2021 Cost To Install Central Air AC In Your House

Typical Cost Range To Install Central AC Average: $4,070 - $5,930
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Are you tired of your noisy, leaking air conditioners? A quiet, efficient central air system can be an ideal solution.

On average, homeowners spend $4,000-5,600 to install a 3 TON (36,000 BTUs), 14 SEER Central AC (without installing/replacing air ducts), which is typically sufficient for a 1500-1800 sq. ft. home.

The total cost of central air depends on whether or not your house has existing ducts, system size and complexity of installation.

If you are thinking about installing central air, get in touch with local HVAC pros for a free estimate.

Many people are worried about the potential challenges as well as the high costs of this upgrade. There is a common misconception that central air can only be put into new construction projects, or homes that have been recently built.

In reality, it is possible to install central air in the majority of homes, even old ones, that don’t have any ductwork.

Installing ducts can be pricey, but if you absolutely want central air, and need ducts, you can use this Duct Calculator to estimate costs.

While this is not a cheap project, it costs the same or less than many other remodels. Also, cooling your home this way will provide tangible benefits your whole family will feel right away.

Cost to Install Central AC
$3790 - $6130
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In this guide:

Cost of central air
Typical Replacement of Central AC – what’s included in the price?
Types of Central Air systems
Upgrading old ductwork
Installing central AC without existing ducts
AC size calculation – Manual J
Reducing AC system size after duct upgrades
Air conditioning unit prices and common sizes
Single stage vs two-stage system
Cost of popular AC brands
Enhancements and improvements
Money saving tips
Alternative systems – ductless mini split
How to find the right HVAC pro

Get an Accurate Quote: Use our Central AC Cost Estimate to calculate more exact pricing for Central AIR (AC and/or Hot Air Furnace), based on your house size, climate zone, efficiency and equipment type (standard vs Central Heat Pump).

Cost to install central air with existing ducts

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $4,670 - $5,930
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Central air installation costs If there is ductwork already in place, your total installation price for a whole house central air will be very reasonable. For a 1,600-2,000 sq.ft. house, a 2.5 ton central AC system costs $3,900-5,000.

Most homes that have a forced air heating system have ducts that can be used for AC as well.

If you have a gas, warm air furnace, an HVAC contractor will put a coil in there for the A/C system and then run the electric to complete the setup. Without unforeseen complications, the install will take 2-3 days.

Keep in mind that opting for a more efficient, powerful system can be very expensive. These units can cost $10,000-15,000. The total will depend on the size of your home and the amount of power it takes to cool it.

What’s included in the average price of Installing / Replacing a central AC:

Prices that we provide throughout this guide, include and assume the following:

  • You are replacing an existing Central AC system, and already have all the ductwork in place, as well as linesets used to carry refrigerant between the outdoor unit (Condenser coil + Compressor) and the indoor unit (Evaporator coil + metal cabinet that houses blower motor, filter, etc).
  • You have a proper electrical connection in place, with adequate gauge electric cable, circuit breaker, and outdoor disconnect box.
  • Your lineset (copper tubing) is in decent shape and is not leaking.
  • Your thermostat and wiring are in proper working order.
  • Your electrical connection to the indoor unit is in proper working order and is up to code.

The replacement price includes new equipment, sized for your home, new AC cabinet with ECM blower motor and AC evaporator coil.
Also included are the wiring for the system, including adapters and harnesses needed to connect AC with the furnace (if you have one), as well as all the safety shut offs.

Besides above items, a new condenser with compressor, as well as new refrigerant (typically R410A), will be included.

As far as labor, the install should put the whole system together, add proper refrigerant charge (proper amount) per manufacturer’s specifications, and test subcooling and superheat, to make sure that your system is properly charged. After that systems will be connected to the thermostat and tested to provide proper airflow.

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $4,670 - $5,930 (1250 - 1750 sq. ft.)
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WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED in typical replacement job:

As you may conclude from above – new copper tubing (lineset) and electrical wiring as well as ducts, are not typically included in a replacement, for several reasons:

1) New lineset is expensive, and often not needed.
2) Running new lineset in existing homes may be problematic, due to specific construction of your home. For example – in my home, lineset and electric wire are installed in a crawl space that has no access at all.
3) HVAC technicians are usually not licensed to do electrical work (beyond the scope of installing your HVAC system), and it is illegal for them to touch electrical wiring. Therefore, you will need a licensed electrician to do all electric work that is outside the scope of installing your central AC system.
4) Sealing, insulating or installing new ducts are not included, as these items are expensive and labor intensive.

