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How Much Does an AC Unit Cost? Price Factors Explained

Jack Wisniewski

Published on November 11, 2021

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How Much Does an AC Unit Cost? Price Factors Explained

If you can’t beat the heat, a new air conditioner may be in order. Learn the going rate for new AC units and the major cost factors at play.

The cost of a new AC unit ranges between $200 and $15,600. Including installation, you can expect to pay $7,000 for a new AC unit on average.

A long list of elements dictates new air conditioning unit costs. 

Of all the cost factors at play, AC unit size, efficiency, and type arguably play the most measurable and substantial roles. More abstract, albeit significant, details to consider include installation costs, the unit brand, and ductwork.

Unless you're an HVAC technician, you probably don't understand some, if not all, of these topics. That's why we set out to explain the must-know cost factors in as simple terms as possible.

By the end of this article, you'll have a firm grasp of not only what goes into pricing an AC installation but also a reasonable idea of how much you might pay. 

And don’t worry – we won’t take offense if you skip straight to the sections that catch your attention.

For those eager to gauge the costs and beat the heat, let’s not delay any further!

Hire a local pro to install your central AC

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AC cost by unit type

AC Unit Type

Low Cost

High Cost

Central Air

$3,500

$12,000

Ductless Mini-Split

$3,150

$9,000

Window Unit

$200

$1,000

Heat Pump

$3,700

$11,000

Portable Unit

$300

$1,500

The five main air conditioner types include ducted units, window units, ductless mini-splits, air-source heat pumps, and portable units. 

Geothermal heat pumps technically belong in this conversation. However, we omit them because they're far more uncommon and can eclipse the price of traditional, whole-home cooling options 10 times over. 

We only recommend considering this exceptionally versatile, durable, and energy-efficient option if you have the lower middle five-figure budget to spare.

Ducted air conditioner

Source: Apex Air Conditioning

A new ducted air conditioning system costs between $3,500 to $12,000 to install. 

Most homeowners and contractors probably think of ducted systems, also referred to as central air conditioning, when discussing air conditioning.

This should come as no surprise as most homes in the United States use central AC units.

As their name may suggest, these AC systems deliver air throughout the home via ductwork. Whether you need new ductwork or ductwork repairs drastically affects costs (more on that in our Ductwork section).

Another key cost factor is whether you choose a packaged or split system.

Ductless split system

Typical costs for a ductless mini-split air conditioner installation range between $3,150 to $9,000.

For homes without existing ductwork, ductless mini-splits are ideal because they take ductwork out of the equation.

The air handler (the box that shoots out air) fastens to a wall or ceiling directly facing the outdoors. Through a 3-inch hole, the air handler connects to an outdoor condenser via wiring and refrigerant lines – no ductwork required.

A single air handler only has enough capacity to cool the room it's in. Therefore, you need to place air handlers strategically throughout the house to cool the home effectively and efficiently.

The more air handlers, or zones, you have, the more you can expect to pay for a ductless mini-split system. A system with many zones can easily exceed the upper-cost range we outlined.

Window AC unit

Source: Compact Appliance

Including installation, you can pay as little as $200 or as much as $1,000 for a new window AC unit.

We say “including installation” because installing a window AC unit is easy enough to DIY, which means you could eliminate labor costs. 

Although we like their affordability and uncomplicated installation, a single unit can only cool a relatively small area. 

They’re also generally less efficient than central air conditioners, according to the Department of Energy. 

Therefore, window AC units make more sense to address one under-cooled room as opposed to cooling an entire house.

Heat pump

Source: The Heat Pump Store

Heat pumps cost between $3,700 and $11,000 to install.

Whether installed via a ducted or split system, heat pumps provide unparalleled versatility in that they can both cool and heat a home.

Heat pumps cost more than air conditioners alone. Nevertheless, heat pumps can save you money over buying a cooling and heating system separately.

Heat pumps, therefore, deserve a shout if you see yourself in the market for a new heating solution on top of a new air conditioner.

Portable AC unit

Source: The New York Times

Portable AC units cost between $300 to $1,500.

Like window-mounted AC units, portable air conditioners cost relatively little, require window access, and work well for single rooms. They also need minimal installation.

Unlike bulky window units, you can move a portable unit to new spaces for cooling as long as it has a compatible window bracket. 

AC unit size

To indicate cooling capacity, manufacturers use cooling tons or British Thermal Units. 1 ton equals 12,000 BTUs.

Cooling capacity in tons (BTUs)

Low Cost

High cost

2 (24,000)

$3,400

$5,700

3 (36,000)

$4,600

$7,900

5 (60,000)

$5,750

$11,200

The size or cooling capacity of the new AC unit directly influences costs. 

Smaller systems cost less but also cool less. Larger systems are more expensive but cool expansive areas.

Bigger isn’t always better. 

You should size your AC unit to as close to your cooling needs as possible because oversized air conditioners tend to short cycle. This hampers their efficiency and can lead to costly compressor failure.

