How much does it cost to install central air conditioning?

National Average Range:
$5,800 - $14,400

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Updated: June 20, 2023

Reviewed by Dominic Leodoro remodeling expert. Written by

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.

If you live in an area with hot weather at any time during the year, you may want to invest in a central air conditioning unit. Central air uses a single unit to cool the entire house. It comes in different styles and has a wide cost range, depending on the home size, climate, whether you are replacing a system or installing a new system with ducts, and how efficient the model is. On January 1, 2023, new laws go into effect that dictate new efficiency requirements on all air conditioners and heat pumps in the U.S. This is coupled with a new testing method for air conditioner efficiency, known as SEER2. This means that efficiency minimums will be raised, and all air conditioning systems will have new rating systems. Because many air conditioners can no longer be sold and installed after January 1, 2023 and manufacturers need to make changes to meet these new requirements, the cost of most HVAC systems - and air conditioners and heat pumps in particular - is rising approximately 15% to 20%.

Prices vary based on many factors, including the system type, SEER rating, and ductwork. The national average cost range for installing central AC is $5,800 to $14,400, with most homeowners paying $8,750 to install a new 3-ton split system unit with a 16 SEER rating and new ductwork in a 2,000 sq.ft. home. This project’s low cost is $3,750 for a change-out of a 3-ton unit with a 14 SEER rating using existing ducts. The high cost is $18,000 for a new installation of a 3-ton unit with a 21 SEER rating, 300 feet of new ducts, and customizations.

Central Air Cost

Central Air Conditioning Installation Cost
National average cost $8,750
Average range $5,800-$14,400
Low-end $3,750
High-end $18,000

Central Air Cost per Square Foot

The cost of installing central air conditioning has a wide cost range. Depending on the system size, efficiency, and whether you need ducts installed, new central air systems cost between $2.90 and $7.20 a square foot. These costs are for most homes, but you can have higher costs if you live in a very hot climate. Because extremely hot climates require higher-than-average efficiency, upfront unit costs tend to be higher. This is not necessarily the case in standard hot climates of zone 2 or above. Zone 1 installations may have higher costs, depending on your insulation levels. Some home sizes overlap slightly, with the cost of central air for an 800 sq.ft. house being very similar to the cost of central air for a 900 sq.ft. house because even though there are more square feet, you do not necessarily need a larger unit size. However, the cost of central air for a 1,200 sq.ft. house will be considerably more because you will need a bigger unit. The cost of central air for a 2,000 sq.ft. house is generally considered the average because most homes use a unit that most accurately fits that size.

Costs are on the lower end if you already have ducts installed in your home and are only adding a central air unit. Costs are on the higher end if you need ducts added or require additional or upgraded ducts in an existing system. Below are the average costs for installations in varying home sizes.

Cost to install central AC in an 800, 1,000, 1,200, 1,500, 2,000, 2,500, 3,000, and 3,500 sq.ft. home (mobile)

Home Size Average Costs (Installed)
800 sq.ft. $2,320 - $5,760
1,000 sq.ft. $2,900 - $7,200
1,200 sq.ft. $3,480 - $8,640
1,500 sq.ft. $4,350 - $10,800
2,000 sq.ft. $5,800 - $14,400
2,500 sq.ft. $7,250 - $18,000
3,000 sq.ft. $8,700 - $21,600
3,500 sq.ft. $10,150 - $25,200

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Central Air Unit Cost by Size

The unit size plays a big part in determining the final cost. The larger your home, the bigger the unit you need to cool it. The unit size can be influenced by various outside factors, including how much sun your home gets, how much insulation you have, and the age and type of your ducts. Most homes need between 3 and 3.5 tons, with some larger homes needing 4 or more. The unit cost increases with its size. So, the average cost of a 2-ton AC unit installed will be below the national average cost of a 3-ton AC unit installed, and the cost of a 4-ton AC unit installed will be higher than the national average. While 5-ton units are available, they are oversized for most homes. This unit size is most commonly seen in very large commercial buildings. Your home would need exceptional cooling needs to require a unit of this size. Costs to swap out an existing unit are generally less than a new installation. If you need new ducts replaced or want a very high-efficiency unit, your costs will be higher. The costs below are the average cost ranges for mid-efficiency units for the materials only and installed costs.

