What is the cost of a central air conditioner?
$3,400 – $14,000 Central AC replacement cost for 2 to 5 tons
$7,100 – $22,000 Complete central AC and furnace installation
$10,700 – $27,000 Complete AC system plus ductwork
Cost of Central Air Conditioning Installed
Lots of detail follows – plus full price list charts. Here’s an overview of the average cost of central air conditioner units.
- Low: $4,200
- Average: $6,100
- High: $9,300
The cost to install central air conditioner ranges from $3,400 to $14,000 when only AC equipment is installed. Cost is based on the size or capacity of the AC, the brand and quality, SEER efficiency rating and installation factors.
Equipment & installation cost: For just the equipment, air conditioner cost starts at about $2,500 but can rise to more than $8,000 for premium air conditioners like the Carrier Infinity 26, Lennox SL28XCV and Trane XV20i. Installation labor ranges from $1,500 to $4,000.
What is included in AC installation?
The equipment is:
- The condensing unit outdoors
- An indoor coil
- Refrigerant lines, refrigerant and installation supplies
These prices do not include the air handler, which can be a furnace.
Complete HVAC system cost: When a complete system is installed that also includes an air handler, the installed cost of central air conditioning increases to $6,400 to $22,000, possibly more. In new construction, the cost of installing ductwork adds $2,200 to $6,000 to the job based on the amount and type of ductwork and where it is installed.
Central Air Conditioner Cost by Tonnage & House Size
This section is about the cost of central air based on the size of your home. Some call it the AC cost per square foot, meaning the cost for homes of various square feet.
We should say upfront that air conditioner costs have risen dramatically in the last couple years.
AC size tip: Climate must be considered. For example, a 1500 square foot home in Florida needs a bigger AC than the same house in northern California or in Connecticut.
So, the AC Size in Tons column covers the range of sizes needed in various climates.
If you live in a cool climate, the smallest size will be right for your home. If your climate is warm, but not hot, then your AC will be the middle size given in the chart.
If your home is in the southeast, south or desert southwest – hot, in other words – then your house will need the largest size listed on the chart.
|House Size in Square Feet||AC Sizes in Tons||Total Installed Cost|
|1000||1.5 / 2.0 / 2.5||$3,400 – $9,900|
|1200||2.0 / 2.5 / 3.0||$3,900 – $10,800|
|1500||2.0 / 3.0 / 4.0||$4,500 – $11,500|
|1650||2.5 / 3.0 / 4.0||$5,000 – $12,000|
|1800||3.0 / 3.5 / 4.0||$5,600 – $12,400|
|2000||3.0 / 4.0 / 5.0||$5,900 – $13,300|
|2200||3.5 / 4.0 / 5.0||$6,400 – $14,000|
|2500||3.5 / 4.0 / 5.0 or 2nd Unit||$6,700 – $14,000 or more|
|2750||4.0 / 5.0 / 2nd Unit||$7,500 – $14,000 plus 2nd unit|
|3000||4.0 / 5.0 / 2nd Unit||$7,500 – $14,000 plus 2nd unit|
How much is central air conditioner replacement for a 1500 square foot house?
$4,500 – $11,500. The range reflects the fact that 1500 square foot homes need an AC from 2 tons to 4 tons based mainly on the home’s climate. How well your home is insulated (insulation, windows, roofing material, house wrap/vapor barrier) all factor into central AC sizing.
How much is central air conditioner replacement for a 2000 square foot house?
$5,900 – $13,300. Typically, central air conditioning for a 2000 square foot home needs a unit 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0 tons based on climate, insulation and other local factors.
Research tip: We’ve used our accurate Central AC BTU Calculator for accurate air conditioner sizing, which is essential to the air conditioning’s efficiency, performance and mechanical durability.
Central AC Cost by Efficiency – SEER Rating
How efficient are central ACs? The least efficient are 13 SEER, though that is about to change to 14 SEER as the minimum efficiency manufactured by law.
The most efficient central air conditioners have SEER ratings in the 20s, and the top number continues to increase each year. The most recent Energy Star Most Efficient Central AC list shows the Carrier Infinity 26 Series reaching 25 SEER (Carrier’s website has it at 26), and the Lennox SL28XCV Series reaching 28 SEER.
