How Much Does a 3-ton Air Conditioner Cost?

National Average Range:
$4,451 – $8,099

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3-Ton Air Conditioner Installation Cost Guide

Updated: January 17, 2024

Reviewed by Joe Roberts remodeling expert. Written by Fixr.com.

To provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date cost figures, we gather information from a variety of pricing databases, licensed contractors, and industry experts.

How much does a 3-ton AC unit cost?

The installation costs for a 3-ton air conditioning system generally range between $4,451 and $8,099. However, air conditioner prices vary depending on factors like an HVAC system’s type and energy efficiency rating. When you install it, so your actual price could fall outside this average range.

You should also remember that a 3-ton cooling system might not be the right option for your home. Most homeowners need 1 ton of cooling power—equivalent to 12,000 British thermal units (BTUs)—for every 400–600 square feet of floor space in their homes. So if your home is smaller than 1,200 square feet or larger than 1,800 square feet, you’ll need a different unit size

If, however, your home’s size falls within the range a 3-ton air conditioning unit could effectively cool, keep reading. We’ll break down the various cost factors to help you determine how much you’ll likely pay for your new AC unit.

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Factors that can affect 3-ton air conditioner costs

System type

There are many types of AC systems, each with its own benefits and drawbacks, and the different types come at significantly different prices. As such, the type of AC system you get will be the primary determiner of its price. This table breaks down the average price ranges for different 3-ton AC systems:

3-ton AC unit costs by system type

AC unit type

Average installation price

Geothermal heat pump

$12,167–$22,137

Central air conditioner

$4,630–$8,423

Mini-split system

$5,868–$10,677

Air source heat pump

$2,369–$4,310

Swamp cooler

$1,236–$2,249

Geothermal heat pumps are far and away the most expensive type of HVAC system. They’re so expensive because their installation entails burying long loops of pipe deep underground. Refrigerant runs through these loops to collect or sequester heat depending on if the system is cooling or heating your home. That’s right, these systems can also heat your home in winter, and they require much less fuel to generate heat than gas furnaces and boilers, making them highly efficient HVAC units.

After geothermal heat pumps, central air conditioning systems are the most expensive of 3-ton AC systems, but they’re also some of the best options for homes with many rooms. Central AC units typically sit outside a home, cool air using refrigerant, and then distribute the cool air throughout the entire home using ductwork and an air handler.

Instead of using heat and coolness from the ground like geothermal units, air source heat pumps use the radiant temperature of the air outside to cool their refrigerant. This makes them similar to central systems when they’re in cooling mode, though they can also be used to heat a home. In especially cold climates, you may still need a furnace to supplement your air source heat pump’s heating ability.

Ductless mini-split systems work a little differently than the other two options we’ve discussed. Instead of one outdoor unit with a powerful condenser, compressor, and air handler, a split system features multiple indoor units that cool indoor air. The primary benefit of a split system is that it doesn’t require air ducts to function, so split systems are a great option if you don’t have existing ductwork.

Unlike all the other system types, swamp coolers–or evaporative coolers–don’t use refrigerants. Instead, they pump outside air through the moistened mesh. The water in the mesh evaporates, which cools the air as it passes into the home, bringing down its temperature. The primary downside of a swamp cooler is that it adds moisture to the air inside a home. This makes these coolers less than ideal for humid climates.

To learn more about the differences between the various types of AC systems, read our comprehensive guide to air conditioners

Efficiency

The energy efficiency of any AC unit is measured by its seasonal energy efficiency ratio—or SEER. SEER is calculated by comparing how much energy an AC system uses to how much air it can cool during operation. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the AC unit. And the more efficient the unit, the more energy savings it will reap over its lifetime. 

If you want to prioritize energy efficiency when you’re getting your new AC system, shop for AC units with SEERs over 16. Alternatively, you can pick a unit with an Energy Star label to ensure you get a unit that has passed high-efficiency standards.

If you get a heat pump system, you should also pay attention to its SEER2 rating. This ratio measures how efficiently the system can heat a space as well as cool it.

Unfortunately, systems with higher SEER ratings tend to cost more because they use better technology, so getting a high-efficiency unit will increase your upfront costs. However, a more efficient unit will probably save you more money than it costs you over its lifetime. And the best news is that high-efficiency units often come with rebates to make them more affordable. 

