When you're looking to install central A/C, you can typically expect to pay from $3680 to $7170 for the central air conditioning system plus supplies and labor.
Installation of a central air conditioning system is a complex job, so make sure that the air conditioning contractor you hire is licensed and experienced.
If your house already has ductwork in place for a forced air heating system, great. Otherwise, installing ductwork will add considerably to the cost. An older home might not be able to accommodate the retrofitting of ductwork; if so, consult with your air conditioning professional about whether mini split A/C might be the best solution for you.
What Size Central Air Conditioning Do You Need?
Your air conditioning contractor will begin by calculating the right size of central A/C for your particular needs, taking these questions into account:
- How big is your home?
- What kind of airflow do you have?
- How many windows are there?
- Is your existing ductwork and insulation in good shape?
- What's your local climate like?
The federal Energy Star program publishes a handy chart showing approximately how much cooling power you'll need, based on your home's square footage.
AREA TO BE COOLED (square feet)
A/C CAPACITY NEEDED (BTUs per hour)
550 up to 700
700 up to 1,000
1,000 up to 1,200
1,200 up to 1,400
1,400 up to 1,500
1,500 up to 2,000
2,000 up to 2,500
Why is it Important to Get the Right Size A/C?
Obviously, an undersized central air conditioning system won't cool your home adequately, leaving you uncomfortable on the hottest days. But an overly large system is also problematic, because it will continually cycle on and off. This is noisy and inefficient, increasing your electric bills. It can also cause the A/C to wear out more quickly, meaning you'll have to spend even more money to replace it.
The best heating and cooling pros are expert at rightsizing A/C systems (aka load calculation or Manual J methodology), so find out from them what's best for your home.
Cost to install a central air conditioning system will normally include:
- Materials -- Air conditioning systems come in 2 basic types. Single-stage will start operating at full capacity as soon as the indoor temperature exceeds the level on your home's thermostat. Under the same conditions, two-stage starts at 2/3 of its capacity and gradually increases to full capacity. This makes it quieter, cleaner, and more efficient at using energy. In addition, A/C may be zoned so that it operates independently in 2 or more zones of your home.
- Labor -- The A/C pro first measures your home to determine the correct system size. He/She then installs the system and checks the airflow and amount of refrigerant. He/she may need to install or repair ductwork as well. You might also need an electrician to upgrade your home's electrical system.
- Cleanup -- There may be a lot of cleanup if new ductwork is installed. In addition, old A/C units might need to be removed and disposed of.
- The initial estimate, which may include an onsite inspection, is often free.
Get the Most for Your Money
Book heating and cooling contractors to install air conditioning or heating during their slow seasons -- early in the spring and fall. As well as a shorter wait for a service call, you may receive discounts on labor and equipment.
You might need a building permit in your locale for the A/C installation itself or for related tasks such as electrical upgrade. To avoid any problems, check before the work begins.
Energy Star certifies air conditioning systems that meet its standards of efficiency and environmental friendliness. It also provides reviews of those it considers most efficient. When you purchase an Energy Star-certified appliance, you may be eligible for a federal tax credit. Rebates may also be available from the state government or the manufacturer.
Install a programmable or smart thermostat for even more energy savings.