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 first know what kind of system you need and how much central air installation costs.

Central air conditioning costs an average of about $5,750 to install, but there are many factors that significantly impact the price, including which type of unit you purchase, the size of the unit and the condition of your home. If that price is daunting, a personal loan, home equity loan or HELOC could help with financing.

AC unit costs

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

There are four types of air conditioning systems:

  • 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 of the same elements as a split system, but they’re bundled into one single unit placed on your roof or the side of your home. The system runs between $3,812 and $7,474.
  • 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.

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 like where you live and the size and structure of your home will determine what systems will work best for you.

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

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

The average cost of a new central air conditioning unit is just over $5,600, with larger or more upgraded units costing $7,400 or more. The price includes far more than just the unit, however.

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 face extensive repairs or even replacement ductwork costing $10,000 or more.

Overall, central air installation runs anywhere from $3,812 to $7,474.

Tips to reduce central air conditioning installation costs

To reduce the total expenses for your new central air conditioning unit, shop your options to see which system is the right fit for your home.

Many companies may manufacture the size you need, but costs vary greatly. HomeAdvisor found Payne to be the cheapest central air manufacturer based on average pricing, but Aire-Flo, Coleman, Comfortmaker, Tempstar and Whirlpool all price below $2,000, as well.

A unit with a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating can quickly cool your home without driving up your energy bill. It may require a greater upfront investment but can lower your bills over time. You may also qualify for rebates and discounts with an Energy Star-rated system.  A residential central air unit is 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.

You can also save money with offseason installation if you’re able to install your unit during the milder months of spring and fall.

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 available 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 loans

A personal loan is an excellent option if you need to receive funds quickly. There are 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 face higher interest fees on this type of unsecured loan. These loans typically range from 12 months to 60 months and come with a fixed monthly payment.

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, like 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 total loan is repaid. Home equity loans usually have lower interest rates than personal loans, since they are secured by your home, and 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 in your home is an investment. 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 and HELOC lenders to see what your rate and monthly payment might look like.

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