Central Air Conditioner Replacement Cost Guide 2019

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

The average cost to replace a central air conditioner is $4,575.

Your cost will fall between $2,375 and $7,500 based on the cost factors listed in this table and fully discussed below.

 Low CostAverage CostHigh Cost
$2,375 to $3,900$3,900 to $5,600$5,600 to $7,500
SEER Rating13-1616-2019-26
PerformanceSingle-stageSingle or Two-stageTwo-stage or Variable
AC & Coil Size1.5 to 5.0 tons3.0 to 5.0 tons2.0 to 5.0 tons
BrandStandardStandard or PremiumPremium
InstallationEasyEasy to AverageAverage to Difficult
ExtrasNoneFewSeveral

Note: This guide is meant to focus on costs – allowing you to accurately estimate what your new central AC units cost will be. We also reference our comprehensive Central Air Conditioner Buying Guide. It’s updated each year and has a wealth of additional information, including cost information, that will improve your buying decision.

Overview of Central AC Unit Replacement

This guide itemizes all costs for central air conditioner replacement.

That’s why our prices are accurate. We consider every part of the job.

Many AC replacement estimates factor only the cost of the AC and installation, but there are several other significant costs that increase the total price.

We provide very detailed cost factors.

That means the estimate you calculate based on this information should be quite close to estimates from heating and air conditioning contractors.

Central Air Conditioner Replacement Cost Breakdown

In most AC replacement jobs, here is what gets replaced and what it costs. See the factors below for details.

Condensing unit cost: $700 – $3,950

Indoor coil cost: $175 – $1,100

Refrigerant line set cost: $120 – $400

Installation labor cost: $1,250 – $2,300

Potential extra costs (see next section): $500-$1,450

Potential Extra Charges

If you’re installing central AC for the home for the first time or the first time in many years, there might be additional costs.

Condensing unit pad cost: $20 – $150

30 Amp circuit and wiring cost: $325 – $615

Permit and inspection cost: $125 – $200

*Thermostat installed cost: $40 – $500+

**Ductwork: $3,000 – $4,500

*A new thermostat might not be necessary. Many times the thermostat is changed because the homeowner wants one with more features such as smart performance, touchscreen or WiFi. If you’re upgrading from single-stage equipment, a new thermostat might be necessary to support the new AC.

Our Thermostat Buying Guide and Reviews has full details for researching thermostats. It includes links to our Thermostat Reviews of all major brands including smart models like nest, ecobee and Lux/Geo. 

**Ductwork is usually only required in new construction of if your home has cheap flexible ducts in poor condition. Our Ductwork Cost Guide has details on costs, ductwork system types and much more.

Central AC Replacement Cost Factors

Will you pay near the low end, about average or near the top of the cost spectrum?

These factors and the table below will further define your probable AC replacement cost.

Air conditioner efficiency:

Most brands make units with efficiency from 14 SEER to 19 or 20 SEER. A few make models as efficient as 26 SEER.

How efficient should your AC be? The factors to consider are your climate and how green you want your cooling to be.

  • The warmer your climate, the more efficient your AC should be. A 14 SEER AC in sizzling Phoenix or muggy Atlanta will produce sky-high cooling costs.
  • On the other hand, in Michigan or Maine, a highly efficient AC won’t pay for itself during its lifetime.
  • Of course, if you’re committed to the most environmentally friendly cooling possible, then choose a high-efficiency AC that fits your budget.

Our Central AC Units Buying Guide for the current year covers this topic in detail including a Climate Zone Map and AC efficiency recommendations for each.

AC performance:

Performance is related to efficiency. Your options with SEER ranges are single-stage (13-18 SEER), two-stage or multi-stage (16-21 SEER) and variable-capacity or modulating (19-26 SEER). *13 SEER ACs are still available only in northern regions.

Equipment cost jumps 15% to 20% from single-stage to two-stage models and by 20% to 30% when upgrading from a two-stage to a variable-capacity AC. Installation cost is affected slightly.

Air conditioner size:

Condensing units range from 18,000 BTU/hour to 60,000 BTU/hour. This range is also called 1.5 to 6.0 tons. 1 ton = 12,000 BTUs.

As an example, the cost range for a Carrier Performance single-stage 16 SEER AC is about $1,500 to $2,600 for the AC.

How big should your AC be? How much air conditioning do you need? There are many factors involved in sizing an air conditioner. They are found in this section of our annual Central AC Prices and Buying Buying Guide.

Indoor coil size:

This is called the evaporator coil. The size of the coil corresponds to the size of the condensing unit.

Cased or uncased coil:

Coils with their own steel cabinet cost slightly more than uncased coils that are installed in the furnace or air handler cabinet.

