How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air?
$3,800 - $7,584
$3,800 - $7,584
Updated February 2, 2022Reviewed by Dan DiClerico, Smart Home Strategist and Home Expert.
Installing central air conditioning typically costs between $3,800 and $7,584 with an average price of $5,685. The final price for the project depends on which brand you choose, SEER rating, the cost of installation and size of your home.
Let's calculate cost data for you. Where are you located?
Where are you located?
|Typical Range||$3,800 - $7,584|
|Low End - High End||$1,500 - $11,500|
Cost data is based on actual project costs as reported by 21,215 HomeAdvisor members.
A new AC system costs $5,685 on average but can vary significanly based on a number of factors, including:
The type of your unit
Square footage of your home
Number of tons
Local labor rates
|Central Air System||$3,900 - $7,500|
|Ductless Split System||$2,000 - $14,500|
|Window Unit||$150 - $500|
|Portable Unit||$150 - $500|
Make an informed decision about what kind of AC system you need before getting a unit installed or replaced. The type of AC system you choose determines a large percentage of your overall cost. For example, if you decide to have a split or central system installed, you will need to hire an air conditioning professional.
Central air costs: $3,900-$7,500. This type uses ducts to cool a whole house.
Ductless mini splits cost $2,000-$14,500. A mini split uses multiple indoor units without the need for ducts.
Window air conditioners cost $150-$500 to install. These mount to your windows and are easy to install on your own.
Portable air conditioners cost $150-$500. A portable unit can be placed anywhere and uses a hose to send heat out of a window.
The cost to install central air in a 1,200 square foot home sits between $3,000 and $4,000. Of course, this price varies based on the SEER rating of the unit, and whether or not the home requires ductwork installation or repair.
On average, you'll need about 18 BTU capacity per square foot. But anywhere from 14 to 26 BTU capacity per square foot is acceptable. Follow these steps to see how much Btu capacity you'll need:
Figure out the square footage of the room. For a square room, multiply length by width. For a triangular room, multiply length by width and divide by 2.
There's a chart you can reference in stores that will tell you what size machine you will need. If you want a system for a whole house, it's a bit more complicated and will require professional assistance.
|Tons||Capacity (BTUs per hour)||Typical Cost|
|1.5||18,000||$2,500 - $4,500|
|2||24,000||$3,100 - $5,100|
|3||36,000||$3,400 - $5,400|
|4||48,000||$4,200 - $6,200|
The larger your house, the more cooling power you'll need. However, bigger isn't better in every scenario. If the system is too large it will cycle on and off all the time, wasting energy and emitting a loud, disruptive sound. On the other hand, if the system is too small, it will run constantly and cool your house inefficiently. Be sure to consult an AC pro to get the most accurate estimate for this project. Or, try out this AC size calculator below for a rough estimate.
Installing a 14 SEER AC unit is between $3,000 and $6,000. But the higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient it is. So, this model could save you money over time.
Learn more about SEER ratings and tax breaks below.
A 16 SEER air conditioner runs from $3,700 to $9,000 to install. Though more expensive, this model is more energy efficient than a 14 SEER unit. There's also an opportunity for a tax break until December 31, 2021.
Labor adds between $500 and $2,500 to the material costs. Installing a brand new system with all new ducts will cost more than replacing an existing system with ducts already installed.
Depending on your home and current AC system, you may also encounter these additional cost factors:
Installing ducts and vents costs $500-$2,100. If you're installing new ducts, this is also a good time to explore upgrading your heating system, as it will be cheaper to do both together.
If your AC is fairly new, you may rather pay the cost to repair your air conditioning unit. Most homeowners spend about $375 on repairs.
Any newly installed air conditioning unit will come with a manufacturer's warranty. Warranties generally last from 5 to 15 years and may save you money if you're still covered.
Tax credits are offered for purchases placed in service through December 31, 2021 to incentivize homeowners to purchase energy efficient home products. Check this Energy Star page for the most recent news on tax breaks for AC installation.
If you have a well built and well insulated home, your heating and cooling systems will work more efficiently and save you money. Explore the costs of new insulation or upgrading your old insulation as it might save you money in the long run.
Many central air conditioning systems use the furnace blower to distribute cool air through the home. If you do not have a central heating system installed, it is worth it to install a cost-effective heating and air conditioning system at the same time. If you already have central heat, you can use the existing fans and duct system for the central air system.
The cost to replace a central air conditioner is about $5,000. However, this price varies depending on the size of your home and the difficulty of the project. It can cost as much as $12,500 to replace an AC unit. The labor required to remove and dispose of the old system adds to the price. The size of your home, brand of AC unit and ductwork complexity can all raise the cost as well.
The general rule is that every 500 or 600 square feet requires one ton of cooling. However, this calculation varies depending on your home and contractor.
Your contractor will do a load calculation to determine the proper central air conditioning unit for your home. This calculation accounts for the climate, size, shape and orientation of your home, as well as its square footage. A professional will also look at the insulation, windows, walls, floors and other materials that compose your home. He/she will then examine any leaks, seals and existing ducts or vents. Many refer to load calculating as the Manual J methodology.
Ask these questions during your central air installation to ensure its quality and optimum performance for years to come:
Is it sized correctly? The equipment must be the right size to provide the best performance for your home. That's why professionals measure your home and do load calculations.
Is the duct system right for the AC unit? Ducts that are damaged, leaking or missing in spots will affect performance. Your contractor will repair and install more ducts if needed, so everything works at its highest caliber.
How is the airflow? Airflow must be just right; otherwise, you could see an increase in your bill or hot spots in rooms of your home. A contractor can measure the volume and adjust ducts or vents for optimal airflow.
An air conditioning system's SEER is especially important if you live in a climate that changes temperature dramatically. The SEER is determined by the cooling output during the winter divided by its electric input during the winter. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be. In January of 2006, the U.S. put standards in place for cooling units which are still in effect today. They must have a minimum SEER of 13. So, if you live in a home with a system installed before the new standards went into effect, consider having it replaced. SEER 13 units increase home efficiency by 30%.
An EER certifies the cooling efficiency of HVAC units. It's calculated by the rate of the cooling in British thermal units (Btus) per hour and divided by the rate of energy input in watts at a specific temperature. The calculation goes as BtuH/WATT at dry bulb (db) versus wet bulb (wb) temperatures. The optimal rating for a cooling unit is about 80db/67wb inside and 95db/75wb outside.
Deciding if central air is worth the cost depends on your needs and local housing market. If you live in a hotter climate, it can definitely be worth the price. Not only can it keep your home at a comfortable temperature, but air conditioning can even save lives during extreme heat waves. But in a milder zone without severe temperatures, window units, fans or the breeze from an open window could be adequate.
You probably won't recoup the entire cost for the installation when you sell your home, as it is an expensive project that isn't as flashy as something like a new deck. But this invisible upgrade can help you sell your home faster if you live in a hot climate. And many buyers are willing to pay a bit more for a working AC.
Most AC units last up to 15 years. But if you use it frequently and don't maintain it, the system could require replacing much sooner. You should replace your air conditioning once it is out of date or stops working properly.
Depending on the project, it can take 1 to 5 or more days for a pro to install central air conditioning. AC replacements take more time, as do projects with extensive ductwork repairs or installations. This extra time can range anywhere from an additional day to another week!