This chart shows common SEER ratings with prices for units from 1.5 tons to 5.0 tons.
|AC Efficiency||AC Cost – 1.5 to 5.0 Tons||3-ton AC Average Cost|
|14 SEER||$3,400 – $6,400||$5,100|
|16 SEER||$4,500 – $7,800||$6,600|
|18 SEER||$5,600 – $8,900||$8,100|
|20 SEER||$7,200 – $10,500||$9,300|
|22 SEER||$8,500 – $11,000||$10,800|
|24 SEER||$9,100 – $12,500||$11,400|
|25 & Up SEER||$9,700 – $14,000 or more||$12,600|
Tip: In AC sizes, 1 ton = 12,000 BTU. So, in terms of BTUs, central air conditioners come in sizes from 18,000 to 60,000 BTUs, which is the amount of heat they can remove from your home every hour.
AC Replacement Cost: Single Stage, 2 Stage and Variable Speed AC
What are air conditioner stages? You have three options. Here they are with pros and cons, efficiency ranges and then a chart showing central air conditioner cost by stages of cooling.
These units are up to 17 SEER efficiency. A single stage air conditioner runs at full strength whenever it is on. They are more affordable than the other options. However, they don’t have the maximum efficiency, as we see. Also, quality varies from cheap to very good, and you’ll pay for the difference. Single stage ACs don’t control temperature balance and dehumidification as well as air conditioners with staged cooling.
Efficiency range: 14 to 17 SEER
1 stage central AC cost: $3,400 to $7,600
These units have a compressor that runs on low, which is 65% or 70% depending on the model, and at 100%. When the unit is properly sized, it will run on the low setting most of the time. The benefits are quieter, more efficient cooling plus better humidity reduction. These are very popular and priced in the middle of the range.
Efficiency range: 16 to 21 SEER
2 stage AC Cost: $4,700 – $9,000
The compressor in a variable capacity AC modulates like a dimmer switch. Some models are variable from 25% to 100%. Most vary from 40% to 100%. They adjust automatically in increments between 1/10 of a percent and 1%, so very tiny adjustments.
These are costly air conditioners and not a cost-effective option in any but the hottest climates. We recommend them for desert heat and for hot, humid climates only.
Efficiency range: 18 to 28 SEER
Variable capacity AC cost: $7,800 to $14,000
AC vs Complete HVAC System Cost
So far, we have discussed the cost of central air conditioner – just the air conditioning equipment including the condenser (AC) outside, indoor coil and the refrigerant lines and charge to complete the air conditioning.
We haven’t discussed a complete HVAC system with air conditioning as part of it.
There are four air conditioning system options when discussing standard split systems.
AC and Air handler
Only used in the hottest zones where no heating is needed or in homes with an alternate source of heat such as a boiler with radiant heat or a wood-burning or pellet stove.
AC and Furnace Combo
This is the most common HVAC systems type involving air conditioning.
Heat pump and Air handler
Heat pumps are rapidly growing in popularity, and they are recommended in all but the most extremely cold environments.
Heat pump and Furnace
These are called dual fuel systems. The heat pump and furnace do not heat at the same time. When temperatures are above about 35F, the exact temperature can be selected, the heat pump meets heating needs. In lower temperatures, the furnace automatically takes over the heating task.
This chart summarizes your four standard split system choices. It also includes package units and mini split systems for comparison.
|Type||Cost – 2.0 to 5.0 Tons||3-ton System Cost (1)||With Ductwork|
|AC & Air Handler||$6,400 – $17,000||$7,700 – $15,600||$8,300 – $21,500|
|AC & Furnace||$7,100 – $21,800||$8,500 – $17,900||$9,000 – $25,300|
|Heat Pump & Air Handler||$8,000 – $22,500||$9,000 – $19,500||$9,900 – $27,000|
|Heat Pump & Furnace||$8,400 – $23,200||$9,600 – $20,000||$10,400 – $27,500|
|Package AC/Heat Pump||$6,500 – $15,500||$7,300 – $12,600||$12,300 – $17,000|
|Mini Split AC/Heat Pump||$3,300 – $25,000||$4,900 – $15,700||N/A|
(1) Keep in mind that 3 ton systems come in all SEER ratings and performance levels, so the price range is wide.