Material and total cost to install a 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, and 5-ton central air conditioner unit (mobile)

Size in Tons and BTUs Average Cost (Materials Only) Average Cost (Installed)
1.5 Tons (18,000 BTUs) $2,400 - $4,250 $3,650 - $6,250
2 Tons (24,000 BTUs) $3,000 - $5,500 $4,250 - $7,500
2.5 Tons (30,000 BTUs) $3,300 - $6,000 $4,500 - $8,000
3 Tons (36,000 BTUs) $3,800 - $7,150 $5,000 - $9,150
3.5 Tons (42,000 BTUs) $4,250 - $7,700 $5,450 - $9,700
4 Tons (48,000 BTUs) $5,750 - $9,600 $6,950 - $11,600
5 Tons (60,000 BTUs) $6,600 - $12,000 $7,800 - $14,000

Central Air Conditioner Prices by Type

Central air conditioners cool your entire home from one unit. They run through a series of ducts that vent into the rooms of your home. There are two types: split and packaged systems. Split systems are the most common and what you are likely to see on most homes and buildings. The other system is a packaged system that may be used in smaller spaces, although often at a higher cost than the more common setup. Both types can effectively cool your home, but they have different costs and installations. In addition to these types, it is also possible to package your furnace and AC together. While not recommended for most homes, this can be a space saver for small residences. Below are the average costs for the three central air conditioning system types in the most common sizes of 3 to 3.5 tons.

Cost of a split system, packaged AC system, and packaged HVAC AC unit (mobile)

Unit Type Average Cost (Unit Only)
Split System $3,800 - $7,700
Packaged AC System $4,000 - $8,500
Packaged HVAC $9,200 - $10,800

Split AC

A split system AC costs between $3,800 and $7,700. A split system is the most economical if you already have a furnace and ducts in your home and simply want to add air conditioning. This has two components: an outside condensing unit and an evaporator and fan, which sit on top of your furnace and use its air handler and ducts. This unit has a silent performance since the evaporator and fan are outside the room, removing most of the noise. If your furnace is fairly new and your ducts are less than 15 years old, this is a good way to install AC and save money. If you do not already have a furnace and ducts or need a new furnace and replacement ducts, you can opt for an all-in-one package to cut down on installation costs and additional parts.

Packaged AC Unit

The cost of a packaged AC unit averages $4,000 to $8,500. This is a much less common central air unit. It is a good option if you already have a furnace and are just adding air conditioning but do not have much space. Instead of having two pieces connected by a tube, this is one unit that sits outside. It also uses ducts like a split system but takes up less space. This system requires more maintenance than a split system because it is completely outside. If one component breaks, the entire unit is more difficult to repair and often needs replacement.

HVAC Package Unit

The cost of an HVAC packaged unit ranges from $9,200 to $10,800. These units package a furnace and air conditioner in one unit. If you have no furnace or your furnace is older and needs replacing, consider using a packaged system that incorporates all the components of the HVAC system into one outdoor unit. These use ducts but have some of the easiest installation because it is one unit.

Central AC Unit Prices by Brand

The air conditioner brand plays a large role in how much you pay. Some brands use the same coils and internal parts but have much higher or lower prices than other brands. This can be due to things like longevity or name recognition. Other brands have higher-quality parts, resulting in a higher-quality product. Research before purchasing because prices do not always mean a product is better or worse than the others. Below are the average costs to purchase an average 3-ton unit from the most common brands.

Cost of a central AC 3-ton unit by brand: Amana, Rheem, Goodman, Trane, Bryant, Lennox, Carrier, Heil, York… (mobile)

Brand Average Cost (3-Ton Unit)
Amana $3,600 - $6,000
Rheem $3,650 - $6,450
Goodman $3,800 - $6,650
Trane $3,900 - $7,000
Bryant $4,000 - $7,000
Lennox $4,000 - $7,150
Carrier $4,000 - $7,700
Heil $4,000 - $9,000
York $4,000 - $9,000
American Standard $4,400 - $7,000

Amana Central Air Conditioner

The cost of an Amana central air conditioner averages $3,600 to $6,000 for a 3-ton unit. Amana is an American company that has been making household appliances since the 1930s. They have a long history of producing quality products. This includes air conditioners in a range of different SEER ratings.

