Central Air Conditioning Installation Cost

How much does it cost to install a central air conditioning?

Central air conditioning installations can be done in many ways and will vary according to building size and the availability of some pre-existing systems in the home. For example, homes with forced hot air heating will have the duct work necessary for a fast and easy installation, when the project involves the running of ducts however the prices climb significantly.

The average price to install a central air conditioner will range from $2650 to upwards of $15K. This installation cannot be considered a "DIY" project, and it is traditional for a homeowner to hire a contractor for the job.

Cost breakout

For a central air conditioning installation, the basic points of payment include:

  • Contractor - this will be the individual who performs the "manual J" assessment of the home to determine the appropriate size for the unit(s). This might also be the individual who installs the actual a/c unit;
  • Subcontractor - this might be the licensed individual to perform electrical service (if the HVAC contractor is not a licensed electrician), or it could be the individual(s) who run ductwork and handle the many materials;
  • Labor - if the contractor or subcontractor do not complete all of the installation work on their own, there will usually be at least one laborer hired to assist; and
  • Material - from the a/c Freon refrigerant, the tanks, recovering machine, and the nitrogen, the costs associated with a central air conditioner involve many materials.

Additional considerations and costs

Total costs for a central air conditioning system will depend upon the size of the home, the number of windows, the quality of the insulation, and the tonnage and SEER rating of the unit selected for installation as well.

  • SEER is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating of the machine, and the higher the base number, the better the results. The Federal minimum rating in the United States is 10, and most contractors will not usually install anything less than 13. Generally, a contractor will work with the buyer to ensure they purchase the best system for their budget.
  • Tonnage is the amount of heat that the unit can remove from the space in an hour's time, and a single ton equates to 12K BTU per hour.

Sizing the home and selecting the central a/c unit is best done by a qualified and licensed professional. If, however, the owner would like to formulate a "rough estimate" for themselves in advance of requesting help from a contractor they can follow the U.S. Department of Energy recommendation to assess their home on several levels. This would include the square footage of the windows, the sealing of leaks (as this can reduce heating and cooling costs by 20%), the overall insulation, the condition of existing ducts, the amount of shade falling on the house, and the layout or air flow within the home too. Such a complex assessment will take time and commitment, but can spare the owner the risk of paying for a central a/c installation that is too large or small.

Generally, the average units are from three to six tons and sized at 36K to 72K BTUs. These do not include heating units, nor do they take into consideration upcoming adjustments in the use of Freon products. The Environmental Protection Agency is going to shift policies in order to cease the use of Freon completely by the year 2020, which means a modern buyer will also need to consider the use of alternative refrigerants such as R4-10A just now entering the markets.

The wisest course of action is to work with a licensed contractor who can accurately determine the appropriate system for the home. Always request references, obtain information about warranties, and seek at least three bids before selecting the provider.