How much does a central air conditioner cost installed? We answer that question in detail in this central AC price guide. The comprehensive discussion covers 4 important factors:
Each factor affects the price. When you read elsewhere that “the average central air conditioner costs $5,000 installed,” that information alone doesn’t tell you enough. For that cost, the unit could be a cheap, large and inefficient AC suitable for a large home in the North, or it could be a medium-sized, high-efficiency and high-quality model suitable for small homes in hot climates.
Here are the topics addressed in this Central Air Conditioner Price and Review Guide:
- Factors Affecting Central AC Cost
- Central Air Conditioner Prices
- How to Choose Right Ton (Size) for Your Home
- What Efficiency (SEER) is Right for You?
- Best Central Air Conditioner Reviews by Brands
- Submitted AC Unit Prices and Reviews From Readers
- How to Get the Best Air Conditioner Prices
Factors Affecting Central AC Cost
Let’s consider those 4 important keys to central air conditioner cost. This input will allow you to determine the ac unit that is right for your home.
Not all air conditioner brands offer similar quality. Here are the top brands divided by their place in the market. We’ve put brands together in parenthesis that have the same parent company and essentially the same product lineup:
- Budget brands – (lowest cost, 12 to 16-year durability): Examples are Payne, Aire-Flo, Airtemp, Goodman and Ameristar.
- Standard brands – (moderate cost, 15 to 18-year durability): Examples are (Heil, Arcoaire, ComfortMaker, KeepRite and Tempstar), (Armstrong and Ducane), (Rheem and Ruud), (Daikin and Amana), (Luxaire, York and Coleman), (Maytag, Broan, Westinghouse, Tappan, Frigidaire, Nordyne and NuTone)
- Premium brands – (highest cost, 18 to 25-year durability): Examples are Lennox, (American Standard and Trane), (Carrier and Bryant)
Many sister brands make air conditioners that are identical except for the name. These air conditioner lists from Heil and Tempstar demonstrate the point.
Interestingly, all the brands in that group are owned by United Technology Corporation, the parent company of Carrier and Bryant in the premium category. This shows that UTC is seeking to capture consumers in various segments of the market. Lennox does the same thing with its Ducane and Aire-Flo brands.
Regardless of the quality niche they’re in, all brands make units in one or more of these performance categories:
- Basic performance: These are single-stage central air conditioners with a SEER efficiency rating of 13-15. They are loud and might produce temperature fluctuations or cold spots in your home. All brands make “Basic” ACs.
- Better performance: These are two-stage central air conditioners with SEER ratings of 16-19. They run on low, which is about 65 percent capacity, most of the time, so are quieter than single-stage units and cool more evenly. They’re more effective at dehumidifying your home too. Most brands make “Better” performance air conditioners.
- Best performance: These are variable-capacity central air conditioners, called modulating or variable-speed by some brands. These units have compressors that modulate by very small degrees between 25 percent and 100 percent capacity with the result that the units are the quietest, most efficient, best at removing humidity and produce the most balanced temperatures. Variable-capacity ACs have SEER ratings as high as 24. These “Best” units are made by Standard and Premium brands.
The term SEER stands Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. Like gas mileage ratings, SEER is a rating of how many Btu’s of cooling the unit can produce for the electricity it uses. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the unit is.
Choosing the right efficiency rating for your purposes is discussed below.
4. Size (Ton)
Each residential AC model is produced in a range of sizes. Some start at 18,000 Btu while others start at 24,000 Btu. This is a measurement of the amount of heat per hour the units remove from your home. Most central air conditioner models increase incrementally by 6,000 to 12,000 Btu. The largest residential units are 60,000 Btu.
Within the industry, sizes are also spoken of in “tons”, a term that dates to using tons of ice to cool buildings. One ton of air conditioning capacity is equivalent to 12,000 Btu’s of cooling.
Central Air Conditioner Prices
AC Unit Prices By Brands
AC Unit Brands
|Day and Night||Standard||$1,290-$3,450|
These prices are for the outdoor unit only, called the condensing unit. For complete installation costs including additional equipment required and labor costs, see section Installation Costs and Extras.