Rheem Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a 3-ton Rheem central air conditioner ranges from $3,650 to $6,450. Rheem takes budget and efficiency into consideration. They have many units available with a very high SEER but with a reasonable starting price. Their units have an exterior powder coating for outside durability.

Goodman Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a 3-ton Goodman central air conditioner is $3,800 to $6,650. Goodman is one of the preferred brands by many technicians. Many air conditioning installers carry Goodman, so you can easily find installers and service techs. They carry a range of different SEERs and units to choose from.

Trane Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a 3-ton Trane central air conditioner unit is between $3,900 and $7,000. Trane emphasizes efficiency and a quiet unit. Their products produce lower decibel ranges than many other brands. Trane specializes in all types of HVAC and ventilation, producing high-quality products that last.

Bryant Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a 3-ton Bryant central air conditioner unit is $4,000 to $7,000. Bryant is well-known in the HVAC industry. They are made by the same company that makes Carrier, and many of their parts are interchangeable. They make high-quality, premium appliances for residential use. Their air conditioners come in a wide range of SEER, all with a premium warranty.

Lennox Central Air

The cost of a Lennox central air conditioner averages $4,000 to $7,150 for a 3-ton unit. Lennox specializes in all types of heating, cooling, and ventilation products. Their air conditioners are efficient and very quiet. Lennox may be a good choice if you need to mount your unit near a bedroom or home office.

Carrier Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a 3-ton Carrier central air conditioner averages $4,000 to $7,700. Carrier is considered a premium appliance brand. They manufacture high-quality products that are well-known for consistently high performance. Most of their top lines have very high SEER/SEER2 ratings, making them a good option in hotter climates.

Heil Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a Heil central air conditioner is between $4,000 and $9,000 for a 3-ton unit. Heil is owned by the same parent company that makes Bryant and Carrier air conditioners. However, Heil’s model, appearance, and parts are different from the other two and are not interchangeable. They make two tiers of air conditioners - one that is more expensive and very efficient and one with moderate efficiency at a lower cost.

York Central Air Conditioner

The cost of a York central air conditioner ranges from $4,000 to $9,000 for a 3-ton unit. York produces premium air conditioners and other HVAC appliances. They have some of the best warranties in the industry. They produce a wide range of efficiency models, all of which are highly reliable.

American Standard Central Air Conditioner

The cost of an American Standard central air conditioner ranges from $4,400 to $7,000 for a 3-ton unit. American Standard makes efficient and durable air conditioners as part of their Indoor Environment product line. They have good warranties and last for years. All their products are meant to work with their other HVAC systems, including furnaces.

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Central AC Prices by Efficiency

The efficiency of your unit or how much of the energy it converts to heating or cooling your home impacts costs, with more-efficient units having higher prices than less-efficient units. Previously, each unit was labeled with a SEER rating, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. The higher the SEER rating, the lower the energy costs, but the higher the initial cost. In 2023, the industry is switching to a new testing method to calculate efficiency, which will be more accurate. It is known as SEER2, and the new numbers will be 4.5% lower than the old numbers. So, while your new unit may be more efficient than the old, it may look like it has a lower efficiency rating. This is not necessarily the case, but the new system may be confusing. For this reason, most manufacturers will list both SEER and SEER2 on their labels so that you can compare them more easily. The SEER recommended for your home is dictated by your energy needs and climate. A standard SEER may be sufficient in cooler climates where you only need AC a few times a summer. In hot climates, you may need a very high SEER to help keep your energy costs down with the extra use. Below are the average costs for 3-ton units of varying efficiency amounts.

