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)

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, might be well-served by a two and a half-ton unit. However, many other variables factor into determining which size will work best in your home. For example, a basement is naturally cooler than first- or second-floor rooms. "You cannot calculate the size and tonnage by square foot alone," says Dave Hutchins, owner of Bay Area Air Conditioning in Tampa, Florida.

Next you will need to hire a contractor. While it is possible to purchase an air conditioner from a wholesaler and install it yourself, the level of skill required is substantial. Also, you must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to handle refrigerant. 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.

You'll want to ensure a crucial task like this is done correctly, so avoid time sink (and potential injuries), find a reputable A/C pro 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.

Angie’s List members who had similar new air conditioners installed in 2013 reported paying an average of $5,043.64 with a general range of $4,603.43 to $5,483.85, not counting discounts many service providers offer to Angie’s List members.

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. Unfortunately, federal tax credits expired at the end of 2013 for residential systems that are Energy Star-rated and aren't part of a new home build. You can check the Energy Star website for current tax credit information. State governments may offer rebates if you install a particularly high-efficiency system, but there are often limited in duration, so it's 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 EPA, manufacturers may no longer produce and companies may no longer install any new A/C units that contain R-22. Companies can still manufacture new parts like condensers with R-22 for replacement in existing units. According to Hutchins, "Homeowners can legally buy and install units that are charged with R-22 or any other refrigerant, [but] they cannot buy a jug or cylinder of refrigerant to add to their system." He add, "Some areas require a homeowners 'permit' form the building department, [but] I would not advise a homeowner to do this at all."

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. Currently, all 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.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 17, 2013. We've updated it with 2013 cost data and current tax credit information. We've also corrected some information based on your comments and consultation with highly rated companies.


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A/C refrigerant goes green

fea_ac_0413_mauzy_02.jpg

Scott McClain of Mauzy Heating and Air Conditioning works to install a new R-410A a/c unit. (Photo by Crissy Pascual)
Scott McClain of Mauzy Heating and Air Conditioning works to install a new R-410A a/c unit. (Photo by Crissy Pascual)

As R-22 is phased out of use, residential air conditioners use a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, R-410A.

Comments

My a/c should be replaced. My condo is 1300 sq feet, windows are tinted, live on 3rd floor of a 9 story bldg. the windows and doors are leaky, via a match test, so I use weather stripping to reduce $$ for cooling. I also installed a humidistat and in the summer months, when the apt is not occupied, set t=75, humidistat at 65. Is there anything else I can do in addition to purchasing a new a/c system, to keep my home mold free?

I was just quoted $8000 to replace outdoor condenser only (4 ton unit). The quote doesn't have any sort of breakdown. Seems like a lot considering the base cost of units. Is it?

Help please, our A/c are blowing air but not cold . Should we replace it or it can be repaired?

No you should have atm hvac guy check your Freon levels in the unit

Hi, Great thread...appreciate all the knowledgeable folks out there. Had a few questions. My compressor went bad on my Carrier unit and I'm being quoted ~$4000k to purchase/install a new outdoor condenser [Payne 4 ton 208-230v, 1 phase compressor (RR incl.)] Does this sound like a fair and reasonable price? It seems like a R-410A unit would be more efficient but I'd need to also replace my air handler. The other question I had was, is there simple math to determine the cost advantage of the more efficient R-410A over R22? So if I invest $2000 more to replace the whole system with R-410, I'll recoup my investment in X years? Appreciate any advice and experiences people can share. Thanks

Yes 4k is very expensive for just the outdoor unit considering it is a Payne. You need to find out the efficiency and the refrigerant doesn't make a difference in efficiency. Stick with 410 refrigerant so you don't get bit in the long run purchasing a unit with r22. That refrigerant will be obsolete by 2020.

I was told I had a coolant leak. They put in 4 pounds and said I should have it checked in the next few day for a leak, so they come back and say it is very expensive to get a leak tested like $1000.00. And perhaps I should just have the whole unit replaced. It has only been used for 5 yrs however this home is 12 yrs old. It sat empty for 6 yrs. what would be your suggestion?

Needs to be replaced. Adding refrigerant is a temporary bandaid.

Finding a leak is expensive due to time it takes them to find it. However, if you really want to look for a leak I'd start at the main connection points and take some soapy water and put over the top of the joints...if you see bubbles coming out after applying you found your leak $2 investment. I'd get quotes from another company. $1000 seams pretty expensive unless you have TONS of piping.

I suggest you find a different company as this one is definitely trying to rip you off. To find a leak they inject a dye into the refrigerant at a cost of approximately $20. They return, unfortunately you pay for the visit, and check with a black light and yellow lensed glasses. The combination of the light and glasses color cause the dye to glow yellow. If the leak is in the condenser coil, the replacement depending on your unit could be less than $1000, including labor. I have an Armstrong unit and it is around 20 years old, same age as the house which doesn't mean anything, and only recently have I had to have any more major repairs done. The approximate charge of refrigerant is $35 per pound. I would seriously consider a second opinion or even a third. Best of luck to you.