Bottom line: if you have a working or even broken central AC already, in most cases, HVAC contractors can just come in and swap out old system with a new high efficiency unit. However if you have issues with any of the “not-included” items, your costs will be higher.

Central Air systems – Conventional Air Conditioning VS Central Heat Pumps

Conventional Air Conditioners can only work in one mode – cooling. In the last decade, a new type of Central AC system is becoming increasingly popular – a Central Heat Pump (also known as Reversed Cycle Air Conditioner) which is essentially an AC that can also work as a heating system, when outside ambient temperatures are above 32-36°F. This “heating mode” is enabled via using a Reversing Valve which changes the direction of refrigerant (freon) flow.

How Heat Pump Works:
In cooling mode, low temperature refrigerant flows through your indoor (evaporator or EVAP) coil, and absorbs the heat inside your house. Then it flows to the outdoor compressor, where it is (you got it) compress, and then dumps the heat outside, when it flows through the condenser coil.

If you enable Heating mode, the reversing valve changes the flow of refrigerant. Now the hot gas flows through the Evap coil, where it releases the heat into cool air, and then flows to the outdoor condenser coil, where it absorbs heat.

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $7,776 - $9,615 (1250 - 1750 sq. ft.)
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Naturally you may have a question – what happens if it’s too cold outside. Well – in most cases, the CENTRAL heat pump won’t be able to extract heat from cold outside air. However, there are Extra Low Temp models, (mostly found among Japanese brands of Ductless Heat Pumps) which will work in heating mode EVEN if outdoor tems are as low as -15°F or -27°C.

This incredible functionality is achieved through very clever engineering, and the fact that there is a temperature difference (Delta T) between outdoor temps and the boiling point of R410A refrigerant (-55.3F boiling temp) is AT LEAST 40°F (at -15°F outdoor temps). If outdoor temps are +5°F, then our Delta T is a whooping 60°F. That is a lot of heat that can be extracted from seemingly FREEZING outdoor air!

Here is a great video that explains how Heat Pumps work in Heating mode on very cold days:

Bottom line – heat pumps can produce a lot of heat, and they are a lot more efficient than electric space heating! Most heat pumps have a COP (coefficient of performance) of 3 or more! This means you get 3 times more heat per KW of electricity used, compared to a space heater or electric baseboard heaters!

In fact, most heat pumps with COP of 2.5+ are even more efficient than heating with GAS, in terms of heat output per THERM of gas.

However, on very cold days, the COP of a heat pump may drop to below 2, which is still 2 times more economical than electric heat, but not as efficient as gas.

But I was reading about Air Conditioners… Yes, we got a little off topic with the heating stuff. Back to AC mode of a heat pump. While in cooling mode, most heat pumps are more efficient than conventional AC. In fact, while most central AC units sold today are 13-14 SEER, most Central Heat Pumps are 16-20 SEER. A 20 SEER central heat pump will use 30% less electricity to run. If you live in an area with a high cost of electricity (over $0.20/kWh), you can recoup the extra upfront cost within 2-4 years, by using less power!

COSTS: Central heat pumps are about 30-40% more expensive to install, compared to conventional AC, but as mentioned above – extra upfront costs will be covered by energy savings, as well as substantial subsidies available in many states! Learn more about different Central Heat Pump models.

A typical 3 TON (36,000 BTUs), 16 SEER heat pump, which is appropriate for a home size of about 1500-1850 s.f will cost about $6,750 to install, compared to $4,990 for same size 14 SEER regular Central AC. A more efficient 18 SEER heat pump unit will cost about $8,800 to install.

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $4,670 - $5,930 (1250 - 1750 sq. ft.)
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High End

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Upgrading ductwork in an old house

As much as 40% of your cooling capacity can be wasted in the ducts! Even if you have insulated ducts, your losses will be around 20-25%. Think of it this way: if you spend $100/mo on cooling, $20-40 of that is wasted in the ductwork!

While many older homes have a functioning ducts system in place, it may still require upgrades to accommodate central air installation, and/or to lower losses in the old ducts.

If a contractor will need to fix or modify existing ductwork, you can expect to spend an extra $1,000-3,000+. The price difference will depend on the scope of work. Having properly functioning, clean ducts is essential if you want your AC unit to be energy efficient and work at maximum capacity.