The above AC Unit prices are for just the outside unit, commonly called the air conditioner and technically known as the condensing unit. Other costs including installation are discussed in detail below. Most central air conditioners are sold by local HVAC contractors in a package that includes installation. However, you can find some air conditioners in the Basic and Better grades for sale by local and online wholesale dealers. Installers of central air conditioners must have a refrigerant license, so DIY installation is not an option for most homeowners.
Central AC Prices By Unit Size
AC Unit Size
|1.5 ton||600-1000 sf||$1,470|
|2 ton||1001-1300 sf||$1,650|
|2.5 ton||1301-1600 sf||$1,850|
|3 ton||1601-1900 sf||$2,050|
|3.5 ton||1901-2200 sf||$2,260||$4,710|
|4 ton||2201-2600 sf||$2,450||$5,220|
|5 ton||2601-3200 sf||$2,860||$5,890|
Before installing or replacing your air conditioner, an HVAC contractor needs to size your system by “Manual J” calculation. This will take into accounts factors like where you live, insulation situation, windows types and direction and etc. Then you will get a right-sized air conditioner ranging from 1.5-ton to 5-ton.
The above price is the average price of 20 common brands above. The air conditioner efficiency baseline is 16 SEER.
System Only includes the outdoor condenser and indoor evaporator coils (without the air handler and furnace).
System Installed includes the system and installation (not include installing a brand new ductwork).
Central AC Installation Cost and Extras
How much does it cost to install a central air conditioner? Here are the basic AC installation price and the cost of extras.
$1,200-$2,000 |Basic air conditioner installation cost
This is the cost of installing just a new condensing unit and hooking it up to existing refrigerant lines. However, if your installation location is new construction or the AC being replaced is quite old, it’s likely you’ll have one or more of these additional costs:
Brand New Ductwork: If your house has never been installed with an HVAC system before, you need pay extra money for it.
$2000-$3500 | Quality R-6 insulated ductwork
Related Article: HVAC Ductwork Cost Details and Ultimate Buying Guide
Condensing unit pad: Most installers won’t put a condensing unit directly on the ground, so a pre-fab pad can be used or a concrete slab can be poured.
$20-$150 | Condensing unit pad
Refrigerant lineset: There are two lines. One carries refrigerant from the coil in the condensing unit to the indoor coil; the second returns the refrigerant to the outdoor coil. Linesets from 20 to 50 feet are produced; length affects cost.
$120-$400 | Refrigerant lineset
Evaporator coil: This indoor coil can be a cased coil that installs on top of your furnace or an uncased coil that installs in the furnace cabinet. The indoor coil, known as the expansion coil, collects heat from the air circulating over the coil. The heat transfers into the refrigerant, and it is carried to the outdoor coil where it is released. As heat is removed from the air, the indoor coil gets cold enough to condense moisture. Drier air in summer is more comfortable. The condensed moisture is collected in a drain pan. The evaporator coil must be sized to the capacity of the central air conditioning system.
$175-$500 | Uncased evaporator coil
$225-$575 | Cased evaporator coil
Thermostat: If your new central air conditioner or complete HVAC system has features the old one didn’t, you’ll probably need to replace your thermostat. You might want to do this anyway if you currently don’t have a programmable or Wi-Fi thermostat that allows you to monitor and control your heating and cooling using your smartphone and an app.
$12-$100 | Non-programmable thermostat
$15-$124 | Basic programmable thermostat
$135-$500 | Wi-Fi programmable thermostat
You can read our detailed thermostat reviews and buying guide for more information.
Other HVAC Optional Add-ons: There are a couple of optional add-ons you may have heard of. Those of you, who are interested in them, can take a look at:
How to Choose Right Ton (Size) for Your Home
Getting the right size ac unit is essential to your indoor comfort and to the durability of the system. An AC unit that is too small will work too hard and might not cool the space effectively. This will also lead to premature mechanical failure. A unit too large will over-cool your home, creating temperature swings. The unit might also short-cycle, a malfunction that can destroy an AC compressor in the condensing unit.
Before having a Manual-J calculation made, you can get a pretty accurate estimate of the size unit you’ll need with the following information. First, find your location on this US Climate Zone map below.
