The national average cost to install or replace central air is $3,200, and prices can range from approximately $1,100 to $9,500, depending on various factors. How much you’ll spend on an air conditioning unit or HVAC system will be based on the cost of central air installation services in your area, the cost of labor, the square footage of your home, if you decide to get a new HVAC system, if you need a brand new AC or if you need to replace an existing unit.
Central Air Replacement and Installation Costs:
National Average Cost
What’s in this Cost Guide?
- How Much Does AC Installation Cost?
- How Much Does It Cost to Replace an HVAC Unit?
- HVAC and AC Types for Central Air Conditioning
- Split-System Air Conditioners
- Packaged Air Conditioners
- Heat Pump Systems
- Other Types of Air Conditioners
- Ductless Mini-Split Systems
- Window Air Conditioners
- Portable Air Conditioners
- Wall Air Conditioners
- AC and HVAC Installation Cost Factors
- How to Save Money When Using Central Air
- Common Questions About HVACs, ACs and Central Air
- How to Choose the Best AC or HVAC Installer
How Much Does AC Installation Cost?
Before installing an air conditioning unit or HVAC system in your home, it’s important to research the installation costs and the cost of the actual units -- which can vary by type, manufacturer and retailer.
>> See How Much You'll Pay: Get Estimates From the Top Pros in Your Area
AC and HVAC installation costs can also vary depending on what you need to get done in your home. For example, here’s a look at the national average costs of common AC and HVAC installation services.
New AC Unit Installation & Removal Costs:
Install a new AC unit
Install ducts and vents
Remove an old AC unit
*Please note costs can range and vary depending on the square footage of the home, the type of AC unit or HVAC unit you have and various other factors.
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When shopping for HVAC equipment, you’ll come across a variety of air conditioning types at different price levels. Whole-house ACs, packaged units, split systems, heat pumps and central air conditioners found at home improvement stores can vary in cost based on the manufacturer (i.e. MRCOOL, Winchester, Goodman, Royalton and more), unit size, SEER rating and other factors.
Read the video transcript.
What Is an HVAC and How Does It Work?
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An HVAC unit helps your home maintain a comfortable level, thanks to its heating system and cooling system.
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These systems typically consist of a heat pump or a furnace, ventilation (i.e. air ducts, fans, filters, etc.) and air conditioning. When an HVAC is heating your home, it takes the heat from the outside air and uses it to warm the home. And when it’s cooling your home, it takes the heat out of the air in your house and pushes it outside. The cooled air is then sent back into your home through ducts.
An HVAC system can do a good job of providing central air for your home. To install an HVAC system, you’ll need to get the right kind of unit -- a packaged unit, split system or heat pump. You might also need a system of ducts and vents if you don’t have them already. And, you’ll also need to get a thermostat, which helps the system switch between providing cool air and heat.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace an HVAC Unit?
Replacing a combination heating system and cooling system could involve getting a new compressor, fan or circuit board. These are some of the most common parts that malfunction. A compressor can cost around $645. It powers your air conditioning system, so if it fails, the system will no longer function.
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A damaged fan, on the other hand, may not ruin your system right away. However, it will need to be replaced so the system can maintain its efficiency. A new fan may cost around $125.
Circuit boards are a little more pricey, often costing around $215. Like the compressor, the circuit board is essential to the function of your unit, so it has to be replaced right away.
HVAC and AC Types for Central Air Conditioning
Choosing an air conditioning unit or HVAC system can be difficult for many homeowners, especially because there are so many air conditioning products to choose from. In many cases, homeowners consider installing one of the following: split-system air conditioners, packaged air conditioners or heat pumps. Here’s what you need to know about each type.
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If your home doesn’t have an air conditioner but there is a furnace, you might consider installing a split-system air conditioner. It’s the most common type of central air conditioner for residential homes -- and usually the most affordable.
With a split system, you have an outdoor unit or cabinet containing the condenser and compressor. Inside, you have another cabinet with the evaporator. The indoor unit can also contain a furnace or heat pump.
If you’re thinking about getting a split-system HVAC, here’s how these systems are configured, according to HomeAir.org.
- Furnace and air conditioner: Most HVAC systems use a gas furnace instead of an oil one.
- Furnace and heat pump: These are recommended for colder climates, and are also called “hybrid” or “dual fuel systems.”
- Air handler and heat pump: These are recommended for warmer climates, and are sometimes called “heat pump split systems.”