Common modifications for existing ducts

– Insulate old ducts! Adding 6-10R insulation around ducts can cost about $7 per 1 foot of duct run, but can reduce your energy losses in the ducts by up-to 50% and your overall cooling energy cost by 20%. That is an equivalent of upgrading from 13 SEER to 17 SEER AC, and the average saving can be as much as $300-500/season! You will also see a significant reduction in your heating bill (if you use central air furnace.

– Increase the size of the furnace blower (rated in CFM – cubic feet per minute). An undersized blower will not be able to move the right amount of air through the house. Moreover, this can also lead to the coils freezing over.

– Seal the air ducts. Leaky ducts are one of the most common efficiency problems in an old home. Air leaks cause cool air drafts during the heating season and hot air drafts during the cooling season. They also increase your monthly spending on energy costs.

– Install larger supply registers to improve air flow. Most old, 1/4 inch grilles allow for a very limited flow of air. Putting in larger size grilles will boost air flow efficiency by 15-25%

How much is central air WITHOUT existing ductwork?

If your house does not have any ducts, installing central air with ducts costs $8,000-15,000

PRO TIP: If your house does not have ducts, consider a Ductless mini split AC (heat-pump) system, to deliver targeted cool or warm air.

Mini-split AC does not need ducts, so you will be saving $8,000-15,000 by eliminating ductwork!

If you need to know the price of adding air ducts to your home, use our Ductwork Calculator.

Cost to Install Ductless (Mini-Split) AC / Heat Pump
$2950 - $4150
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Mini-split systems are far more energy efficient than Central AC systems, and deliver comfort where you need it, instead of cooling your entire home.

The only “drawback” of mini-splits, is that they are limited to where cool/warm air is delivered by the location of the indoor air handler. However there is a wide selection of multi-zone ductless systems with up to 8 zones in residential application!

Putting in new ductwork ranges from $3,000 to $10,000. Pricing is so widespread because there are many factors that may impact installation difficulty:

  • location of the ducts
  • number of stories in your house
  • number of vents
  • duct material you want to install
  • number of temperature zones you want to have

Adding ductwork is a labor intensive project that involves cutting into your ceilings, walls and floors. However, an experienced HVAC pro can do a retrofit and hide the new ductwork with minimal disturbance to the structure of your house and very little mess.

This is possible today thanks to the advent of modern duct systems, which are both flexible and small in size. As a result, a contractor can easily fit the system inside a small space, such as a closet.

Contrary to popular belief, you will not need to do any major construction that may alter the present layout and look of your home. Even 10 years ago, a homeowner would have to live through demolition of certain walls and parts of the house in order to install the ductwork for a new central air conditioner. Today, this is a pretty painless project.

Air conditioner system load estimation – Manual J

There is no reason to overspend on a big central air unit if you actually don’t need one. That’s why the first step in installing central air should be to get a professional pre-installation evaluation or an energy audit.

PRO TIP: Use our simplified Manual J HVAC Load Calculator to get a quick estimation of how many TONs or BTUs your system needs to be, based house size, Climate Zone, and wall/windows insulation rating. We will also suggest most appropriate HVAC system for your home.

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $3,630 - $4,780
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Usually, every 500-600 sq.ft. in your house will call for 1 ton of cooling. However, there are many factors that can impact this general rule. Mainly the “Climate Zone” in which you live, and insulation rating of your walls, attic/roof and doors/windows.

If you live in the south (Region/Zone 5 on the map below) you will need a lot more cooling capacity, because there is more heat which you need to remove, than if you lived in the north (Region/Zone 1 on the map below), where ambient temperatures are lower, and you need to remove less heat.

HVAC load climate zone map

Find your approximate location on the map above, to see which climate zone/region you live in.

PRO TIP: Table below will help you estimate the size of a central AC that you need, based on Climate Zone & your home size.

1.5 Ton 700-1100 s.f. 700-1050 s.f. 600-1000 s.f. 600-950 s.f. 600-900 s.f.
2 Ton 1101-1400 s.f. 1051-1350 s.f. 1001-1300 s.f. 951-1250 s.f. 901-1200 s.f.
2.5 Ton 1401-1650 s.f. 1351-1600 s.f. 1301-1600 s.f. 1251-1550 s.f. 1201-1500 s.f.
3 Ton 1651-2100 s.f. 1601-2000 s.f. 1601-1900 s.f. 1501-1850 s.f. 1501-1800 s.f.
3.5 Ton 2101-2300 s.f. 2001-2250 s.f. 1901-2200 s.f. 1851-2150 s.f. 1801-2100 s.f.
4 Ton 2301-2700 s.f. 2251-2700 s.f. 2201-2600 s.f. 2151-2500 s.f. 2101-2400 s.f.
5 Ton 2701-3300 s.f. 2751-3300 s.f. 2601-3200 s.f. 2501-3100 s.f. 2401-3000 s.f.