Central AC cost by energy efficiency: 14/13.4, 15/14.3, 16/15.3, 17/16.2, 18/17.2, 19/18.1, 20/19.1, 21.20 SEER/SEER2 (mobile)

SEER / SEER2 Efficiency Average Cost (Unit Only)
14 / 13.4 Standard (North) $1,725 - $3,600
15 / 14.3 Standard (South/Southwest) $2,300 - $4,800
16 / 15.3 High $2,875 - $6,000
17 / 16.2 High $3,450 - $6,600
18 / 17.2 High $4,100 - $7,800
19 / 18.1 Super High $4,600 - $8,400
20 / 19.1 Super High $5,750 - $9,600
21 / 20 Super High $6,325 - $10,800

14 SEER AC Unit

A 14 SEER / 13.4 SEER2 AC unit ranges from $1,725 to $3,600, depending on the brand and unit type. 14 is the lowest standard SEER rating for AC units. This rating is the new minimum standard for homes located in northern climates. Units of this efficiency rating cannot be installed in moderate or hot climates after January 1, 2023. 14 SEER is considered a good efficiency for homes in the north that do not use their unit very often, so it may not generate as high a monthly cost.

15 SEER AC Unit

A 15 SEER / 14.3 SEER2 AC unit costs between $2,300 and $4,800, depending on the type and brand. 15 SEER is the new minimum standard SEER rating for AC units used in moderate-to-warm climates. It is not recommended for hot climates because it is not as efficient as those with higher ratings. However, its lower upfront cost could be worth it for some people, particularly those living in moderate climates with lower usage than those in hot climates.

16 SEER AC Unit

Costs for a 16 SEER / 15.3 SEER2 AC unit range from $2,875 to $6,000, depending on the type. Units of this size are the first to be considered a high-efficiency unit. They are a good choice for those in northern climates who run their units a little more frequently and want to save on monthly costs. They may also be a good choice for those who live in moderate climates and want to balance their upfront and monthly costs. This rating is still not recommended for very hot climates, although you can use it there.

17 SEER AC Unit

Costs for a 17 SEER / 16.2 SEER2 AC unit average $3,450 to $6,600, depending on the type. A 17 SEER AC unit is considered high-efficiency and good for those living in slightly warmer-than-average climates. This can also be a good choice for those in moderate climates with higher-than-average air conditioning needs. At this SEER, expect lower energy costs. When replacing an AC unit, upgrading to SEER 17 will likely decrease energy bills. This is most seen in slightly warmer or moderate climates.

18 SEER AC Unit

18 SEER / 17.2 SEER2 AC units cost between $4,100 and $7,800, depending on the unit type. 18 SEER units are high-efficiency and good for climates that are slightly warmer than average. They also work well in moderate climates for households with higher-than-average air conditioning needs. Larger homes or homes with many occupants also benefit from this SEER rating. If you have an older unit, you will likely see a drop in energy costs if you upgrade to a SEER level of 18. At this level, energy costs may still be too high for some in very hot climates, but the lower purchase costs make it a good choice for second homes.

19 SEER AC Unit

Costs for a 19 SEER / 18.1 SEER2 AC unit range from $4,600 to $8,400. A unit with a rating of 19 is considered very high-efficiency and typically recommended for hot climates or moderately hot climates in households with many occupants. Households that use their AC for an extended time will benefit from having a SEER this high. At this SEER and higher, expect your unit to pay for itself over time. However, this is only true in hot climates because more moderate climates may not use it enough to make it worthwhile.

20 SEER AC Unit

The cost of a 20 SEER / 19.1 SEER2 AC unit averages $5,750 to $9,600. Units with ratings of 20 SEER are recommended for people living in hot climates who run their air conditioning constantly or near constantly. Since most older units have a much lower SEER, those who live in very hot climates will see a big drop in energy costs by upgrading to this level. These efficient units can pay for themselves over their lifetime with the energy savings. This unit is not recommended for moderate or moderately hot climates because the high upfront cost will not be offset by the lowered energy costs.

21 SEER AC Unit

The cost of a 21 SEER / 20 SEER2 AC unit is between $6,325 and $10,800. 21 SEER is one of the highest recommended ratings for residential use, mostly in extremely hot climates and only if you plan on living in the home long-term to make up the cost difference. This unit is best for high-occupancy homes, larger homes, and homes with greater-than-average AC needs. When used in a very hot climate, they help keep your energy bills reasonable. Due to the high upfront cost, this unit is not usually recommended for moderate or moderately hot climates. Purchasing in those cases would not be offset by lower energy bills.

