Installing a whole-house HVAC system can cost between $4,000 and $12,000, based on a national average. The exact cost of installation will depend on the size of your house, the type of new system you wish to install and the existing state of your home's duct work. Don't have any? That will drive up the cost — as will damaged duct work or additional HVAC equipment. Here's what you need to know about air conditioning installation.
What's in this cost guide?
- What kind of central air conditioner should I install?
- Split system central air conditioner
- Packaged systems central air conditioner
- Window AC units
- Ductless mini-split systems
- What will the air conditioning unit cost?
- How much does labor for an air conditioning system cost?
- How long does it take to install an AC system?
- How do I choose an AC installer?
If you're burning up all summer, you're probably eager to figure out which air conditioner works best for you and get that cooling air blowing. Before you purchase a new HVAC system, get to know the different types of air conditioners, and the best type for your cooling needs and your home.
AC units keep your space comfortable through a forced-air cooling system. Warm air is treated and cooled, then pushed back into the home through a duct system, which is often shared with your heating system for central air units. (Hence the common acronym "HVAC," or "heating, ventilation and air conditioning.")
You can purchase window unit or ductless systems, but if you're looking for central air conditioning, you have two different options: a split system or a packaged system. To understand the difference between these two HVAC systems, you need to know how a central air conditioner system works before hiring a pro for installation. There are three main elements to central air:
- Compressor and condenser: Together, these parts remove heat from the refrigerant.
- Evaporator coil: This part extracts heat from your indoor air.
- Air handler: The air handler blows cold air throughout your home.
Split system central air conditioner
In a split system, the compressor and condenser are combined in a single unit located outside the home's HVAC system. The air handler is integrated into the furnace, and the evaporator coil is located indoors. You'll enjoy better energy savings and more efficient cooling with these air conditioning units because most of the components are inside, and the mechanicals will last longer, since they're not exposed to the elements. And if you already have a ducted heating system installed, this option may suit you well and reduce cost of installation in the long run.
You can also choose between a single-stage and two-stage air conditioning system. A two-stage air conditioner operates at two different capacities, defaulting to a lower capacity when cooling demands aren't as high, thereby saving energy and money.
Packaged systems central air conditioner
A packaged central air conditioning system combines all three elements into one single outdoor unit. This saves space, and it's certainly quieter, but because these systems are often installed on the roof, labor costs can be pricey and a single bout of bad weather may irreparably damage the unit.
Window AC units
You also may want to consider window AC units, especially if your region enjoys mild summers, you don't mind the heat or your home naturally stays cool during heat waves. Installation of these pint-sized systems can usually be handled without professional help, and draw significantly less energy than a whole-house unit.
Below are national average price ranges for window air conditioning units by BTU, excluding the cost of installation (if needed).
|Size of Window AC Unit||Average Cost|
|6,000 BTU Window AC Unit||$175-$220|
|8,000 BTU Window AC Unit||$250-$290|
|10,000 BTU Window AC Unit||$290-$315|
|12,000 BTU Window AC Unit||$350-$500|
You'll often hear air conditioners referred to in terms of tons. A ton is the cooling capacity of a particular air conditioner. A one-ton air conditioner is rated at 12,000 BTU per hour, and a two-ton system is rated at 24,000 BTU per hour.
Ductless mini-split systems
These smaller systems bridge the gap between window air conditioner units and central air systems. As their name implies, ductless mini-split air conditioners don't require ducting, decreasing installation costs. In-wall air handlers are connected directly to an outdoor air conditioning unit, letting you control the cooling of each room individually. While these cooling systems can be significantly more efficient, ductless mini-split air conditioners are expensive to install. Some homeowners may also consider them ugly.
Contact a local pro to discuss the type of HVAC system you need.
Your local climate and the size of your home can affect the price of your air conditioning unit or new system, along with other cost factors and add-ons. Both larger homes and hotter climates drive up the cost of your unit. So a 3,000-square-foot home located in south Texas will likely require a larger and thus more expensive central air system than a 1,200-square-foot home in Minnesota. The size of a unit is denoted by its BTUs — or "British Thermal Units." This measures how much energy is needed to raise one pound of water one degree Farenheit, and HVAC units with higher BTUs can cool larger spaces. (However, keep in mind that a high BTU AC won't cool smaller spaces faster — the system will just cycle on and off more, wasting energy.)
A more efficient AC may cost more, too. Air conditioners are given seasonal energy efficiency ratio ratings — or SEER ratings. A high SEER rating means you'll be paying less over time in utility bills, but may pay more upfront. Look for an air conditioner with a higher EER rating if energy efficiency is important to you. For example, Cool Tech Mechanical in Arlington, Texas, charges:
|Air Conditioner SEER Rating||Cost|
|14 SEER unit||$4,000–$6,000|
|16 SEER unit||$6,000–$8,000|
|18 SEER unit||$8,000–$12,000|
You can purchase an AC through your HVAC technician — which means you may be covered by their warranty. Purchasing your own unit may save you a bit of money on total air conditioning costs, but can be much less convenient.
Installing smart thermostats that regulate air conditioning and cooling cycles help make your new HVAC system more energy efficient. The average prices for new thermostats range from $100 to $250 nationwide, adding to the total installation cost if you need a new one.
If your home is already ducted, HVAC labor costs will be significantly lower. Hiring someone to install ducts in crawl spaces and walls can be costly and time-consuming, and can be a major home improvement project — with a price tag to match. But even if your space is already ducted for air conditioning, it may need to be replaced if ductwork is damaged or in disrepair. If your home is large and either not ducted or requires new ducting, expect to pay more in labor costs, because it will take installers more time to run the ductwork.
If you're installing a split system, the condition of your electrical system and existing furnace may affect costs: Does anything need to be fixed or replaced? And installing a rooftop system will drive up expenses, too.
Get a free estimate for HVAC installation.
If you're simply swapping out an existing unit — with no ductwork required — expect your installation to take about a day. If your installers need to replace ductwork, you're looking at a three- to five-day job. But keep in mind that more complicated jobs will add time. If you're installing a unit on your roof or if your home is three stories tall, that estimate could dramatically increase.
Most AC installers are happy to provide a free estimate for your home if you're planning on installing a new HVAC unit or replacing an existing air conditioning system. They'll be able to advise you on whether a split or packaged system best suits your needs, or if a ductless mini-split system might fit your home better. If your existing system is acting up, you'll pay about $79 for a diagnostic call.
Find the right HVAC specialist for your air conditioning installation project.