An HVAC contractor should do a Manual J calculation to determine the appropriate system size, based on the particular conditions in your home. These include:

– house size and layout
– geographic location
– presence of direct sunlight
– number of windows and doors
– height of your ceilings
– insulation quality
– air drafts and leaks

Unfortunately, most HVAC contractors DO NOT spend the time needed to perform Manual J calculation, and just to be “safe”, oversize your Central Air system, which costs you a lot more in both installation and operating costs.

It is critical that before you get a new heating/cooling system installed, a proper heat load calculation is performed and equipment is properly sized! Otherwise you will be opening too much to run the equipment for many years to come.

Also, house insulation also plays a big role in the size of your Central AC – the better your house is insulated, the smaller the system you will need, which will also result in smaller electric bill.

PRO TIP: You should never hire an HVAC contractor who doesn’t do the full manual J calculation, and instead proposes to estimate your system size based on his “vast experience”. It’s simply not possible to accurately determine proper air conditioning size based on doing a walk-though in your home. This only speaks to the contractor’s lack of professionalism, and vastly increases the chances of a poor install.

Accounting for low efficiency ducts, when sizing Central AC?

As mentioned above, uninsulated leaky ducts can result in as much as 40% losses. Insulating and sealing your ductwork can reduce that number to about 20-25%.

As a result you will now need a 15-20% smaller size Central AC. For example, if you needed a 4 TON unit, after upgrading, sealing and insulating the ducts, you can scale back to 3.5 TONs. While it may seem marginal, that is a 12.5% reduction in compressor power consumption.

EXAMPLE: If your AC is 4 tons (48000 btus) and it runs 12 hours/day, consuming 3.429 KW/h, and national average electric cost of $0.1376 / kWh (data from US DOE), your cost to run the AC is $0.472 / hr, or $5.66/day or $849 per season, which is about 150 days of running 12 hours per day.

Formula for calculating AC compressor power usages: BTU / SEER = WATTs

Reduction is duct waste, should yield a 15-20% overall reduction in energy costs or $127-170 per season. Now this is only if your electric cost is $0.1376/kWh. However most folks in CA, mid-Atlantic, and New England pay well over $0.20/kWh which is at least 50% higher than the national average.

The above savings take into account power savings of Compressor only. However, insulating and sealing ducts will also likely reduce blower motor runtime, and overall AC runtime. So actual savings are likely to be 10-20% higher than mentioned above!

Bottom line – by upgrading the ducts, you can reduce your system size by about 15% and thus save on electricity between $120 to $300 per cooling season. Winter heating savings can double that!

AC unit sizes and prices

Cost to Install Central AC
$3790 - $6130
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When it comes to the cost of the central air conditioner itself, the math is simple: a bigger unit costs more. Roughly, you can expect to spend an extra $1,000 for every additional 800-1,000 sq.ft. of space.

The capacity or power of an AC unit is measured in BTU’s (the amount of heat it can remove from a space in one hour). The most popular unit size is 2.5 tons, which is about 30,000 BTU’s. It can cool 1,600-2,000 sq.ft. and costs $3,500-4,300 (includes installation).

Here is a run down of the most popular AC sizes, the approximate area it can cool, and estimated installation costs.

Area (sq.ft) Unit Capacity (BTU) Unit Size Installation Cost
700 – 1,000 18,000 1.5 Tons $2,200 – 3,300
1,200 – 1,400 21,000 2 Tons $3,000 – 3,800
1,500 – 2,000 30,000 2.5 Tons $3,500 – 4,300
2,000 – 2,500 34,000 3 Tons $4,500 – 5,000
3,000 – 4,000 48,000 4 Tons $5,200 – 5,800
5,000+ 60,000 5 Tons $6,000+

Single-stage vs. 2-stage air conditioning system

When selecting a system, it’s important to consider whether you want it to be single stage or 2 stage.

A 1 stage cooling system will turn on at full capacity, when the temperature inside your home will rise above what you have pre-set on the thermostat. Once this happens, it will turn itself off completely, and the process will repeat itself again when it gets too warm. This system is ideal for mild climates that don’t get severe temperature fluctuations throughout the day. However, if you live in an area with more intense heat, this type of system will have to turn on and off repeatedly in order to maintain the desired temperature.