The hotter your climate is, the more cooling power you’ll need per square foot of your home. This is a quick reference:
- Zones 1 & 2 (hot): 22-30 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 3 (warm): 20-24 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 4 (moderate): 18-22 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 5 (cool): 16-20 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 6 (cold): 14-18 Btu/sq. ft.
- Zone 7 (very cold): 12-16 Btu/sq. ft.
To give you an idea of how these numbers might translate into your home, let’s turn them into central AC unit sizes for an average house of 2,000 square feet in each of the climate zones:
- Zones 1 & 2 (hot): 2,000 x 24-30 = a 44,000 to 60,000 Btu (4.0-5.0 ton)
- Zone 3 (warm): 2,000 x 20-24 = a 40,000 to 48,000 Btu (3.5-4.0 ton)
- Zone 4 (moderate): 2,000 x 18-22 = a 36,000 to 44,000 Btu (3.0-3.5 ton)
- Zone 5 (cool): 2,000 x 16-20 = a 32,000 to 40,000 Btu (2.5-3.5 ton)
- Zone 6 (cold): 2,000 x 14-18 = a 28,000 to 36,000 Btu (2.0-3.0 ton)
- Zone 7 (very cold): 2,000 x 12-16 = a 24,000 to 32,000 Btu (2.0-2.5 ton)
The range in sizes is the result of factors related to your home’s construction. In short, homes with more insulation, energy-efficient windows and doors and light-colored roofing need fewer Btu’s of cooling.
Summarizing the sizing of a central air conditioner, keep in mind:
- A home in a cool climate requires a smaller central air conditioner than the same home would need in a hot climate
- A replacement AC should be smaller if the home’s insulation has been upgraded or other energy-efficiency modifications have been made
- A replacement AC should be larger if additional space, such as a finished basement or converted garage, is to be air conditioned
What Efficiency (SEER) is Right for You?
How efficient should your central AC be? If eco-friendly heating and cooling is the highest priority, then buy the most efficient system you can afford. Since the most efficient ACs are also the best performers, the answer is the same if superior indoor climate control and comfort is your goal.
When cost-efficient air conditioning of your home is what you want, finding the right balance between equipment cost and energy cost is the key. Referring to the Climate Zone chart again:
- Zones 1 & 2 (hot): 18 SEER and up
- Zone 3 (very warm): 17-18 SEER
- Zone 4 (warm): 16-18 SEER
- Zone 5 (moderate): 15-16 SEER
- Zone 6 (cool): 15-16 SEER
- Zone 7 (cool): Up to 15 SEER
The above SEERs are roughly estimated. We also developed a SEER Savings Calculator to help find a better balance between equipment cost and electricity cost.
There are a few more factors to consider.
Moist air is harder to cool, so if high humidity is common in your area, then getting a more efficient AC Units will reduce energy costs and make your home more comfortable.
The longer you intend to live in your current home, the more cost-effective a very efficient central air conditioner will be because its higher cost will be recouped when spread over more years.
If you plan to sell soon, you won’t get the long-term energy cost savings of an efficient air conditioner. However, keep in mind that some potential buyers will want to know how efficient your AC is, especially in warm and/or humid parts of the country.
Best Central Air Conditioner Reviews by Brands
Related Article: Best Central AC Units Brands 2017-2018
Note: Before you dive into brands reviews, we strongly recommend you spend 70% of your research time on finding a qualified contractor. Central Air Conditioner is not a traditional appliance and most brands are reliable.
Checking Contractor’s Background
Actually, 80% of repair problems are caused by the bad installation instead of bad brands or units. Checking a contractor’s background is essential to ensure skill, experience, good reputation and certification.