We live in Portland,Oregon and just had freon added. It was $65 per pound. Mechanic just here now checking for leaks. Looks like there's 2. One in the outside unit and one in the inside unit. OUch!!!

If your unit has r-22 you can expect to pay between $75-$100 per pound. I work in the industry. $81 is the national average

That's a little steep dude. Average is $80??? I don't know where you live, but it's about $35 a pound where I'm at, and I don't see it could be 3 times that anywhere in the US. I live in the south too.

I paid $100 per pound and I know I was ripped off. Another company said $60 But it was to late by then.

The EPA requires you to be certified for refrigerant handling it is very misleading to state that an homeowner can install thier own a/c system

To correctly size a heating and cooling system a contractor should visibly check out the complete existing system including: furnace / air handler, cooling /evaperation coil, condensing / heat pump unit, refrigeration line set, line voltage wire sizing and length, ductwork sizing and material is is made from and type of insulation protecting it. Measure existing supply air / return air grills and type of grill. That is first step if you have a existing system. If you don't have an existing forced air system the contractor can skip most of the above mentioned. Your home needs to have a heat load calculation done to correctly size the new forced air system to work properly and perform to maximum efficiency levels. Homeowners should get at least 3 estimates from qualified installation contractors and be sure to check out the company you decide to use. Ask for references and check with BBB and the state contractors license to see if the have any complaints against them. Also do a search on the web to see if anyone has commented on the installation the recieved. Good luck... A correctly installed system can be a dream come true ... a system not correctly sized or installed can be a lifetime nightmare.

if you have two ac, upstairs and down. Nobody is upstairs during the day. Should you just run the air before bedtime or is cheaper run all day and keep the temperature down

My next door neighbor complains that my compressor makes a sound that disturbs her sleep. The unit is 2 yrs old, and is highly efficient and quiet except for a deep pulsating noise that I have not noticed before. The frequency is low, and actually causes small objects in both houses to vibrate. The installer says the pulsation is normal.....Any thoughts?

I read a lot of questions regarding the size of an HVAC system for a house base on sq ft, and my recommendation is to do a heat load calculation base on a manual j, every home is different. The size and quality of windows, the R factor of insulation, the high of the ceilings, the position of the house, appliances, occupancy, position of house (facing south or east), are some factors to considerate to define how many BTHU the house need to remove the heat. The role of a tumb (400 sq ft per ton) does not to be considerate for your new investment.

Most of the sizes mentioned above are Over Sized! You can fined some free sizing programs on line for sizing A/C.

Many of you folks are asking about A/C sizing (tonnage) needed for particular spaces. There is NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL for A/C. Old school used to use rules of thumb that have long been proven to be severely lacking in accuracy. Many many factors play into A/C sizing: insulation, doors, windows, occupants, exposure to the sun, shading from trees, slab or foundation and the list goes on. Do yourself a favor and have a contractor come in and do a "heat gain calculation" using the ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) Manual J. This is NOT something you can do yourself. Old school it was done on paper and a rather lengthy procedure. New school it can be done on a laptop computer in a matter of a few hours and a print out presented on the spot. Typical software will provide "good", "better", "best" systems and are priced accordingly. If an estimator says something like "you need one ton of cooling for every four hundred square feet" run, fast because he is a hack. I know from where I speak because I have over 44 years in the industry, hold a Massachusetts Master Sheet Meeal License, Refrigeration Technician License and am a full time instructor at a post secondary private trade school.

Maybe you should stick to sheet metal. 400 square feet per ton is a good rule to go by if you do not get a manual j heat load. Before you call other companies "hacks" maybe you should just give good advice. For example, if you are not sure what size unit to purchase, any licensed contractor can do a manual J heat load and take any questions out of the equation. If they do not have the program on a portable laptop, a mere 75.00 is the cost to have a outside company do it for you. There is no good, better or best option. It goes by each individual house with all factors taken into consideration and has only ONE option of what size you need. Best advise- Get at least three quotes and compare prices, dont be pressured into buying, get at least a 10 year warranty, and stay away from companies that immediately want to bad mouth other companies or are "all in one companies" ( a/c, plumbing and electrical all in one company). I am speaking with over 35 years experience and run a very successful company in florida.