A two-stage unit works differently. It always functions at 2/3 of its capacity. When the temperature rises above what has been preset, the system works up to full capacity and stays on until it reaches the desired temperature. It then goes back to functioning at 2/3 capacity, and then shuts down. This helps save on energy costs, and reduces noise that you hear, if the system has to come on and shut down many times. A 2 stage central air is also known to emit cleaner air, which is very beneficial for people with asthma.

Top air conditioning brands and costs

Here are our picks for the 5 best central air brands. By best, we mean a combination of quality, reliability and a nice reasonable price. For example, a top brand is Carrier, and while it offers superb quality, it’s also very expensive. Their AC units typically cost at least $800-1,000 more than comparable products from different brands. The average cost of a 16 SEER Carrier AC Unit is $2,295. So while Carrier is a great product and we do recommend it, it’s not on this list:)

1. Day and Night Heating and Cooling Products – its equipment is actually made by the same manufacturer as Carrier, United Technologies. So you are getting top notch quality for much less. (Average price: $1,290)

2. Bryant – has been in business for over 68 years, and offers high quality, reliable AC units at a price that will not break your bank. (Average price: $1,360)

3. York – makes great quality air conditioning units, but they don’t have some of the fancier features of the more expensive brands. On the upside they also cost less. (Average price: $1,400)

4. Goodman Air Conditioning – another well respected and recognized brand, which also makes more upscale and expensive AC equipment, under the brand name Amana. However, with Goodman, you get similar quality, less features, and a cheaper price. (Average price: $1,100)

5. American Standard – this manufacturer has a long standing reputation, reliable products, good customer service and a decent price. (Average price: $1,500)

Enhancements and improvements

When you install a new central air conditioning system, you may discover that there are additional upgrades you need to make. Here are the most common ones.

Upgrade the circuit breaker box

If you live in an older home, you may discover that your existing circuit breaker can not handle the additional load of the central air. In this case, you will want an upgrade to at least 200 amp. A licensed electrician will need to perform this work. Most HVAC contractors partner with an electrician, so you will most likely not need to look for one.

Expect to spend $1,200-1,800 to upgrade a 100 amp electrical panel to 200 amp. If there are complications, the cost can go up to as much as $3,000.

To avoid unexpected spending, make sure that your electric panel can handle the load of the central AC. If it cannot, you will need to re-evaluate your budget and decide if you want to move forward.

Replace the air filter

To ensure that the air inside your home is dust and pollen free, it’s important to install a high quality filter. A system with a “media” filter will tack on an extra $500-1,000 to the total. However, in addition to clean air, this filter will ensure that the AC equipment is clean and works efficiently. This can reduce your annual maintenance costs by about $200-250

Install proper insulation

It is key to make sure that your home has good insulation. Having poor insulation will have a direct impact on both the short and long term cost of your central AC.

First, because so much air escapes, you will need a bigger, more powerful AC unit, which will cost a lot more. Second, you will waste money on operating it more to keep up with the cooling demand. Over the years, this will add up to thousands of dollars.

Instead, if your house has poor insulation, tackle this project first. Then, move on to AC. This way you will be able to get a smaller, less expensive central air system, and will spend a lot less on your monthly electric bill.

How to save money on central air conditioning

After doing all the calculations, you may wonder if there is any way to save a few bucks on this project. In fact, if you go about this retrofit in a smart way, you can save a few thousand dollars.

Here are some tips to consider:

Get a properly sized AC unit: one way to avoid overspending is to get the right unit size. Many people tend to err on the side of caution and want to get a bigger unit, just in case… This is not smart, because in addition to spending more money upfront, you will also be wasting money and energy on running the AC that is too large for your house.

Moreover, when the unit is too big for the square footage of your house, it starts to switch on and off in order to maintain the set temperature. This wears out the system, shortens its service life and increases the risk of malfunctions

Go for high efficiency: buying an energy efficient AC unit may be more expensive upfront, but it will save money in the long run. First, if you purchase a unit that is 16 SEER or higher, you may qualify for a Federal Tax Credit of $300. These units offer 30% savings on electric bills compared to 13 SEER units, and 60% savings compared to older 10 SEER units.

Did you know? SEER is the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, which shows how efficient the unit is throughout all four seasons. For example, it compares the cooling output during the summer vs. the electric input during the summer. Since 2006, the 13 SEER has been a minimal federal standard for all central AC units. If you have an older system, you may want to consider replacing it. Our pros recommend installing at least a 14 SEER unit and 16 SEER is BEST.