Mini split systems: Note that a mini split system can be a single zone or up to 8 zones. Hence, there is a wider range of costs than for other systems.
Package systems: They cost a little less because they are less efficient and installation goes more quickly since all the equipment is in one cabinet, not installed in two separate locations.
Cost to Add Air Conditioning to an Existing Furnace
$3,700 to $12,000 is the cost to add the air conditioning equipment to a system already including a furnace and ductwork. The average cost of adding central air conditioner to an existing furnace is about $7,200. But as we’ve seen, efficiency, size and staged cooling factors make a huge difference in price.
Cost to Install Ductwork for Central Air
$2,200 to $6,000 is the cost of ductwork in a newly constructed house or when old ductwork must be replaced. Cost is higher for replacement. The other factors are the location of the ducts, how long the runs are – how much ductwork is needed – and the size, material and type of ductwork and whether it is insulated.
Central Air Conditioning Price by Brand
Most brands make basic, better and best grades of equipment in order to meet the needs of consumers across the spectrum of price, efficiency and staged air conditioning.
Some make only basic and better, like Payne, a Carrier brand, that offers a more limited lineup of models.
Trane, American Standard, Armstrong, Carrier, Bryant and now Lennox too are top-quality brands. Armstrong and Ducane are excellent values in the “best central air conditioners” category. The others mentioned are among the most expensive.
Central AC Cost by Brand
|Lennox||$4,200 – $14,000||13 – 28|
|Carrier||$4,400 – $13,800||14 – 26|
|Trane||$4,100 – $14,000||14.5 – 22|
|Bryant||$4,300 – $13,600||14 – 26|
|American Standard||$4,000 – $13,900||14.5 – 22|
|York (1)||$4,300 – $13,900||15 – 21|
|Ducane||$4,400 – $13,600||13 – 18|
|Daikin||$4,500 – $13,500||14.5 – 24.5|
|Armstrong Air (2)||$4,100 – $13,300||14 – 20|
|Amana||$4,200 – $13,400||14.5 – 24.5|
|Rheem||$4,000 – $13,300||13 – 20.5|
|Ruud||$4,000 – $13,300||13 – 20.5|
|Heil (3)||$3,900 – $12,800||13 – 19|
|Goodman||$3,900 – $11,700||14 – 24.5|
|Payne||$4,000 – $7,200||13 – 17|
(1). York is identical to Luxaire and Coleman
(2). Armstrong Air is identical to AirEase
(3). Heil is identical to Day & Night, Tempstar, Keeprite, Comfortmaker and Arcoaire
American Standard and Trane are identical too, as are Carrier and Bryant, Rheem and Ruud. We list these brands separately because pricing is slightly different.
Central AC Itemized Costs
Here’s an AC price list for the equipment that goes into most systems.
Condensing unit cost: $2,600 to $10,800. This is the outside unit for central air conditioning or a heat pump system. It contains the compressor, coil and fan plus electrical. Factors are size, efficiency and stages of cooling.
Indoor coil: $735 to $1,1775. Aka the evaporator coil. Refrigerant runs from it to the condensing unit compressor and coil via the refrigerant line set (or lineset).
Refrigerant lines: $370 to $795. The set consists of two lines – one from the outside to indoor coil, and the second returning refrigerant to the condensing unit. They come in various diameters and lengths.
Electrical work: $300 to $725. If the unit is being replaced, much of the electrical might already be in place.
Gas furnace: $1,750 to $9,600. Prices are up! Cost is based on size, efficiency, stages of heating, blower type and brand quality. In an AC system, the evaporator coil is installed in or next to the furnace. An oil or electric furnace can be used as well, but gas furnaces are still the most common.
Air handler: $1,335 to $7,500. This unit attaches to the ductwork, like a furnace, but with no gas line and burners – it just moves air with its blower. The evaporator coil can be housed inside or directly in the line of airflow to the air handler.