Seasonality

Like other industries, pricing in the HVAC business is influenced by supply and demand. This means that if you get your air conditioning system installed during the busy season—usually between spring and late summer—you’ll probably pay more than if your system was installed in the middle of autumn. 

If you have to remove an old unit

If you’re replacing an old AC system, you’ll pay extra in labor costs compared to someone who is simply installing a new unit. The exact costs for AC replacement vary greatly depending on location, system type, and seasonality, but removing an old AC unit will usually add $400 to $700 to your total costs. 

3-ton air conditioner pricing tiers

The budget option

If you need to save as much money as possible on your 3-ton AC unit, then opt for a low-efficiency mini-split or evaporative cooler. These options will likely cost significantly less than a central AC system, and they’ll probably also be more affordable than an air source heat pump if your home doesn’t have existing ductwork. If your home already has air ducts, though, you should also ask your HVAC company about their air source heat pump prices. 

While you might be considering installing your 3-ton AC unit yourself to save some money, we advise against it. AC installation is a complicated process, and incorrectly handling or installing your unit can ruin it and void your warranty, so AC installation doesn’t make for a good DIY project.  

The mid-range option

The more efficient your AC system, the more savings you’ll reap on your energy bills. So while getting a high-efficiency unit will be more expensive upfront, the unit will likely pay itself off in the long run, making it a sound investment. The bottom line is that if you have a little wiggle room in your budget, it’s a good idea to shell out for extra energy efficiency.

If your home doesn’t have air ducts, you should probably still stay away from a central AC system or a heat pump. Adding ductwork to your home can increase this project’s price by thousands of dollars. 

The high-end option

If you want the best 3-ton AC unit you can get and budget isn’t a big concern, then we recommend getting a high-efficiency central AC or geothermal heat pump, even if that means adding some ductwork to your home. This may add several thousand dollars to your upfront system costs, but it will ensure your home is cool and comfortable all summer without costing you an arm and a leg to operate.

If you really want to go big on efficiency, then check out our 2023 residential efficiency report. It may give you some additional ideas for making your home more eco-friendly and cost-effective. 

How to pay for your 3-ton AC system

Installing a new 3-ton AC unit costs at least a couple thousand dollars, even if you opt for low-end, low-efficiency models. Fret not if these high costs put this project outside of your budget. There are several ways to pay for a new AC unit, even if you don’t have the necessary cash on hand. 

The best option is usually to go with your installer’s financing. Most HVAC companies offer payment plans to their customers, the terms and conditions of which depend on the company. When you meet with your installer, ask them about their company’s financing options to learn about their interest rates and payback periods.

If you don’t like the terms of your installer’s financing, you can take out a loan to pay for your AC instead. This can be a personal loan through your bank, a home equity loan, or a credit pull on a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

The interest rates for personal loans are usually higher than the other two loan options, but personal loans are also a little less risky. This is because your home secures both home equity loans and HELOCs, so your lender can repossess your home if you default on your debt. You don’t run this risk when you take out a personal loan, though defaulting on this debt will still impact your credit score.

Other factors to consider

System size

As we said earlier, a 3-ton AC only works best in a home with 1,200–1,800 square feet of floor space. If your home is smaller than 1,200 square feet, you should get a smaller system or pay for more cooling power than you need. If your home is larger than 1,800 square feet, you’ll need a larger unit, or your system will overwork itself to supply all the cool air your home needs.

To pinpoint the perfect AC size for your home’s square footage, use our guide to calculating the ideal AC tonnage.

Maintenance and inspections

To ensure your AC unit operates efficiently and lasts as long as possible, staying on top of routine tune-ups and other maintenance tasks is essential. The best way to do this is to schedule a professional HVAC inspection once a year. 

During this inspection, your technician will take care of preventative maintenance, like cleaning evaporator coils, calibrating your thermostat, and clearing debris from the condensing unit. Additionally, they’ll test your system for more serious issues.

These inspections usually cost a couple hundred dollars, and they sometimes turn up more expensive problems you’ll have to pay to fix. Still, they can keep your system operating efficiently for as long as possible, saving you money on repair and replacement costs. 

Installing a 3-ton AC system

While the installation costs for a 3-ton AC system can be pretty high, getting a high-efficiency unit that’s correctly sized for your home is worth the price. Skimping on efficiency or power can cost you more on your energy bills in the long run and leave you and your household vulnerable to extreme summer temperatures.

Find a local HVAC company to install your 3-ton air conditioner unit