It is possible to get a unit with a very high SEER Rating like 20-24 (24 SEER is the highest). Some HVAC contractors may push you into getting one of these extra high efficiency units, however this may not be advisable.

First, because most homes, unless they are located in a region where it’s never below 95-100+ degrees F, will not need a unit with such high efficiency. It’s simply a waste of money.

Second, these high efficiency units are known to break more frequently and require expensive repairs – why would you want that? Simpler, lower SEER models are actually more reliable and cause less problems.

Get 3 or more estimates: while you may not want to spend time interviewing different contractors, doing this will pay off! HVAC guys charge different rates for their labor and will judge your project based on a number of factors. Many of these have to do with THEIR personal cost of doing business, rather than your house. If you get quotes from 3 or 4 contractors you will see a 15-25% difference in their quotes.

Schedule the install during the cool season: once the hot weather sets in, HVAC contractors will have a ton of work. This means that many companies will even jack up their prices a little, just because they can. On the other hand, during the cold months, many companies are a lot less busy, and may be willing to give you a discount of as much as 10%.

Alternatives to central AC

Depending on the size and construction of your house, you may realize that central air is too expensive. If you live in a very old house, installing new ducts may simply not be feasible.

One alternative is to go for a ductless air conditioning system, also known as a mini split. These systems can cool and heat your house, without any ductwork. Thus, this is a great option when central air is not viable.

Cost to Install Ductless (Mini-Split) AC / Heat Pump
$2950 - $4150
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Ductless air conditioning has been very popular in both Europe and Japan for many years. However, it is a fairly new option in the US. It has only been around for about two decades. An estimated 4% of homes in the states use ductless heating and cooling.

On average, homeowners report spending $3,500-8,000 to install this system, depending on the size of their house, and the number of cooling zones they want to have.

Finding a high-quality HVAC pro

Installing central air is one of the most expensive whole house updates. When you are spending this much money you want to make sure that the job will be done correctly, and will last for many years.

Unfortunately, because professional HVAC labor is so expensive ($75-100/per hour), many homeowners are tempted to cut corners and hire a contractor who is willing to offer a discount.

However doing this is a really bad idea that will surely backfire. The numbers speak for themselves: according to the data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency, almost 50% of all HVAC installs are done incorrectly! This results in costly repairs and even complete system replacements = thousands of your dollars down the drain. Moreover, a poorly installed system is 30-40% less efficient = more money down the drain every month.

Find HVAC contractors near you

Tips on finding the right pro:

– Only work with someone who is licensed, bonded and insured

– Compare quotes from at least 3-4 contractors, and go for the middle of the road estimate

– Ask for 3 references of recently completed central air installs in your area

– Hire someone who is willing to answer all your questions, and doesn’t cut corners, such as failing to do a manual J calculation

– Contractor will pull all the appropriate permits – if he doesn’t, its means something may be wrong with his license

– Pro will present you with a written contract that includes a complete scope of work: including all prices, tasks, and estimated project completion date

Average Costs For:
Most Homeowners Spent Between: Most People Spent: $4,670 - $5,930
Low End
High End

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About Leo B

Leo has been a contractor since 2003, specializing in: roofing, siding, general contracting (GC) and residential remodeling. Leo is also a Certified HVAC, Oil & Gas Heating Technician/Installer. In addition to roofing and remodeling, Leo is passionate about Solar, green building and energy conservation, so a lot of my time and energy goes to installing energy efficient heating and cooling systems.

See more about Remodeling Calculator team here

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20 comments on “2021 Cost To Install Central Air AC In Your House

  1. Eric Wood

    A/C ductless or 2ton? Already have ductwork for the heater. They can use that for the A/C. Out the door with a $8300. 1000 sq. ft. 1 Ductless 10X24″ hole unit $5300. Is there a reason for one or the other? Not counting price difference?

    1. Leo B Post author


      1) Ductless systems are a lot more efficient. Here is an example:

      Typical 2 ton central is about 13-16 SEER
      Typical 2 ton Ductless (2-3 zones) is 18-20 SEER

      So right out of the gate you have a 25-30% more efficient AC.

      Add to this a 15-30% losses in the ductwork, and you have a compounded efficiency difference of about 30-40% or more!