My reference to that in my post is for the equipment options. We use Wrightsoft's heat load calculation software with our students and after the numbers are recorded from the structure to be heated or cooled the program selects the equipment from a database and the report comes back with those options. For example "Good" is a minimum SEER condensing unit w/coil and an air handler w/o an ECM (variable speed motor). "Better" would have a higher SEER system w/variable speed. "Best" would be max SEER, two stage compressor, variable speed air handler, ERV fresh air makeup, zone dampers and any other bell or whistle available. For a guy with over 35 years experience I was disappointed to see you say 1 ton for 400 sq. ft. is a "good rule to go by" when it's been proven over and over that it doesn't work,

Hello, I read your comment and was glad to see someone with knowledge and not wanting to take advantage of a customer. My AC service is telling me to start saving for a new system. Mine is about 10 yrs. old and it's been serviced 2 to 3 times a year.. They always say it's in great condition but lately, I replaced a compacitor, motor, duct work, etc. He says it will probably cost around $8000,,for 2.5 ton unit.. It's a Rheem... My house is about 1600 sq. ft.. I have a wall unit in our family room because that was just added on to make the extra sq. ftg. My question to you is, Would I need to replace all the duct work too? And what would an AC unit cost now? Thank you in advance for your advice.. Sharon Cocina

Sharon, Because I am not in the field on a daily basis and your system is sight unseen by me it would be impossible for me to give you a replacement cost. However I can answer a few of your questions. As for your repairs, replacing a motor and capacitor is not unusual in a system that old. These are electromechanical devices subject to wear and tear. Some last longer, some don't for various reasons. You stated that "it's been serviced 2 or 3 times a year" however you didn't state if it was routine maintenance or out and out service calls. If it was maintenance, good for you since all systems require this. If not and the service was for repairs it sounds like you've hit a streak of failures that may or may not have been preventable. There is no way for me to tell without further information. With a 10 y.o. system you are probably using refrigerant R22 which has been scheduled for phase out since 2010. The replacement is R410A which does have specific air flow requirements. That being said there is a good possibility that the duct work would need to be replaced. In our area, and probably most of the country, utilities are taking these complete system change outs seriously. By switching to the new system and to insure you've had a quality installation with proper duct etc., they've developed a program that insures just that. It's called QIV or Quality Installation Verification. They have an independent firm who comes in behind the installer, verifies that the job was done correctly and that the system is providing maximum efficiency. This is good for the consumer and contractor alike. As a result, in the process of inspecting a job for replacement it is incumbent on the contractor to inspect and measure the duct for adequate air flow. Unfortunately many systems will be found inadequate because R22 systems weren't quite as intolerant of poor air flow. Not so with R410A and if the duct cannot meet the requirement it must be replaced. Compound this with the fact that in the 1990's the bar was lowered for qualified techs due to the lack of up and coming techs and many systems wound up with barely adequate ducts. As I stated in a previous post the square footage rule does not work despite what a counter post said. I didn't accuse anyone of being a hack but believe me they are out there. There was no intended snark aimed at anyone in particular with my hack statement and I took exception to the remark "maybe you should stick to sheet metal" which was clearly and squarely aimed at me. This forum is about information which I do posses and my intention was to provide it without bias. My suggestion to you is to get at least three estimates so you can compare proposals. Look for contractors who are ACCA members and have NATE certified techs and possibly are RSES members. NATE is a national testing agency which helps insure that techs know what they are doing. RSES is a national educational society that offers training to its members and works with NATE to certify techs. Sorry I can't offer more than sound advice and I hope this helps.

Florida has a new law that when you replace your unit, the contractor has to inspect and seal your ducts, Hmm that adds to the price of replacing the unit. Also most contractors will want to replace the ducts rather than inspect and seal the ducts which is a lower price option .

Buyer be ware. Good properly installed and supported Airconditioning equipment is your best value. Purchase a system today for say $6000 if you have to replace it again in 10 years because it did not fit your needs, failed to work properly or was expensive and problematic to maintain it may cost you more like $9000 to replace it. You have spent then $15,000 plus repairs on something that did not fit your needs. I have estimated, installed and designed airconditioning systems for 35 years and the best system is the one that is installed by the most qualified contractor not the average contractor or the least qualified contractor.

My home is less then 800sq ft. what will I expect to pay for all of the needed installation?

Our old "farm house" 1 and 1/2 stories with 8 foot ceilings on pier and beam foundation doesn't have fcentral heat or air. what can we expect the cost of a complete system (using Propane heat)? Ground floor 1300 sq. ft. 2 bedrooms upstairs @ 500 sq. ft. We've even consider going with a Ductless Split System but are concerned the cost effeciency would not be in our best interest.

One note- After upgrading ours, we found that our original AC return vents and ducts were inadequate for today's systems. We ended up adding a new return but it was fairly major inside mess to do it.

I have a 2900 sq. ft. home and need a new a/c. What should i expect to pay for a replacement? and i have rented a house before and had the a/c replaced and they had to replace the heat pump as well. will they have to do the same thing here? Thanks very much for the help.

