Air conditioning installation cost guide

On a hot summer day, you may suddenly realize your old faithful fan is no longer enough to keep the temperature in your room comfortable and you need a more powerful air conditioner. Then, you will probably start to wonder how much it will cost you to purchase a unit and hire qualified installers.

Here you will learn about:

Average air conditioning installation cost and services provided

In the southern states, an air conditioner is not something you buy simply to boast before your friends or neighbors. It's an essential thing without which life in a hot climate is unbearable. The total cost of installing an air conditioner depends on a number of factors including the size, type, and brand of the unit, as well as the area of your home, height of the ceilings, number of windows, availability of ductwork, quality of materials, fees of professional installers, and other details. For a simple window unit expect to pay from $200 to $350. If you live in a two or three-story house, installing a central air conditioning system is a far wiser decision. This option may cost you from $600 to around $4,500. The most frequently reported budget based on the information from American homeowners ranges between $3,800 and $7,200.

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Price-related questions

How do the characteristics of an air conditioning unit affect the total cost?

An air conditioner has several features that form their share in the total price.

Brand. There are all kinds of air conditioning units, varying in quality, features, and price. The best approach in this case would be to consult a professional, who has had experience working with different units and knows their pros and cons. As for average prices, you may find units that cost $1,400 (Payne) and $1,700 (Comfortmaker) in the lower segment, $2,200 (Bryant) and $2,100 (Goodman) in the middle segment, and $3,200 (American Standard) and $3,400 (Lennox) in the high-end segment.

Cooling capacity. This is an extremely important characteristic of an air conditioner that greatly affects the price of the whole project. The capacity of an a/c unit is determined according to how many tons of heat it can push out of the house measured in British thermal units (BTUs). You need to consider several things before making the final decision:

  • How many windows you have. Windows are a major factor that contributes to the heat loss inside a house. Sometimes their share can be as high as 40-45 percent.
  • The area of your home. Naturally, the more spacious your home is, the more powerful air conditioning unit in BTUs is required. If your house has more than one floor, you might need to have several a/c units installed. That will naturally increase the budget.
  • The distance between the floor and the ceiling. The greater it is, the more powerful equipment you'll have to purchase since a smaller unit will be unable to produce a sufficient amount of cool air.
Type. There are four main varieties of air conditioning units found in most homes.
  1. Window a/c unit. This is a single piece of equipment typically placed in a wall opening specifically made for the purpose. It works by pushing cool air into the room and heat out to the street. This type of unit is suitable for maintaining comfortable conditions in one room only.
  2. Portable a/c unit. This is also a one-piece unit that can be wheeled from one place to another. Using a portable unit, you can only have enough cool air for one room, too. A comparatively low price makes this type appealing to those who can’t have a standard air conditioning system such as renters.
  3. Split system. This popular type is made up of two parts: in-room (fan plus evaporator) and external wall compressor and condenser. While this bi-part arrangement is intended for one room as well, it is more compact than a window a/c unit and no special wall opening is necessary for its installation.
  4. Central air conditioning system. This is common for large houses of more than one story. It uses a network of ducts and vents running throughout a house for pushing cool air inside. The biggest downside of this approach is its higher cost in comparison with other types of a/c units. However, it is much more practical and perfectly fits the interior of a house.

What other factors can impact the cost of the project?

  1. Existing central heating system. Homeowners who have a central heating system in place may save money when installing a central air conditioning system. That's because they can use the furnace blower for cool air distribution throughout the house.
  2. Ducts. If your house was built quite a while ago, it may not have a network of ducts. If that's the case, you'll have to hire professionals to create one. Consequently, prepare to spend more money.
  3. Quality and amount of insulation. Poor insulation will adversely reflect on the efficiency of a new system as it will have to consume more electricity for generating an adequate amount of cool air. Also, make sure your existing ductwork has no holes or breaks through which air may escape.
  4. Access. If the access to the internals of your home is somehow blocked or difficult, contractors may ask for increased fees.
  5. Electrical side. Depending on the current state of the electrical system inside your home, you may need new wiring, breakers, outlets, and panel installed for the a/c system to function properly.
  6. Number of professionals involved. Again, if you have a “blank page” situation, you may have to seek help of several professionals including licensed electricians, plumbers, and naturally a/c unit installers.
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Information to check

  1. Contractor's license. The air conditioner installation work requires professional expertise. A license issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a must because professionals work with a very hazardous chemical called refrigerant.
  2. Cost cuts. Ask your contractor if there are ways to cut the cost. For instance, you can select and deliver the a/c unit or purchase the necessary materials on your own.
  3. Changes in the electrical arrangement or structure of the building. When your contractor comes to your home for the initial estimate, ask him/her what changes in the electrical arrangement of your home are required (outlets, wiring, or panel). Also, let them tell you if any modifications to the structure of the building are necessary.

Other frequently asked questions

What warranties do manufacturers and contractors normally give?

When installing a new a/c unit, you're entitled to the manufacturer's warranty for the equipment and its components. Depending on the company, the warranty may be valid from 5 to 15 years, with 10 years on average. Contractors provide their warranty, too. It may include something like the wiring repairs or replacing the protective metal box for the air conditioner if it’s damaged.

Are there any restrictions as to the noise produced by an a/c unit?

The noise an a/c unit makes increases as the sun heats the earth. Many places put a cap on this characteristic of an air conditioner. Typically, 70-75 decibels are acceptable, although you should inquire with your city authorities. Professionals have methods to make a noisy conditioner run more quietly. Alternatively, you can purchase a unit with a lower level of decibels, but at a higher price.

Bottom line

The cost of installing an air conditioning system depends on the size of the building, as well as on the cooling capacity, size, type and brand of the unit. You should also factor in the fees professional contractors charge plus the amount and quality of materials. On average, prepare to pay between $3,800 and $7,200 for the installation of a ducted system and $200-$350 for a window unit.

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