Central Air Conditioner Reviews and Prices 2021

Note: This article only talks about the central air conditioner. If you are looking for a window AC or mini-split AC, you can read our Best Window Air Conditioners or Best Mini-split AC Guide.

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 AC Unit Price

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.

1. Quality

Not all air conditioner brands offer similar quality. Here are the top companies 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), Bosch
  • Premium brands – (highest cost, 18 to 25-year durability): Examples are Lennox, (American Standard and Trane), (Carrier, Bryant and Day & Night)

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.

2. Performance

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 26. These “Best” units are made by Standard and Premium brands.

3. Efficiency

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.

2021 Central Air Conditioner Prices

(Updated on Feb 9th, 2021)

Air conditioner prices are rising for a range of reasons including higher manufacturing costs, tariffs and the fact that today’s ACs are more efficient than ever before.

Because of that, we’ve updated pricing, so here are 2021 central air conditioner prices for all brands and ACs by size from 1.5 ton/18,000 BTUs to 5 ton/60,000 BTU.

What’s In These 2021 Air Conditioner Price Quotes?

The prices in the tables include everything – a complete system.

We’ve priced them in separate columns for:

1). Just the equipment

2). The whole system installed.

Most brands including the top names like Trane, Carrier and Lennox, are sold as a package: The equipment plus installation. You can only get them from local brand dealers and HVAC installers.

We itemize equipment and installation to see where your money will be going.

What’s in a Central Air Conditioning System?

A central air conditioner system is more than just the condensing unit – the outdoor unit usually referred to as the air conditioner.

If you sign a contract for a new air conditioning system, it will (at least should) include the following.

  • Condensing unit – outdoor unit
  • Indoor coil – housed in or near the furnace or air handler
  • Refrigerant line set to connect the coil in the condensing unit to the indoor coil
  • Refrigerant to fill the system, if the unit is not pre-filled or if the refrigerant line set is longer than usual.

Central AC Prices Table – AC + Installation

The prices in these table include all the equipment and materials plus AC installation labor cost.

Note: The price ranges are very broad for 2 reasons.

1). They cover all sizes, from 1.5 to 5.0 tons

2). They cover all series from basic to better to best, plus the lowest efficiency to the highest efficiency.

For example, Carrier makes Comfort (basic – up to 16 SEER), Performance (better – Up to 17 SEER) and Infinity (Best – Up to 21 SEER). Most brands make a similar range.

For a more detailed breakdown of costs, see our Brand Reviews and Price Guides for major air conditioner brands.

BrandEquipment OnlyInstalled Cost
Aire-Flo*$1,900 - $4,270$2,920 - $5,730
Amana$1,920 - $5,290$3,630 - $8,560
American Standard$2,470 - $7,000$4,300 - $10,620
Armstrong/Air Ease$2,300 - $5,660$4,070 - $9,750
Bryant$3,200 - $7,190$4,300 - $9,940
Carrier$3,420 - $7,680$4,620 - $10,860
Coleman$2,560 - $5,610$4,410 - $9,310
Comfortmaker$2,070 - $5,170$4,130 - $9,020
Daikin$2,320 - $5,540$3,820 - $9,900
Day & Night$2,310 - $5,090$3,760 - $9,070
Ducane*$2,110 - $3,950$3,410 - $7,050
Frigidaire$2,500 - $5,630$4,170 - $9,260
Gibson*$2,390 - $3,930$4,000 - $6,110
Goodman$1,590 - $4,080$2,850 - $6,920
Heil$2,090 - $5,300$3,730 - $8,990
JanitrolDiscontinuedDiscontinued
Keeprite$2,090 - $5,240$3,650 - $6,700
Lennox$3,160 - $7,230$4,750 - $10,780
Luxaire$2,610 - $6,020$4,590 - $9,580
Maytag$2,310 - $5,580$4,490 - $10,070
NordyneDiscontinuedDiscontinued
Payne*$1,950 - $3,920$3,910 - $6,770
Rheem$3,460 - $6,660$4,730 - $9,410
Ruud$3,460 - $6,590$4,700 - $9,300
Tempstar$2,130 - $5,240$3,590 - $6,820
Trane$3,370 - $7,440$4,360 - $20
York$2,590 - $5,980$4,440 - $9,620
*Aire Flo, Ducane, Gibson, Payne and a few other brands make a limited range of basic ACs.

Prices might vary slightly from page to page on Pick HVAC. This is because we consistently monitor and update AC prices to give you the most accurate numbers available.

Central AC Prices by Unit Size

If you know what size unit you have or need, this chart will help you narrow your cost.

We’ve included a rough idea of home size, but you cannot be sure of the size AC unit you need without a pro technician doing a load calculation, such as a Manual J, that measures 10+ factors including home size, style, construction materials, door/windows, climate and more.

Here are central air conditioner prices by size.

AC Unit SizeHome SizeEquipment CostInstalled Cost
1.5 tons600 - 1000 sf$1,880 - $3,460$2,840 - $4,620
2.0 tons1001 - 1300 sf$2,260 - $4,290$3,410 - $5,740
2.5 tons1301 - 1600 sf$2,700 - $5,090$3,610 - $6,700
3.0 tons1601 - 1900 sf$3,050 - $5,830$4,590 - $7,930
3.5 tons1901 - 2200 sf$3,400 - $6,560$4,860 - $8,970
4.0 tons2201 - 2600 sf$3,470 - $7,020$5,060 - $9,360
5.0 tons2601 - 3200 sf$3,820 - $7,590$5,750 - $11,170

Central AC Installation Cost and Extras

How much does it cost to install a central air conditioner?

