How much does installing a new air conditioner cost?
A qualified HVAC company can help you find a new air conditioning unit that suits your house. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Robert N. of Berea, Ohio)
In many parts of the United States, air conditioners aren't just "nice to have," they're necessary during the summer months. Newer A/C units are quieter, more powerful and more efficient than earlier models, and they can in many respects offer greater value. But each step up the cooling ladder comes with a commensurate cost. So how much does it really cost to install a new air conditioner?
Air conditioner basics
The first step in getting a new air conditioner installed is determining what size you need. A/C units are measured in "tons," which refers to the amount of heat they can remove from a home in one hour. A one-ton unit, for example, can remove 12,000 British thermal units (BTUs), while a three-ton system will remove 36,000. The larger your house, the more cooling power you'll need: A 1,600 square foot house, for example, will be well-served by a two and a half ton unit. It's also important to consider how much space you need to cool: A basement, for example, is naturally cooler than first or second-floor rooms and does not need to figure into A/C calculation.
Next you'll need to hire a contractor. While it's possible to purchase an air conditioner from a wholesaler and install it yourself, the level of skill required is substantial. For homes that have never had central air, an installation requires new breakers in your electrical panel, wires run through your foundation, new duct work linking to your existing HVAC and the mounting of your unit on metal brackets or a concrete pad.
To avoid a time sink (and potential injuries), find a reputable provider and get a free quote on your system. For a basic, two-ton model, expect to pay $3,000; a mid-range unit will run approximately $5,000 and top-of-the-line A/C systems can creep up over $10,000.
Other A/C facts
To offset the cost of air conditioning, it's possible to find rebates or tax breaks from federal or state agencies. The federal government typically offers a tax credit up to $500 for residential systems that are Energy Star-rated and aren't part of a new home build. State governments may also offer rebates if you install a particularly high-effiency system, but there are often limited in duration, so its worth checking around before you hire a professional air conditioning company.
In addition, air conditioning manufacturers are phasing out the hyrdochlorofluorcarbon (HCFC) known as R-22, which is an ozone-destroying greenhouse gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, manufacturers may no longer produce and companies may no longer install any new A/C units that contain R-22. Existing units can be serviced using this product but they cannot be manufactured, only reused.
What will cost more
Several factors can increase the cost of your air condition installation. If you need a new thermostat, for example, or if the design of your house is such that substantial amounts of duct work are required to link with your existing furnace, you'll pay more than average.
The seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) is also a critical factor. This ratio is a measure of an A/C unit's total cooling output (measured in BTU) during a season, divided by its total electric energy input. The higher the resulting number, the better. Most units sold are over 13 SEER, and some can perform at up to 27 SEER. The advantages of improved SEER ratings are lowered energy costs and cooling times, but they come with a corresponding cost increase. If your hot season isn't particularly long, the increased price may not be worth it.
It's also possible to lower the noise of your air conditioner. Louder units can run over 80 decibels on a hot day, which is painful up close. Many municipalities have passed laws that require new installations to be under a certain decibel level. At 75 decibels, for example, you'll probably hear the unit from the garage or through a window on the same side of the house, while at 70 it will begin to fade into background noise. Most popular brands have high-efficiency, low noise models available for an increased price.
Air conditioning costs depend in large measure on whom you hire, what size of system you need and your A/C unit's overall efficiency.