      2) I did a quick calculation (which does not account for duct losses, so actual difference would be even MORE drastic) for a 2-ton systems – 14 SEER vs 18 SEER, in Massachusetts, where energy costs about $0.225 / kWh right now, and we have a lot fewer cooling hours per season compared to TX / FL / AZ / CA

      Current Energy Costs: $762 (3336 kWh)
      New AC Energy Costs: $556 (2435 kWh)
      Annual Savings: $206 (901 kWh)

      To see what the actual energy cost difference would be use our AC energy savings calculator

      Again, in my example above, it was a direct comparison of Central VS Central. Ductless would cost even less to operate, because there are no duct losses.

      3) Multi-zone ductless can run each zone separately. So if you are in the living room, and all other spaces are not occupied, only one zone should be turned on. This means that your system is running at approximately 1/3 of its capacity, and uses 1/3 the energy.

      Central AC systems cannot be “zoned” in its true meaning. There are devices that imitate zoning (mechanical baffles), but they are primitive, and are nowhere near ideal for what they are intended to do. Over 90% of central systems are not “zoned”. Therefore you are heating OR cooling your whole house, instead of a single room.

      Bottom line: If you are ok with indoor units hanging on your walls, Ductless is the way to go. Pretty much entire world outside of US uses ductless AC systems.

      If you do go with ductless, get a quality system like Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Daikin or similar. 3 former companies are all Japanese.

      I would strongly recommend to stay away from Chinese and US brands (which are for the most part, rebranded Chinese models).

      Recently Carrier (a US company) did purchase Daikin, so Carrier’s mini-splits MAY or MAY NOT be rebranded Daikin.

      Good luck

  2. Greg Byer

    Hello, 1330 sq ft condo built in 79. Current AC unit is dead. It shares original ducts w/heat. Heating is OK. Is ductless my best option? What specs do you rec if I want reasonably cheap but not bargain basement and don’t need to worry about high energy costs? Local is so cal. Feel free to drop as much detail as possible. Thank you!

    1. Leo B Post author


      Since you have ducts, you can just replace your current central AC. Therefore ductless is NOT your only option.

      As far as specs – I understand you want budget, but, I CANNOT honestly recommend any Chinese or US brands (which are most likely private labeled product made by Gree, which is a Chinese manufacturer).

      I can only recommend Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Diakin, and MAYBE LG. First 3 are Japanese, and LG is Korean. I am a bit sceptical about LG though… Also Daikin was bought out by Carrier, but I believe it is still engineered in Japan.

      As for specs, unless you go multiple single zone units (most people would not do that), you will pretty much have about 18-19 SEER system, be it 24K BTUs or 36K or bigger.

      For 1330 sq. ft. condo, 36K BTUs is more than sufficient. For myself, I got three 9K single zone systems and one 4-zone 36K system – all Fujitsu Extra Low Heat (highest efficiency) models. I am a big Fujitsu fan, and with very high energy costs in MA, this system combines with solar, will give me almost free heating and cooling!

      If you choose to go with Fujitsu, I can recommend specific model. Mitsubishi I am kinda familiar with, but they are more expensive. Not a huge fan of Daikin, merely because they are also as expensive as Mitsubishi, and much less efficient.

      Again, you can still replace your old system with a central unit, but in the long run high energy costs will “eat away” the initial cost savings. And also you can likely get good rebates on Ductless.

      Finally, ductless can be used for Heating and is pretty damn efficient. Especially if you heat with Propane or Oil… I am not even sure what people use for heating in California. Most likely propane.

      Hope this helps. If you have any more questions, let me know.

      Cheers, Leo.

  3. Candi

    LEO… HELP!

    I checked all 5 of your favorite AC Brands- ZERO in Hawaii. Do you have a #6-10 List?
    Your info offered me awesome tips- Mahalo!

    1. Leo B Post author

      You mean they are not available in Hawaii??

      What about Carrier? Lennox? Lennox is overpriced. Armstrong & Ducane are essentially rebranded Lennox units (nearly identical with some cosmetic differences) for 20-30% less 🙂

      Goodman? I’m actually not a fan of newer Goodman because they use aluminum evap coil. However, in my synagogue, we have a 15 y.o. Goodman 5-ton system running like a champ. The only service was a contactor ($15 part) and a condenser fan ($160) and a $30 capacitor in 2 hours. I replaced them 2 years ago.

      Fujitsu, Mitsubishi and Daikin also make a central systems – Heat Pump variant, very efficient, and kinda expensive. Good luck

    1. Leo B Post author


      You don’t install a central AC in a 1 bedroom apartment. There you have maximum 3-4 zones (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom). Your are much better off with a 4 zone ductless mini split system, which will cost about $9,000-12,000 and can do heating and cooling, and does not require ductwork, and will be much more efficient, because you eliminate about 20-25% losses in the ducts!

