Home Improvement

How much does it cost to install central air?

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In the scorching days of summer, there’s nothing better than the refreshing cool of central air. If your current cooling unit is failing to chill the air and you’re ready to invest in a new central air conditioning system, it’s important to know what kind of system you need and how much central air installation costs.

Central air conditioning costs an average of about $5,647 to install, with larger or more upgraded units costing $7,483 or more, according to HomeAdvisor. But many factors significantly impact the price, including the type of unit you purchase, the unit’s size and the condition of your home. If that price is daunting, a personal loan, home equity loan or HELOC could help with financing.

What factors play a role in the cost of installing central air?

If you decide to go with a central air system, many factors determine the overall cost. Details such as where you live and the size and structure of your home will determine which systems work best for you.

These are the average air conditioning unit costs, including installation, according to HomeAdvisor:

Size Average cost
3-ton $3,800
4-ton $4,200
14 SEER $3,000–$6,000
16 SEER $3,700–$9,000

The price includes far more than just the unit. A heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professional service will perform a Manual J load calculation to measure how your home retains heat. This determines what size unit you’ll need, which will in turn influence the cost.

Older homes with outdated framework may not be equipped to support modern systems, so you could need extensive repairs or even replacement ductwork costing $10,000 or more.

Pre-installation evaluation

Every air conditioning installation project is unique and will be based on the needs and condition of your house. Before a unit can be installed, it’s important to have a professional assess your home. A pre-installation evaluation can determine such things as what size system you need, how well your home is insulated and whether there are existing ducts and vents.

“The pre-installation evaluation is likely the most important step you undertake,” says Thomas Jepsen, founder of Passion Plans, an online platform that sells house plans. “While it typically costs about $250 for such an evaluation, it will save you thousands over the years. The pre-installation evaluation makes sure that you get the right air conditioning unit for your home installed.”

In fact, $250 may be on the less expensive end of the spectrum. Bailey Carson, home expert with Angi (formerly Angie’s List), says the cost averages around $420 but can be as high as $2,000 depending on the size of your home and whether you’re looking for a simple or advanced audit.

Bear in mind that a pre-installation evaluation can help you avoid unforeseen setbacks that could drive up the overall cost of the work being done.

“Like with any project, planning is the most important thing you can do to limit unexpected costs, roadblocks or surprises down the road,” says David Steckel, home expert at Thumbtack. “With AC units in particular, a site visit to create a scope of work by a professional is required as they will base their calculations on the size and length of ductwork, the size of home and, of course, what problems you are solving for.”

Types of AC units

Before making a decision on buying an air conditioning (AC) unit, it’s important to understand the options available for your home.

Here are the four types of air conditioning systems and HomeAdvisor’s figures for their costs with installation:

  • Window unit: This single unit operates from your window and has an average cost of $150 to $500, but cooling is usually limited to just one or two rooms.
  • Split air conditioning system: This is a three-part system that includes an air handler, an indoor evaporator coil and an outdoor condenser and compressor unit. Split systems cost between $2,000 and $14,500.
  • Central air system: A packaged central air system contains all the same elements as a split system, but they’re bundled into one unit placed on your roof or the side of your home. The system runs between $3,811 and $7,483.
  • Portable unit: If you live in a mild climate, you may only need AC for a few weeks of the year. In that case, a portable unit may be your best option. Prices vary by brand, but expect something similar to a window unit.

Ductwork

Ducts and vents provide a flow system for the air conditioning. Older homes may not have ductwork in place, so depending on the type of air conditioning system you want to install, you may need to factor that into your costs, Carson says.

“There are ductless air conditioning systems, which tend to be both more efficient and more expensive than the alternative and are a good option if your walls are too thin for ducts,” Carson says.

Ductless units are typically wall mounted, and you’ll need a few to cool a home. Ducted units come in two forms: traditional larger-format duct systems and small duct high velocity (SDHV) systems, which use small, flexible tubing rather than standard ductwork.

“The age and wall assembly of your home will determine which system you go with,” Steckel says. “Central air conditioning became popular in the 1970s, so if your home hasn’t been renovated since before then, chances are you’re going to need to go with a SDHV system. If your home is newer than that, you probably can see the ducting system in your basement already.”

The cost to install new ductwork can range from $1,500 to $7,000, depending on the size and layout of your home and the material used for the ducts, Carson says.

Installation and labor

The average cost for labor and installation of a central air conditioning system can vary significantly based on the size, shape and orientation of your home, as well as the contractor, Carson says.

Air conditioning systems with higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings offer higher energy efficiency, which will increase the overall cost of installation. However, higher-rated units may save you money in the long run through lower energy bills

Tips to reduce central air conditioning installation costs

Here are a few options to help bring down the cost of your central air conditioning project.

Shop around

To help minimize the price to install central air, shop to see which provider and system fit your home and your budget. Many companies may manufacture the size air conditioning system you need, but costs vary greatly. HomeAdvisor found Payne to be the cheapest central air manufacturer based on average pricing of $1,400, but Aire-Flo, Coleman, Comfortmaker, Tempstar and Whirlpool all price below $2,000 as well.

Install in the off-season

You may also save money by timing your installation carefully. If possible, plan to install your unit during the milder months of spring and fall.

Research rebates

You may qualify for federal and state rebates and discounts with an Energy Star-rated system. There is also a federal income tax credit of up to $300 for installing Energy Star central air conditioning units that meet certain criteria through the end of 2021.

Buy a smaller unit

Residential central air units are available with up to 5-ton capacity, but if you live alone or only need to cool certain areas, you could benefit from a smaller system. It is also possible that you don’t need a new AC unit but just some simple repairs to fix leaks or replace parts.

Central air financing options

When your AC unit goes out, you need to be able to pay for your new air conditioning unit quickly. Cash can be the fastest option, but not everyone has thousands of dollars at their disposal.

Popular ways to finance a new central AC unit include a personal loan, home equity loan and home equity line of credit.

Personal loan

A personal loan is an excellent option if you need to receive funds quickly for home improvements. There are almost no stipulations regarding its use, and loans can exceed $35,000 if you have good credit. Personal loans give you a fixed amount that is distributed in a lump sum. There is no need to use your property as collateral, but you’ll likely pay higher interest on this type of unsecured loan. Terms for personal loans typically range from 12 months to 60 months, and the loans have fixed monthly payments.

Home equity loan

A home equity loan is a popular way to finance a new central air unit using the equity you have in your home. This is also referred to as a second mortgage and is often used for large expenditures, such as installing a new central air system. As with a personal loan, you receive the funds in one lump sum and make monthly payments with interest until the loan is repaid. Home equity loans usually have lower interest rates than personal loans since they are secured by your home. Terms may extend up to 10 or 15 years.

Home equity line of credit

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, also uses your home as collateral, but it works more like a credit card. Your bank gives you a credit limit that can be continually reused within the draw period as long as you make your payments on time. This draw period lasts around 10 years. After that, you’ll make payments on the amount you borrowed for another 10 to 20 years. HELOCs charge a variable interest rate, which means that your payments will fluctuate based on how much you borrow and the current market rate you’re being charged at the time of payment.

The bottom line

There’s no doubt that installing central air can be pricey. AC unit costs can climb to $7,000 or more, especially if you have a large or old home. However, there are ways to finance this cost if you don’t have the funds to pay for it out of pocket. If you’re looking to borrow money to install central air, compare rates from a few personal loan, home equity loan and HELOC lenders to see what your rate and monthly payment might look like.

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Written by
Lena Borrelli
Insurance Contributor
Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.
Edited by
Associate loans editor