Start by checking whether the contractor is certified by a trade organization such as the HVAC Excellence or North American Technician Excellence. To check their reputation, the Consumer Affairs Office and the Better Business Bureau are good sources of information such as complaints. For more information, you can read 6 Hacks Of Choosing an HVAC Contractor
Submitted AC Unit Prices and Reviews From Readers
Brand & Model & Size
|$7,900||Carrier Infinity 21||Dallas, TX||2300 sqft|
|I had this unit installed after the old unit was hit by lightning. I am not sure if I paid too much or that was just about the right price. So far, the system has not had any issues. It runs efficiently and keeps the down cooled down, just the way I like it. What I liked about it most is how energy efficient. The contractor who did the installation job told me it could reach a 21-seer efficiency under the right conditions.|
|$3,500 (Unit Only)||2.5 ton Lennox Merit 14ACX||College Station, TX||1800 sqft|
|I decided to take the system with a five-year warranty. This is especially great if one is not planning to stay in an area for long. Although, there is an option for a decade-long warranty I do not plan to stay that long. The system has so far provided reliable service in the two years since installation, something which is of great benefit to me.|
|$2,200 (Unit Only)||York LX 5||Flagler City, FL||2200 sqft|
|The price I paid was inclusive of installation fees for new duct system in the home. This was after the contractor informed me the old system was just too inefficient. In addition, the price was inclusive of all the necessary permits. After the three years, with regular checkups, the system is still working fine.|
|$4,100||Ameristar 3 ton 16 SEER||Phoenix, AZ||2900 sqft|
|I got this unit installed recently. I am not sure but I think I paid a fair price, based on what others have paid. The contractor included a ten-warranty for parts and labor as part of the deal. In addition, he offered a brand new outdoors foundation and a thermostat that is programmable. I am satisfied with Ameristar so far.|
|$6,150||Lennox Elite||Chicago, IL||3000 sqft|
|The entire installation process took the contract two days. In addition, some of the ducts need replacing. We also included some UV lights as part of the package. So far, the air conditioner has continued to run smoothly even after two years of service.|
|$4,250||Airtemp 15 SEER||Los Angeles, CA||1600 sqft|
|Honestly, I cannot believe how much everyone else is paying for a central AC. We make good money but we would never pay for what some people are being charged. I believe some people here did pay too much. Airtemp is not a famous brand but did a good job for me.|
|$8,600||Trane XL16i 5 ton||Houston, TX||3500 sqft|
|Our nineteen-year-old Carrier could not take the heat last week. It finally broke down and we had the entire unit replaced with a 3 ton Trane. The entire process took the two workers about half a day.|
|$2,600 (Unit Only)||3 ton Goodman GSX13||New York||2400 sqft|
|Central Air conditioning systems do not last very long here in Galveston. The salt air tends to corrode the units very fast. As a result, our last unit only lasted seven years. In fact, we were quite impressed by how long our last Goodman lasted. We decided to install this new four-ton unit. So far, it has been performing as expected without any issues.|
|$4,390||Rheem 15 SEER||Miami, FL||2000 sqft|
|I have had the Rheem air conditioner running for two years now. I feel very happy with my purchase. When my Carrier’s compressor burnt up only after five years of use. I decided to do some research and I think it really paid off. This new system has a higher seer rating; better warranty terms and is quieter. Anyone seeking to replace his or her Central Air Conditioner should as much time to gather as much information. The potential savings made are totally worth the trouble.|
|$3,200 (Unit Only)||American Standard||Orlando, FL||1900 sqft|
|In Tennessee, the weather is hot with a lot of humidity. Thus, the unit runs almost nonstop from the months of May to October. As an AC tech myself, this unit is undoubtedly top notch. When seeking to have a new system, a good contractor is crucial to a quality installation. Take time to read through customer reviews of installation companies. This is after you have chosen a unit that is best suited to your home. In order to ensure a compressor lasts longer, make sure the filter drier is welded securely into the liquid line. In addition, pre-existing copper lines should be flushed. Be careful of quick talking technicians, who never seem to provide straight answers.|
This table is based on local customers feedback and online submitted information, we will update this table every 3-6 months to keep this up to date. Last Update: March 2018
How to Get the Best Air Conditioner Prices
- Firstly, keep in mind that installation quality is always the most important thing for residential HVAC project. So never sacrifice contractor quality for lower price.
- Secondly, remember to look up the latest tax credit and rebates as we talked above.
- Thirdly, ask for at least 3 bids before you make the decision. You can click here to get 3 free estimates for your local contractor, and this estimate already takes rebates and tax credit into consideration and filter unqualified contractors automatically.
Lastly, once you chose the right contractor, remember to use the tactics from this guide: Homeowners Tactics When Negotiating with HVAC Dealer to get the final best price.