We have a 1800 sq ft home, with 2 units, as 500 sq. ft was an addition. we have 2 units. One is a 2 ton unit outside is approx 5 years old, but the inside unit is from 1986. We are looking to replace the inside. What are the specifications I need as this unit cools the major portion of the home . It is currently stored in a small ventilated closet area... will this propose a problem also? What cost can I expect? Thanks

$2500 to $4000 depending on brand and accessibility to ducting.

Want to cool a 26x60 space, Quonset roof, 13' diameter, covered with solexx covering that has an low 4 value. In the caribbean, and need 85 daytime, and 75 nighttime. How can I adjust the 500 sf-ton to accomplish a size? Thanks

This unit is 9.5 years old,works well except compressor leaks. Uses old R22 gas.Air handler is in great clean condition. Can this unit be repaired with a new Rheem compressor(OEM)?or must the entire system be replaced?

You can use a compressor mad by Bristol Compressors Intl, Danfoss, Copeland or other compressor manufacturer. But it must be replaced by an EPA certified Tech or Contractor, who will do R22 recovery before opening the system, and after repairs will leak check, vacuum test and refill the system. You may also want to consider Condenser change out because new condenser will be more efficient and it may be wise to change out the evap coil also and convert the system to R410. Cost Difference? $750.

Compressors are hermetically closed and non repairable. Is the leak from compressor itself( not likely) or Brazed join is leaking? Leak ( refrigerant leak ) can be found and repaired, as long as the system is properly emptied ( recovered) which is the case even if you are going to change the compressor or Condenser all together. Price of changing the compressor may be within $ 800 to $1200, depending on other components need replacement too. Changing condenser may also require changing the coil ( by heater) if the new system is going to be R410 due to R22 phase out. Condenser - $800, Coil $650, recovery, nitrogen check refrigerant fill $400 . Upgraded unit- better efficiency. Compressor and related parts change out - $800 to $1200, Recovery, leak test/fill $400. Nothing upgraded, just replicated. The choice is yours

Compressors are hermetically closed and non repairable. Is the leak from compressor itself( not likely) or Brazed join is leaking? Leak ( refrigerant leak ) can be found and repaired, as long as the system is properly emptied ( recovered) which is the case even if you are going to change the compressor or Condenser all together. Price of changing the compressor may be within $ 800 to $1200, depending on other components need replacement too. Changing condenser may also require changing the coil ( by heater) if the new system is going to be R410 due to R22 phase out. Condenser - $800, Coil $650, recovery, nitrogen check refrigerant fill $400 . Upgraded unit- better efficiency. Compressor and related parts change out - $800 to $1200, Recovery, leak test/fill $400. Nothing upgraded, just replicated. The choice is yours

Does anyone know how many tons I need if I only have a 975 square foot ranch home?? Please help. I don't wanna overspend on a unit if I do not need to. I recently remodeled a computer room to a bedroom for my teen. He has an 8 year old brother and needed his own space but he also cannot sleep in the hot months without an air conditioner in his window. We now need central air to fix the issue. Thank you all for the help.

A two ton will suit your needs one ton for every 400 to 500 sq ft the seers are an efficiency rating and have nothing to do with air coolness or heat a small house should not need above a 13 but they will try to sell you a 14 seer for a few hundred $ more, one point should not make that much difference unless you are in a long high heat area I live in VA gets hot but not the length of heat in other southern states

what is you have a 1000 sq foot home with 8' ceilings but the main living area has vaulted ceilings up to 16'?

I have a 1630 sq ft - indoor home - and I currently have a 3.5 tons - Trane unit that lasted 17 years. Now I need to replace it. Is 3.5 tons too much for the size of our home? Pls help me out. Thanks

3.5 tons is to large. It will cool the space to quickly and it will feel uncomfortable. The air conditioner should run long enough so it can pull the humidity out of the air. You will be able to raise the temperature on the thermostat because you'll be comfortable because the air is dryer. I would drop the size down to a 3 ton.

You have enough AC for 1750 sq ft., on a 95 degree summer day, in a home with 8 ft ceilings. If you go less you will see higher utility cost in the summer months and you will not be happy with the results.

I need to replace my central air unit just the part ouside the house the compresor uit i thinnk about a carier unit between2.5 or3.0 ton i need to know about the price for this unit thanks

Figure 500 sf of living space per ton on AC. 2.5 ton = 1250 sf of space with 8 ft ceilings. 3 ton = 1500 sf of living space with 8 ft ceilings. Cost for new 14-15 seer heating & cooling equipment is $3.60 per square foot. That is installing a good mid range line of Carrier Equipment. My offices are located in Arlington Texas

Your cost estimate of $3.60/sq foot to install a nice mide-range system, is the inclusive of parts and labor?

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