A split-system air conditioner provides effective heating and cooling while keeping part of the unit inside your home. It’s easier to service this section of the system, as well as protect it from the elements. However, you still have to depend on a series of wires and pipes that connect the various components. If any of these fail, the repairs can get expensive.
>> Install Air Conditioning in Your Home: See the Top AC Pros in Your Area
A packaged air conditioner combines heating and cooling and, unlike split systems, they’re enclosed in a single cabinet -- which helps save space. However, these types of ACs tend to cost more than split-system ACs.
In addition to packaged ACs, examples of other packaged HVAC systems include:
- Packaged heat pumps, which can heat and cool your home.
- Packaged dual fuel system, where the heat pump acts like an air conditioner, and the gas furnace goes to work when temperatures get too cold.
- Packaged gas/electric systems, which uses a furnace and air conditioner.
A packaged system is useful for its versatility. It can be put on the roof or next to your home. But because the system has to sit outside, it’s fully exposed to the elements. Freezing water and outdoor debris can cause the system to malfunction. If something goes wrong, you may lose both your heating and cooling.
A heat pump transfers heat from one place to another. When you’re cooling a space, the heat is pulled from the air, and the air is sent back into that space. When you’re heating a space, the heat is pulled from the air outside and used to heat the air inside the desired area.
These pumps are useful because they’re often small and can be easily installed in a variety of places in your home. They also offer virtually instant heating and cooling.
However, they don’t function well in areas that experience extreme cold, as there isn’t much heat in the air to extract. This causes it to work harder than it normally would, which wastes electricity.
Other Types of Air Conditioners
If you’re not interested in a central air conditioner, other types of ACs can cool down parts of your house.
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As its name implies, these systems require no ductwork. Ductless mini-split systems are typically installed in the wall of a room, and they consist of one outdoor unit and one indoor unit. They’re usually used to heat a single space or two adjoined spaces.
If you're concerned about energy efficiency, this system provides some perks when compared to central forced air systems. The ductwork in central forced air systems typically experiences energy losses, and these “duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic,” states the U.S. Department of Energy.
You'll often hear air conditioners referred to in terms of tons. A ton is the cooling capacity of a particular air conditioner. Typically, the higher the BTU, the more expensive the AC unit will be.
Compared to installing a central AC or an HVAC system, installing a window air conditioning unit can save you both time and money. This AC system sits in your window and pulls air in through vents and a filter in the front.
If your goal is to heat one room instead of your whole house, a window AC could be your best option. Also consider window AC units if your region enjoys mild summers, you don't mind the heat or your home naturally stays cool during heatwaves.
Installation of these pint-sized systems can usually be handled without professional help and draw significantly less energy than a whole-house unit.
A portable AC unit can be transported from one space to another. Its function resembles that of a window AC unit, but it won’t hang outside your window. This makes portable ACs more attractive to people who live in residences where the use of window ACs are prohibited.
You can add a portable AC unit to your home without the help of an HVAC contractor, as it only needs to be carried into a room.
Wall air conditioning units (sometimes called “through-the-wall air conditioners”) are similar to window ACs in their function. However, instead of being placed in a window frame, wall ACs are placed within a wall.
Because installation requires cutting a hole in your wall, consider hiring a professional to help you out -- especially if it’s your first time installing a through-the-wall AC.
AC and HVAC Installation Cost Factors
The cost of installing an AC unit will vary based on the type of installation. The bigger the house, the more ducts that will need to be run, checked and sealed. The increased need for cooling power will cause the unit to cost more, too. If there is more than one story in the house, running the ducts, pipes and wiring may add to the cost as well.
>> How Much Will Your HVAC Cost? Ask Central Air Installation Pros in Your Area
Older homes often don’t have existing ductwork because they weren’t designed for central AC. Therefore, to install an air conditioning unit, you might need a new system of ducts -- and that can get expensive.
On the other hand, some units don’t need ductwork, so they can be installed without this added expense. Keep in mind that each installation is unique, and the complexity depends on the needs of the house and the desired location of the unit.
How to Save Money When Using Central Air
There are a lot of ways to save money while using your system. One of the best methods is to focus on energy efficiency. For example, only run your air conditioning system when you need to and utilize the thermostat. Running your AC unit when you’re not at home can waste significant money. Program your thermostat to turn on when you’re either at home or when you are on your way back from work, school or another place to which you routinely travel.
>> Let a Pro Do the Hard Work: Find the Best HVAC Installation Pros Near You
You can also save money by properly insulating your home. If your house lets in warm air from outside, you’re making your unit work harder than it should. This requires more electricity and, consequently, more money. Sealing up cracks can help cut down on your AC’s workload.