High and low-end costs are based on the efficiency of the units. A 13 SEER unit will definitely do the job cooling your home, but in the long run may cost more to operate, which will be reflected on your monthly utility bills. On the higher end of the spectrum, a 21 SEER unit is more efficient and is a better long-term play for saving money on energy bills, especially if you are choosing to stay in the home long term. So for a larger investment upfront, you’ll receive dividends over time in the form of energy savings. Furthermore, most manufacturers and utility companies offer attractive rebates and incentives for installing high-efficiency units.
Dominic Leodoro, AC installation expert
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Average Cost of Central Air Installation

The cost to install central air conditioning is based on several factors, including whether it is a split or packaged system and whether the ducts need to be replaced or installed. For installations that only replace the AC unit, labor costs are lower than with an installation where the ducts need to be replaced. Most installers charge $75 to $250 per hour for installation, depending on the system type and location. The estimated labor cost to install central air with existing ductwork is $1,250 to $3,000 for installing the AC with the lines and pad. Add approximately $965 to $2,325 in labor for installing new ducts. This makes the total labor cost around $2,215 to $5,325 for a full AC and duct installation out of the $8,750 total. Most installers will look at your existing system, its age, and its condition before installing and recommend new ducts, repairs, or any other necessary work. This is generally done during the pre-installation evaluation and normally at no additional cost, provided you purchase the unit from the company you are working with. Replacements tend to be less expensive than new installations, and different setups have varying costs.

Labor and total cost to install a packaged AC, split system, and packaged HVAC unit (mobile)

AC Type Average Labor Costs Total Costs
Packaged AC $1,000 - $2,500 $5,000 - $11,000
Split System $1,250 - $3,000 $5,050 - $10,700
Packaged HVAC $2,000 - $5,000 $11,200 - $15,800

Cost to Install Central Air With No Existing Ductwork

If you do not have existing ductwork, it is still possible to have central air conditioning installed. In this case, you need to have ducts installed. In a home without existing ducts, this is known as a retrofit. The cost of retrofitting new ducts into an existing space is nearly three times the labor cost of simply replacing existing ducts or installing them in new construction. Retrofits are more labor intensive because the ducts must be put into areas not designed for them, which may include closets, beneath stairs, and tight spaces. The total project cost breakdown for a new central unit and ductwork is $5,050 to $10,700 for the AC unit and installation. The new ductwork costs $3,600 to $9,500 for labor and material. This makes the average cost of a 3-ton unit with ducts for a 2,000 sq.ft. home around $8,650 to $20,200 for a retrofit installation. If you need a larger or smaller unit or a larger run of ducts, your costs could be different.

Modern central AC unit outside an apartment complex

Cost to Add Central Air to an Existing Furnace

If you already have an existing furnace, you also have ducts in place. This makes the total installation cost much lower. The unit and installation costs average $5,050 to $10,700 to install a unit between 3 and 3.5 tons. This includes the costs to make any necessary modifications to the existing furnace and system to add the central air. This assumes your current furnace and duct setup is in good condition. If your ducts leak, your furnace is old, or you have other problems that require modifications, your costs could be higher. These costs also assume you are installing a split system, the most common central air unit type used with forced hot air furnaces.

Adding Central Air to Forced Air Heat Cost

Forced hot air systems use a furnace that pushes heated air through the ducts in your home. A central air conditioner would use those same ducts to circulate cooled air. You would install a system that can use the same ducts without disturbing your current furnace. This has an average cost of $5,050 to $10,700 for a 3 to 3.5-ton system. Costs include any modifications that may need to be made to the furnace or existing forced hot air system in order to install the central air. If your furnace or existing ducts are in poor condition, you may need to upgrade them to add central air. Any modifications to the existing system will increase total costs.

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Cost to Install Central Air by Location

Depending on your home type, you may have different costs for the unit and installation. In an apartment building, central air may need to feed multiple units, not just a single unit. This means using much larger units. The same may apply for condos, but because condos are individually owned, costs vary, depending on whether the air is running to all units or just one. In addition, whether there are ducts already in place in these buildings also impacts costs. Older homes and apartment buildings are not likely to have ducts installed, driving costs much higher. Below are the average costs to install central air conditioning in homes of various types and sizes, based on the average cost of the AC needed for a home of that size.