To indicate cooling capacity, manufacturers use cooling tons or British Thermal Units. 1 ton equals 12,000 BTUs.

What size AC do I need?

Determining the appropriate size as accurately as possible calls for a Manual J Load calculation, which takes a copious amount of variables into account.

HVAC contractors experienced with recording these measurements and performing this complex calculation should know how to provide a reliable sizing figure.

Alternatively, using the old-fashioned method of dividing your home’s square footage by 500 provides a decent, albeit imprecise, idea of the required system size in tons.

A 2,000-square-foot home would need a 4-ton AC unit via this formula (2000 ÷ 500 = 4.) Again, you should not rely on this method to make your purchase. We only recommend it for roughing out costs.

AC Unit efficiency

Source: Artlip & Sons, Inc.

High-efficiency AC units cost more than their inefficient counterparts. However, that boosted efficiency can pay for itself in energy savings and tax credits.

You can quickly identify the overall efficiency of an AC unit by its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. For window units, the Department of Energy uses the Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio

A higher SEER number indicates better efficiency.

In 2023, the Department of Energy requires new AC units to have at least a 14 SEER rating.

Many top-of-the-line AC units exceed 20 SEER. To achieve these numbers, these units often come equipped with variable-stage compressors, which fine-tune the rate of cooling to precise needs. 

The least efficient units only have a single stage. Essentially, that means they’re either at full power or off. Imagine the only way to drive your car is to floor it – that would be way less fuel-efficient!

Tax credits

The federal government offers up to $600 in tax credits for qualified air conditioners and furnaces, and a maximum of $2,000 for qualified heat pumps. The equipment must meet strict energy efficiency requirements to be eligible. 

Since heat pumps can also warm a space, tax credit eligibility also looks at Heating Seasonal Performance Factor – a heating efficiency rating.

AC brands

 

AC Brand 

Average cost (Materials only)

Goodman

$1,590 - $4,080

Payne

$1,950 - $3,920

Armstrong

$2,300 - $5,660

SpacePak

$2,369 - $9,164

American Standard

$2,470 - $7,000

York

$2,590 - $5,980

Lennox

$3,160 - $7,230

Bryant

$3,200 - $7,120

Carrier

$3,420 - $7,680

Air conditioner manufacturers differ in price. 

High-end brands like American Standard, Lennox, and Carrier will cost more than value models from Goodman and Payne.

Many HVAC companies work with select brands, which may pass savings onto you if they receive special pricing.

As with any big-ticket purchase that you expect to last for at least the next decade, your decision on which brand to buy should not solely come down to price.

Each brand differs in warranties, accessories, and customer service records that warrant at least some consideration. 

Ductwork

Source: Planted Shack

Installing ductwork costs $4,000 on average.

A slew of factors plays into ductwork installation prices, namely the project difficulty, size of your home, and the materials used.

Of course, you can avoid this expense if your home already has adequate ductwork. Opting for ductless mini-splits, window units, and portable units – all of which run without ductwork– can also save you from this costly add-on.

Installing heating with AC at the same time

A hybrid central heating and cooling system can cost between $8,000 and $9,000, mainly depending on the system size and installation complexity.

Throwing a new heating system into the mix undoubtedly adds to project costs.

Even so, it may come out cheaper than replacing your AC and heating systems separately. 

On top of economizing both installations into one job, you can also ensure your cooling and heating systems operate with compatible tech. 

A mismatched system, such as when the existing air handler uses an older single-stage blower, may diminish the effectiveness of a state-of-the-art efficient cooling unit. 

Additionally, you can save space by purchasing a packaged HVAC system. These two-in-one HVAC units combine heating and cooling into one compact box as opposed to several individual components.

Installation costs

Source: The Training Center of Air Conditioning & Heating

Installation expenses make up a significant portion of total costs, but they vary depending on the contractor and project. 

For instance, more elaborate installations involving ductwork, electrical work, and plumbing will cost more than a straightforward ductless mini-split installation. 

Make sure to ask prospective contractors if their estimates incorporate these hidden costs to avoid getting blindsided when the bill arrives.

Three savvy tips to save on new AC unit costs

1. Install in the off-season: prices rise during the peaks of summer and winter – when HVAC companies and manufacturers see the most demand. Look to install your new AC unit during the fall or spring to avoid price hikes.

 2. Get at least three quotes: multiple quotes provide a better perspective over what your project will entail. We’re not just talking about a fair price, but also qualified opinions on how to best approach your cooling needs.

 3. Insulate your home: although it introduces a new set of costs, properly insulating your home can reduce your energy consumption by up to 20 percent. That’s up to $175 per year in savings based on the average annual bill for a home with a gas furnace and central air conditioner.

New air conditioner costs can seem like a lot to stomach.

 Having said that, replacing an AC past one’s prime can pay for itself in lower energy bills. Even if you only have a 10-year-old unit, you can save a bundle on cooling costs by upgrading to today’s energy-efficient models.

Hire a local pro to install your central AC