Another way to save considerable money is by regularly changing the filters. Clogged filters inhibit airflow, forcing the unit to work harder and expend more energy. Clogged filters can also damage your unit, so keeping them clean will help you save money in replacement parts as well.
Common Questions About HVACs, ACs and Central Air
These are some frequently asked questions about central air, ACs and HVAC installation costs.
What is the labor cost to install central air?
The labor cost to install a central air conditioning system will vary. It depends on the HVAC installer and the location. Some customers have paid as little as $750 to install a new AC unit whereas others have spent up to $8,000 when booking professionals.
How much does it cost to install central air without ductwork?
The national average cost to install a ductless air conditioner is between $1,500 and $2,000 per ton of cooling capacity.
How much does it cost to put ductwork in a house?
Like other installations, putting in ductwork varies based on the installer and the location. Customers have paid about $3,400, on average, to install ducts and vents when getting central air conditioning services.
>> Need Ductwork? Find the Best Duct Installation Pro Near You
Can I install central air myself?
To install central air, in most areas, you need a special license or certification. Unless you have that license, you can’t do it yourself. The specific license you need varies by state.
When looking for a professional who can do the job for you, make sure the HVAC installation pro has the appropriate license and credentials.
Is central air worth the cost?
It would be worth the cost if you want the comfort and convenience of having a whole-house system. Central AC in warmer areas is also valuable because many need it to maintain an adequate quality of life. If you live in a colder area where the summer temperatures rarely get above 80 degrees, it may not be worth the cost because you may not need it for the vast majority of the time.
Does central air add value to a home?
Yes. Having central air can increase the value of your home by as much as 10 percent, according to some experts. Even in homes where central air is rarely used, people considering buying a home value the extra convenience of having it available.
How long does it take to install an AC system?
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, on average, a three- to a 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.
How long does HVAC installation take?
A typical residential HVAC installation takes between one and 14 days, depending on the complexity of the job.
How to Choose the Best AC or HVAC Installer
Make sure the installer you choose has the appropriate licenses and credentials to install a central air conditioner in your state. You should also read reviews from past customers and see if the installers received positive reviews for providing tips during the inspection, being punctual, exhibiting professionalism and cleaning up any mess that was created while installing the equipment.
The best AC and HVAC contractors are usually happy to provide free estimates or free quotes for your home if you're planning on installing a new HVAC system or replacing an existing air conditioning system. But if your existing system is acting up, you might have to pay for a diagnostic call. Call a few companies to ensure you pay a fair price.
HVAC contractors should also be able to advise you on whether a split or packaged system best suits your needs, or if a ductless system might fit your home better.
For more tips on how to hire the best HVAC installer, visit our smart hiring guide.
Installing central AC can be a great way to add both value and comfort to your home. A central AC system helps you and your family stay cool. And if it’s a packaged, heat or split-pump system that also provides heat, it can keep everyone cozy when temperatures drop.
Give careful thought to which kind of system you need. Because central AC can give your home a boost in value, it can be good for both your comfort and your home’s future sales price.
>> Get a New AC or HVAC: Here Are the Best Installation Services Near You
"A 2.5 ton air conditioning unit typically cost between $8,000 to $15,00. Obviously, the more higher quality brand, the higher cost. But typically, they have better warranties. These units are typically going to cost a lot more upfront, but over time your energy bill is going to be lower. So overall, you end up saving money in the long run.
The average lifespan of an AC unit is between 20 and 25 years if maintained properly. AC units typically require maintenance every year, and it's not necessarily because they're going to break or they're not functioning properly -- it's just to do preventative work so that you don't have problems down the road.
A client should never cut cost on permitting when it comes to AC units because it involves gas, it involves electrical and freon. All of these things could be very harmful, and so they want to make sure to always get it inspected by the city and have all of their permitting in place.
The typical payment schedule for an HVAC unit is 10% at the time of signing. We then asked for 50% of the balance at the time that we deliver the equipment and the remaining balance after we pass final inspection.
AC unit replacements typically require between two to three techs for the replacement, which can usually take about two to three days. Typically, the distributors have all of the materials on stock, and you're able to start a project next day if it was necessary.
For air conditioning, the busy season is during the summer, during the heat waves. However, it is probably better to start it sometime in early spring if you're planning a project so that you're not waiting for weeks to get an appointment.
I'm Jaime Delgado with Sustainable Living Builders, and you can find us on Thumbtack."