Cost to install central air in a mobile home, old house, condo, and apartment (mobile)

Location Average Costs (Installed)
Mobile Home $3,650 - $7,500
Old House $8,650 - $22,000
Condo $17,250 - $72,000
Apartment $57,500 - $180,000

Central Air Cost for a Mobile Home

The cost of installing central air in a mobile home is between $3,650 and $7,500. Most mobile homes need an AC unit of between 1.5 and 2 tons. If your mobile home does not have ducts already installed, this project may not be possible. Many mobile homes do not have the space to retrofit ducts. If you want air conditioning, consider ductless, mini-split, or window units. If you had ducts installed at the factory, it is possible to run central air along the same lines. Costs vary depending on the size and condition of the ducts. Before installing central air in your mobile home, determine if the duct system is A/C-compatible and if the mobile home has an exterior 220-volt power outlet.

Install Central Air in an Old House

The average cost to install central air in an old house ranges from $8,650 to $22,000 for a 3-ton unit with between 180 and 300 feet of ducts. Older homes are the least likely to have ductwork already installed. For that reason, it needs to be installed before the central air conditioning. The cost of this project depends on how easy the ducts are to install, such as the amount of space and whether they need to be run through closets, between floors, or in attics and crawl spaces. Doing so exposes those areas to moisture due to the condensation inherent with central air.

Install Central Air in a Condo

Adding air conditioning to a condo averages $17,250 to $72,000. Condos are shared spaces, with the occupants owning the individual units. The lowest costs involve banding together with the other owners to install the air conditioning through central spaces. However, this can be expensive due to the layout of the buildings. Most condos make better use of ductless AC or window units rather than installing central air unless it is built into the original building.

Central Air Conditioning for Apartments

The average cost of installing central air conditioning in apartments is between $57,500 and $180,000. Central air conditioning offers a consistent and comfortable temperature while providing cleaner air to breathe because it uses filters so that​ the air does not get musty. Apartment buildings often need to have built-in ducts from the start. Otherwise, adding them later can be very expensive. The ducts need to travel through the entire building, and it is more cost-effective to do multiple units simultaneously than to add it to a single unit. This often means sacrificing spaces like storage and closets. These spaces are subject to moisture due to condensation if they are added after the building was built.

Central Air Replacement Cost

During an air conditioner replacement, your ducts are typically left in place with only minor modifications or repairs. In addition, your concrete pad may also be left in place unless it is in poor shape and needs replacing. In these cases, you will pay a fee of roughly $150 to $250 for the removal and disposal of your old unit. The new unit installation, plus this fee, and any modifications or repairs needed to the existing area make the average replacement cost for a 3-ton system $5,500 to $10,000.

If your ducts are very old or have significant damage, meaning they need partial or total replacement, this will raise the average replacement cost to between $7,500 and $16,000 on average. Most air conditioners last between 10 and 20 years, while ducts last at least this long with regular maintenance, and many will last longer. If your air conditioner is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it to help lower your energy bills, particularly if you live in a warmer climate.

Replacing a Furnace and Central Air

If you need to replace both your furnace and central air conditioner, you can often contract with one company. Depending on the company and project type, this may give you a better cost on the materials, labor, or both. If your ducts are in good condition, the cost of replacing the air conditioner is around $5,500 to $10,000, while the cost of replacing the furnace is around $2,000 to $11,000 on average. Expect to pay between $7,500 and $21,000 for both. If you need new ducts, this can increase the project costs to $9,400 to $27,000.

Central Air Size and Manual J Calculation

The amount of BTUs you need for your home is partially calculated by the square footage. This is the rate at which your air conditioner can cool the air in one hour. The more square footage your home has, the higher the BTUs needed to cool it. The climate impacts the number of BTUs, with hotter climates requiring more BTUs than colder climates.

To determine the cost of your new air conditioner, you first need to know the unit size that will work best in your home. Most technicians use your home’s square footage to determine the correct unit size for your property using the Manual J calculation. This determines the heating and cooling load of a home. It takes into account the property size, insulation, climate, and how much direct sunlight your home receives. It can also be performed as part of an energy audit to find any air leaks in your home. This calculation is done by a tool published by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America to determine the correct HVAC equipment size.

