your air conditioner in the first place.
Get an annual tune-up during the off-season
A well-maintained heating and cooling system is less likely to have problems, and need repairs. Hiring a technician to give your AC system a yearly tune-up will help you catch small problems before they turn into more costly repairs -- especially if they are done in the off-season when rates are lower.
In addition to checking in on the health of your AC unit, a tune-up also will include a filter change. Changing your filter is an easy maintenance task that can keep your AC in good shape.
Repair companies can perform a routine system check and tune-up for $125–$200. Earls of Cobalt Home Services cautions his customers to be wary of very low quotes that seem too good to be true. Anything less than $50 is considered suspect.
Check to see if you have a parts warranty
If you have an HVAC parts warranty, you may be covered in the case that a part breaks or needs to be replaced. Your warranty is typically five years from purchase, though it will sometimes extend longer for critical parts.
Unless you have an extended warranty that covers the expense of hiring a technician, you will have to pay out-of-pocket for a service call. Even so, simply having the price of a new part -- especially an expensive but essential one like a compressor -- covered by your warranty can be a huge money saver.
Separate from a parts warranty, you might have an additional warranty from your installer dealer. These typically last for one year after your new AC unit has been installed.
What should you ask your HVAC contractor?
When deciding which company to call for air conditioning service, there are several factors to consider.
- What is your firm's reputation? Check online reviews to get a sense of how good your contractor or company is to work with.
- Are they certified, licensed and bonded by the state? This is especially important if you're trying to use a warranty to cover costs. Many warranties will only accept an assessment by a licensed HVAC technician. See thumbtack.com/safety for more details.
- Can you get a free estimate? Before committing, ask for estimates on how much you should expect to pay, along with a breakdown of the costs. You can also get estimates from several different companies to compare prices.
- How much does it cost to install a new AC unit or HVAC system?
- Tips for replacing your air conditioner.
- The complete central air installation guide.
- The best HVAC maintenance tips.