$1,400 – $3,500 | Central Air Conditioner Installation Cost for Labor

This cost is based on many factors including:

  • Brand name – Carrier and Bryant cost more than Heil and Day & Night even thought the equipment is nearly identical and all brands are owned by United Technologies Corporation (UTC)
  • Difficulty of the installation
  • Distance from the condensing unit (outdoor unit) to the indoor coil
  • Size of the AC unit and coil – more refrigerant is needed for larger systems, and refrigerant is expensive
  • Who you hire (general AC installer or brand-certified installer)
  • Size of the installation company (smaller companies with less overhead sometimes charge lower rates)
  • Where you live – Cost of living in your area will affect AC installation cost

This price includes everything – removing old AC equipment, if needed, setting the new condensing unit, installing the new indoor coil, replacement of the refrigerant lines and topping off the system with refrigerant if necessary.

Itemized AC Installation Costs

Here’s a breakdown of costs associated with the installation of a new or replacement central air conditioner. As noted, refrigerant line, refrigerant and indoor coil are included in the above costs.

The prices below show where your money is going – or where you might need to spend extra money for system components like a condensing unit pad, ductwork, thermostat or zoning controls.

Brand New Ductwork: If your house has never been installed with an HVAC system before, you need to pay extra money for it.

$2,000-$4,000 | Quality R-6 insulated ductwork

Related Article: HVAC Ductwork Cost 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 evaporator 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

HVAC Zoning Controls:

The cost of zoning system is typically around $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the number of zones. For more information, read our HVAC Zoning System Cost Guide.

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:

What Size Air Conditioner Do I Need?

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.

Image Source: basc.pnnl.gov

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

hvac-brands-horizontal

Related Article: Best Central Air Conditioner Brands 2021

Note: Before you dive into brands/companies reviews, we strongly recommend you spend 70% of your research time on finding a qualified contractor. HVAC system is not a traditional appliance and most brands are reliable.

You may be also interested in the brand’s comparison posts:

Checking Contractor’s Background

Actually, 80% of repair problems are caused by 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 Cost and Reviews

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: Jan 2021

 

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 a lower price.
  • Secondly, remember to look up the latest 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.

Are you in the market for a complete HVAC system? See our Heating and AC Unit Combo Prices or Gas Furnace Cost for complete information on heating.

Share Your HVAC Quote/Cost

Share Your HVAC Quote/Cost

We rely on readers like you to share your HVAC system cost or quote. It really helps other visitors to estimate the cost of a new HVAC unit.

Optional
Optional
ie: Tranx XR13, Lennox xp15
Include Ductwork Replacement? *
Sending

19 thoughts on “Central Air Conditioner Reviews and Prices 2021”

  1. I am trying to decide if a mini split or central unit best suits our needs and budget. I have a cabin still under construction in Alabama that is approx 1000 sf. We will only be spending a few months per year presently. Hot and very humid in summer and winters are mostly mild. Suggestions?

    Reply
  2. This is an excellent article methodically presented and with lots of information _ a good guide to go by.

    Reply
  3. This is exactly What I was needing because some of these guys are ripping me off. Thank you for the article. Very informative!

    Reply
    • Yes I had a Havoc contractor come out yesterday just wasnt feeling him he got caught in a few lies & he knows the reality for my apt complex to me he’s a Jack leg, had to go to Garner NC to get a part i thought a contractor ur to have parts on the truck & told me I can pour water on the coils to clean them isn’t that his job to clean up the AC?

      Reply
  4. Thank you so much for all the valuable information. I am so glad I found all the needed information on one single page. I had a company coming out to give an estimate and they started – “let’s see how much you qualify for” and “do you want an efficient system”? that without even looking around, explaining. Now I know what to ask and what to look for. I will post your site on our Nextdoor page too, so people get educated. Nowadays, unscrupulous companies are mushrooming.

    Reply
  5. This web site is a Godsend. As complete a reference tool as I could find, and I have BEEN looking. Clear, well thought out and presented in a manner which I would deem, objective, concise and with straightforward critiques. Thank You!!

    If I could add one, “if you could”: a more detailed breakout (or a link) of the location map for the various zones. As an example, my Zone in California appears to be Zone 3, yet when I went to my city hall and looked at the California map there appeared to be scads of zones. As per my reps I am in zone is 6. Also, per your map I seem to be in Zone 3, yet there is a dark line cutting through Zone 3 without a reference, so I am not sure if that represents another zone, and if so what that would be.

    Nonetheless, many thanks!!

    Reply
  6. PICKHVAC is an incredible site..
    Comprehensive, understandable and easy to use. The subjects you cover are all new to me. So I am learning a lot! Having just written my masters thesis, I appreciate your information, organization, reliability, and ease of use. I live in the coastal zone in a historic home with a new 2 story between the original structure and its garage. I’ve only needed the heat from two gravity heaters; however now I need air conditioning. Thank you !

    Reply
  7. I got on this site to get background research on general HVAC terminology and standards as we are upgrading our current system with 2 units to a single unit installation. I trust our HVAC contractor as they have been our only company since 2002. This was a no bid job with a thorough conversation of what my wife and I would like to achieve with the new system, trusting them to give us their best professional solutions. The quote(s) give us 2 options between Lennox and American Standard, with an optional upgrade to a higher grade Lennox. Looking at the quote, I realized how little I truly understood about sizing the job, tonnage required, SEER rating importance (we have solar power so it is not as much of a consideration when pricing units) etc…
    This site has taught me more in 1 hour than what I knew about air conditioners/conditioning in the past 20 years!! I was impressed with not only the detail in all the available research categories, but the lack of bias in the explanation. I now feel I can look at our two (and a half with selectable upgrades!) options and make a very educated decision as to what is really right for us. Excellent site!!!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

DMCA.com Protection Status