By taking these different components into consideration, your technician determines which size unit will work for your home. This helps you avoid purchasing a unit that is too large, which may use more energy than necessary and will not remove adequate humidity from the air. It also prevents you from buying a unit that is too small and uses more energy while not cooling the air adequately for your home.

BTUs needed per hour for a house by size: 100-1,000, 1,000-1,200, 1,200-1,400, 1,400-1,500, 1,500-2,000… sq.ft. (mobile)

Area to Be Cooled Minimum BTUs Needed per Hour
700 - 1,000 sq.ft. 18,000
1,000 - 1,200 sq.ft. 21,000
1,200 - 1,400 sq.ft. 23,000
1,400 - 1,500 sq.ft. 24,000
1,500 - 2,000 sq.ft. 30,000
2,000 - 2,500 sq.ft. 34,000
2,500 - 3,000 sq.ft. 40,000
3,000 - 3,500 sq.ft. 46,000

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Central Air Conditioner Size by Climate Zone

The size of the air conditioner you purchase for your home can be impacted by several things, including your climate. Homes located in hot climates need to have a larger system to cool the same amount of space as a home located in a cold climate. So, while larger homes have larger air conditioning needs, you also need to consider your climate zone to make sure that your unit is sized accurately.

States and areas in the country are broken into climate zones, numbered one to five. Homes in climate zone 1 are in hot areas such as Florida, Texas, and parts of Arizona. Homes located in climate zone 5 will be in very cold areas like Minnesota, Maine, and Montana.

Each zone has a minimum number of BTUs needed for your air conditioner to cool your home effectively. The hotter the zone you are located in, the more BTUs are needed per square foot to cool your home. To get the most accurate central air conditioning size, multiply the square footage of your home’s interior by the number of BTUs in your climate zone using the chart located below.

Number of BTUs per sq.ft. needed to cool a house in zone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the US (mobile)

Zone Number of BTUs per Square Foot
Zone 1 50 - 60
Zone 2 45 - 50
Zone 3 40 - 45
Zone 4 35 - 40
Zone 5 30 - 35

Cost to Run Central Air

The cost to run central air conditioning depends on multiple factors, including the unit size, SEER rating, climate, and cost of electricity in your area. Most air conditioning units use 3 to 5kW to run per hour, but this varies tremendously based on the above factors. This makes the national average cost to run central air per hour $0.48 to $0.80, assuming the national average cost per kWh of $15.95. To get a more accurate cost, you need the kWh cost in your area, which can be found on your local utility bill, and the number of kW your unit uses per hour. You can further determine monthly costs based on the number of hours you run your unit daily.

Central Air Maintenance Price

To keep your central air conditioner running at peak efficiency, consider having it tuned up yearly. Most companies offer regular maintenance packages, including a yearly tune-up and minor repairs, for a set fee. This maintenance and tune-up includes inspections, filter replacements, cleaning the coils and other parts that may freeze if dirty, and replacing any small worn-out parts. Additional repairs or adding coolant can increase costs. This maintenance price typically works out to $85 to $300 per year, but some companies have different service levels that can cost less.

Cost of a Mini-Split vs Central Air

Central air conditioning is one way to cool your home. Another option that may work better in some homes is a mini-split, also known as a ductless system. Mini-splits have a condenser and air handler, with the condenser outside and the air handler in the wall. They can cool multiple rooms at once, but the more zones you add, the higher the costs tend to be. However, using a ductless system is faster to install and much less invasive than installing ducts in a home that does not have any. If your home does not have ducts, adding a mini-split can give you the feel of central air conditioning without the need to squeeze ducts into closets and other tight spaces in your home. The cost of a mini-split system is between $3,625 and $10,800. Depending on the home size, costs may be lower than installing central air. As an added benefit, most ductless systems offer a heat pump option, which can also heat your home.

Comparison of the cost to install a mini-split and a central air system (mobile)

Type Average Costs (Installed)
Mini-Split $3,150 - $9,000
Central Air $5,800 - $14,400

Heat Pump vs Central Air Cost

Another way to describe a mini-split air conditioner is as a heat pump. These systems move heat, either into or out of your house, rather than heating or cooling air like a standard furnace or central air system. They can be installed without ducts, either a single heat pump system or one with multiple air handlers for large homes. They are often installed in cold climates to offer supplemental heat in the winter, along with better cooling than a window AC in the summer. You can use heat pumps for heat - either all of the heat you may need for the occasional cold day in a hot climate or as supplemental heat in a cold climate. They have the same costs as mini-split installations at $3,625 to $10,800, depending on how many handlers you install and the system size. Below are the average costs of a heat pump and a central air conditioning system.