Thermostat: $120 to $850. A simple, digital programmable thermostat can be installed for around $120. When you choose a WiFi touchscreen thermostat with enhanced features, cost rises. Most smart thermostats from lux, ecobee, nest and Honeywell cost $199 to $349.
Central AC Cost Factors
By now, you should have a good idea of the factors that affect central air conditioning price. But here’s a summary of what’s been discussed.
AC-only vs Complete System: If the inside unit, an air handler or furnace, is newer, in good condition and compatible with the AC you’re having installed, then replacing just the condensing unit, coil and refrigerant lines costs 30% to 40% less than replacing the entire system.
Q – What does “compatible” mean here? It means the components will work together, of course, but also that they are designed for the same level of air conditioning. For example, if you install a two stage or variable capacity AC, you will want to have an air handler or furnace with a variable speed blower to optimize efficiency and indoor climate control.
New vs Replacement: When the system is new – the first time AC has been installed in the home – then a new electrical circuit and outdoor shutoff panel must be installed at a total cost of up to $2,000 above the costs shown on this page. Extra cost averages around $1,100.
Efficiency: As you can see, cost goes up significantly as efficiency rises.
Stages of Cooling: 1 stage vs 2 stages vs variable capacity makes a difference in climate control plus efficiency rises with more stages. As a result, cost rises too.
Size: Air conditioner series start at either 1.5 or 2 tons depending on the series. Additional possible sizes are 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0 and 5.0 tons for most series, though a few are only offered in 2, 3, 4 and 5 tons.
Brand: The brands pay close attention to one another’s prices. And they keep them competitive. Differences are mainly due to quality and efficiency, but costs like transportation from the factory to distant parts of the country and labor costs in different regions affect cost too.
Zoning: Some larger homes have zoning added to the ductwork in the form of electrically controlled dampers that adjust from fully open to fully closed in order to allocate airflow to various parts of the house. It can save on AC cost, but it is costly to install.
Location: Installing a system in a crawlspace, attic or on the roof costs more than installing it in a walkout basement, garage or first-floor utility closet.
What size central AC do I need?
Your home’s location, size, design and ductwork issues determine what size you need. Using a Manual J load calculation is how the pros make the determination.
Homes need 12 to 30 BTUs per square foot. The hotter your climate, the more BTUs/foot are needed. See our Central Air Conditioner Size Calculator that factors your home size, climate and local factors in determining AC size.
How long do central air conditioners last?
Your AC should last 14 to 20 years when properly maintained and when minor repairs are made along the way.
Most have warranties covering all parts of 10 years. A few have shorter 5-year general warranties. On the other hand, some have 12-year compressor warranties (Carrier, Daikin) or lifetime warranties (Goodman, Amana) on select models.
Should I repair or replace central AC?
If it is newer and under warranty, then consider repairing it. When it is 12 years old or more and the repair bill is $500 or more, get estimates for replacement.
What is the ROI of central AC? Does central air conditioning increase my home’s value? Is central air worth it?
Yes, your home value will go up by 55% to 70% of the cost of the new AC system. Obviously, ROI is better in warm, humid areas than in cooler regions of the country.
How much does air conditioning cost to run?
Expect to pay $40 to $225 per month for the electricity to operate air conditioning. The average cost of running a 3 ton central air conditioner in moderately warm climates is $60 to $175 per month based on the system size and efficiency.
What questions should I ask AC salespeople?
Are your company and your installers licensed and insured?
Do the installers have certifications like NATE?
What brand, model and size do you recommend?
What are your price estimates?
What is the warranty on the equipment?
Do you provide a labor warranty?
Is my ductwork OK to use?
Do you seal and insulate ductwork?
What maintenance is recommended? How much is a maintenance service program contract?
Can I Install my own central AC?
Probably not. Installers must be certified to buy refrigerant and charge the system.
Should I buy a central AC online?
We don’t recommend it for several reasons:
-Sizing an AC is very important and not easy for homeowners to get right
-Choosing the right efficiency and performance requires taking a lot of factors into consideration, and guidance from a pro will be useful
-Some warranties are voided by online sales
-Local installers will probably charge you more to install a central AC they didn’t sell you