Refrigerant line set length:

This affects cost in two ways. First, longer line sets cost more because of the extra material. Secondly, the longer the line set, the more refrigerant must be added.

Brand:

The brand of AC can affect cost by 20% or more. In our comprehensive current-year Central Air Conditioner Buying Guide, we break down AC costs by brand. You will also find links to our Air Conditioner Brand Reviews for Carrier, Trane, Goodman, Lennox, Heil, Rheem/Ruud and many more.

Installation factors:

There are several factors that affect labor cost.

  • They start with job complexity. When the indoor unit is in an attic or crawlspace, installation is more difficult, and cost goes up significantly compared with simple jobs like installation in a walkout basement or first-floor utility closet.
  • The installer’s certification affects cost. If the installer has been factory-trained by a brand and has their “Certified Installer” label, installation costs will probably be higher than if the installer does not specialize in any particular brand.
  • The cost of living in your area can affect installation costs by 20% or more.
  • Time of year is a factor. When HVAC companies are busiest, estimates are highest. When they’re not busy, they often offer sales and incentives.

The last point is why we recommend homeowners consider pre-emptively replacing their central air conditioner, so the work can be scheduled to avoid the peak busy season.

If your AC is 10+ years old and has had repair issues, or if it is 15+ regardless of repair history, replacing it before a major mechanical failure might save you money and from being days without AC during a really hot stretch of weather.

How Size and SEER Affect Cost

This table shows AC size and efficiency.

 13-16 SEER17-20 SEER21-26 SEER
Single-stage2-stageVariable-capacity
1.5-2.0 tons$2,375 - $3,900$3,585 - $4,700$5,200 - $6,350
2.5-3.0 tons$2,500 - $4,100$3,750 - $4,935$5,385 - $6,600
3.5-4.0 tons$2,625 - $4,350$4,000 - $5,115$5,650 - $6,885
5.0 tons$2,950 - $4,735$4,395 - $5,600$5,900 - $7,500
*These are installed costs. Expensive thermostats are not included in the cost.

Central air conditioner cost by brands is part of our complete Central Air Conditioner Buying Guide.

Tips for Buying a Central Air Conditioner

There are three outcomes to pursue related to equipment, installation and cost.

  • Getting a quality central air conditioner with the right size and efficiency with features you want. This is the equipment factor.
  • Hiring a qualified AC contractor that will properly install the unit. This is the contractor factor.
  • Getting your AC installed at a fair and competitive cost. This is the price factor.

Equipment:

As we’ve noted, our Buying Guide is full of information on choosing the size, efficiency and performance in an AC for your purposes. Once you find a qualified air conditioning contractor, they can offer suggestions and present you with options and costs.

In terms of the right equipment, make sure the contractor sizes the AC properly. There many factors here, and simply going by your climate and house size is not enough. If you’ve upgraded insulation, windows, doors and/or siding since the last AC was installed, the new unit should be smaller. Discuss with each potential installer you interview the possibility of having a Manual J load test performed. It’s a technical approach to sizing an air conditioner.

Contractor:

Don’t rush to find a central air conditioning installer. They are not all equally qualified, skilled and experienced.

Independent inspectors warn that installation quality is just as important as brand. Your air conditioner will give you the efficiency, durability and performance you expect when properly installed. Faulty installation leads to many issues including early mechanical failure.

Interview at least three HVAC companies. Ask about the crew that will be installing your air conditioner. What is their training and certification? Is the company licensed, insured and bonded? How many years of experience do they have? Do they offer a labor warranty for the work? What are its reviews on Google, Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau? These are all important questions.  

Price:

Getting estimates from installers that know they are competing for the work is the best way to find a fair price. You’re looking for the combination of experienced installers and a competitive cost. Low-ball offers often mean the workers are poorly trained or the company has a bad reputation and is desperate for jobs. If offers are 20% or more below the others, it might be due to one of these issues.

If the offer is more than 20% higher for comparable equipment, then the company likely is as busy as they care to be. There won’t be any urgency to get to your job, and they’re not going to budge on price.

While the “best” price is often in the middle, keep in mind that training, experience, being licensed and insured are “musts” for any company you hire.

Is There a Quicker Way to Do This

Gathering names to call, contacting companies, waiting for them to get back to you and meeting with each to interview them will take 10 days to three weeks in most cases.

If you’d like to find an AC installer more quickly, consider our Free Local Quotes offer. The estimates are provided by companies that are prescreened to be experienced, licensed and insured. That’s a major part of the equation.

You fill out a quick form on this site or call the number given. The information you provide is shared with quality contractors in your area, and they contact you almost immediately to give an estimate. It allows you to get competitive estimates from proven air conditioner installers in days or less, not weeks. There is no cost or obligation for using the service.

Related Topic: Gas Furnace Replace and Installation Cost

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