Comparison of the cost to install a heat pump and a central air unit (mobile)

Type Average Costs (Installed)
Heat Pump $3,625 - $10,800
Central Air $5,800 - $14,400

Window Unit vs Central Air Cost

Central air conditioning is designed to cool every room in your home simultaneously. However, if you only need to spot cool or cool specific rooms, consider a window unit. Window ACs cool a specific amount of space near the window. They can cool very large, open spaces, but they cannot cool multiple rooms from one unit. To cool an entire home, you need multiple units. In addition, most window units are not designed to stay in the window year-round. This means you have ongoing maintenance and costs in removing and replacing them. The average window unit costs between $350 and $1,150 per window with installation.

Comparison of the cost to install a window AC and a central air unit (mobile)

Type Average Costs (Installed)
Window AC $350 - $1,150
Central Air $5,800 - $14,400

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Enhancement and Improvement Costs

Energy Audit

An energy audit takes a comprehensive look at your home and energy usage, finding ways to improve it so that you can save money. Doing so before having central air installed helps reduce future energy costs. It has an average cost of around $145 to $420.

Additional Considerations and Costs

  • Insulation. Heating and cooling systems work most efficiently in well-insulated homes, which saves you money. Poorly insulated homes result in higher energy bills.
  • Airflow. The airflow needs to be airtight. Otherwise, your energy bills may be higher, or you may have hot or cold spots in your home. Contractors measure for volume and adjust ducts and vents as needed for optimal airflow.
  • Refrigerant. Your HVAC system uses refrigerant to cool the air in your home. If your system does not have enough, it could result in higher energy bills and increased humidity. Your HVAC contractor can check the charge on the refrigerant and adjust as needed.
  • Warranty. Newly installed air conditioners come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which varies in length, depending on the brand. This typically ranges from 5 - 15 years with an average of 10.
  • Winter months. You may get the lowest price on installation by installing during the winter months when HVAC professionals are less busy.
  • Permits. You may need a permit or to have the system inspected after installation. Check with your local town or city hall to find out more.
  • Location. The state and climate you live in influence the installation cost. Typically, hotter climates have higher costs, but things like labor costs in your area may also vary. Therefore, central air installation costs in NJ may be different from the cost of central air installation in Colorado. Always check with your local installers for the most accurate costs.
  • Hazardous materials. If your ducts are very old and were installed before the 1980s or have not been cleaned in a long time, you may find they contain either mold or asbestos. In the case of asbestos, you need to hire a professional abatement team when moving, modifying, or replacing the ducts. For mold, you may need to have them cleaned if you are not having them replaced. Either of these issues could impact the project cost.


  • Does central AC add value to a home?

Yes, central AC adds value to most homes, particularly in hot climates. With rising energy costs, an energy-efficient AC may add even more value to a home in a hot climate.

  • How often should you replace your air conditioner?

Most air conditioners last from 10 to 20 years, with 15 years being the average. However, some professionals say that as long as they are still running, you do not need to replace it unless you dramatically increase the SEER, helping it pay for itself over time.

  • How long does it take to install central air conditioning?

This depends on the system and unit size but takes a few hours to a full day on average. When adding ductwork, this can take an additional two days.

  • What is the labor cost to install central air?

This depends on the system size and type and whether you have ducts installed. It could be $2,215 to $5,325 in labor for most air conditioning systems.

  • Can I install central air myself?

This is not a good DIY project and should be done by a licensed professional to ensure it is done correctly. Some areas require permits to install central air or to modify your HVAC system, so a pro is always recommended.

  • How much does it cost for an AC unit in a 2,000 sq.ft. home?

Many factors influence the final cost of an AC unit for a 2,000 sq.ft. home. The most commonly installed unit in a home of this size is 3 tons, with an average cost of $5,000 to $9,150 installed. However, these costs could be higher if you need ductwork or a very high SEER or efficiency rating.