  4. Sandra Gonzalezq

    Excellent information. Your article is very relevant and helpful to my situation. I am buying a very small condo in St. Petersburg, Florida. Is an old construction, but they said if I want I can install central heat and air. The size is 564 sq/ft. They are using window units. I do not know if they have ducts (I doubt it). What would you recommend? I also learn a lot from the section in selecting a contractor, you are a life saver. Thank you.

    1. Leo B Post author


      Definitely go with ductless system – a 3-4 zone Fujitsu will do cooling and heating (if/when needed), and is very efficient! I’d suggest a 36000 BTU 4 zone or 24000 3-zone, depending how many rooms you need to condition. Both will be enough for your condo. You don’t need extreme heat models in Florida 🙂

      Use this calculator to estimate cost: https://www.remodelingcalculator.org/mini-split-ac-cost-calculator/

      My recommendation is Fujitsu AOU24RLXFZ outdoor condenser, and 3 indoor units


      Fujitsu AOU36RLXFZ1 outdoor condenser, and 4 indoor units

      Get a certified Fujitsu installer, and you will get 10 year warranty!

      Don’t install no name Chinese junk – they only work well for couple of years, and once warranty runs out, they break. Also not very efficient!

      Good luck

  5. Stephanie Reynolds

    If we’re looking at a home (6,001 sq ft) that was build over 100 years ago…what kind of central cooling system should we consider and how much should we anticipate spending? (Central area of MS). They currently have window units and fans.

    1. Leo B Post author

      Hi Stephanie,

      For a house this big, you will need two Central AC systems, 5 TON (60,000 BTUs) each, if three are ducts in the house.

      If there are no ducts, you can go with two 4-TON multi-zone Ductless Heat Pump / AC systems.

      Note that ductless systems are 20% smaller (4 ton vs 5 ton). This is because you lose about 20% of your cooling/heating in the ducts. Therefore, since ductless systems don’t need ducts, you eliminate 20% loss!

      Good luck

  6. Susan

    I have new construction custom builder. The air handle was installed in its own room with a fireproof door and the door does not have a vent. However, throughout the house there are air returns. A friend said the air handler has to be vented beyond its 4×4 room. I’m about to build a home in Florida and working on room placement and this argument has come up again. Can you help me understand in what circumstance do you not need a vent n a 4×4 air handler room door?

    1. Leo B Post author

      Hi Susan

      When you say “air handler” … are we talking about central AC or ductless / split-system?

      If Central AC, and you mean indoor evaporator coil, these get installed in closets, attics and other tight spaces, so no there is no need to “vent” them, as long as it gets air intake (return air) from conditioned space (rooms in your house), and then feeds cool air back through the ducts.

      Hope this helps, good luck

  7. Stephen

    I have a 2 bedroom 2 bath 980 sqr. ft condo in Las Vegas how much is a ballpark number for a new central 2 system

    1. Leo B Post author

      Stephen, you would need 2 to 3 ton AC… Cost would be about $4500 without ducts. Better yet, get a Ductless AC – they are much more efficient!

  8. Mohammed

    Hi sir will you please update me for 15000 square feet area how much capacity of central ac unit required

    1. Leo B Post author

      Hi Mohammed

      15000 is too big for residential Central AC – you will need some commercial / industrial roof-top AC.

      Basically a 5 ton AC (largest residential / small commercial) can handle up-to 4000 sq. ft.

    1. Leo B Post author

      Hi Marc,

      Thanks for kind words! We do have a pretty detailed Mini-Split AC cost estimator (single or multi-zone) + guide on how to chose best best system for your home, as well as how efficiency affects cost, etc.

      Now what most homeowners do not know is that Central AC systems’ efficiency is rated “at unit” or as the cold air exits cooling coils inside the AC itself, and NOT in your room! This means that while the central AC can be rated at say 16 SEER, you lose so much energy in the ducts, that by my estimate, by the time cool air enters the room, real efficiency drops to 10 SEER or lower!

      Mini splits on the other hand are rated IN THE ROOM, so 22-35 SEER is what you actually get fro your AC, because air handler is located in the room, and not in the basement.

      Finally, mini splits are “zoned” systems, so you don’t need to cool entire home, if you are sitting in your living room. You get much better control, and great savings on cooling costs!

      I recommend that many people consider Mini-Split Heat pump option VS Central AC.

      Cheers, Leo