The average cost across the United States to install central air conditioning was $5,882 as of mid-2023. That price can, however, fluctuate based on such factors as where you live, the size of your home, and what kind of unit you choose.
For instance, if you live in a 1,500 square foot home in Vermont, your air conditioning needs and costs will likely be quite different vs. those of someone who lives in a 5,000 square foot house in the desert.
Here, learn more about air conditioning costs, your options, and how to get the best possible price if you do choose to install central cooling.
What Factors Play a Role in Installing Central Air?
Many factors go into the cost to install central air conditioning, including the brand of AC you choose, the unit itself, and the overall size of your home. A central air conditioning unit alone can cost thousands of dollars. For instance, a split unit air conditioning unit will typically run between $1,900 and $4,200 on average; a packaged central air conditioning unit will be somewhat more, typically between $2,300 to $5,500. (More in a minute on the difference between these types of systems.)
If you add in the labor of an air conditioner contractor, the cost to install central air ranges from $3,883 and $7,918 on average. But that number can range depending on where you live, the type of AC system your home needs, and the condition of your existing air ducts.
According to HomeAdvisor , these are the average air conditioning unit costs with installation:
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Some helpful things to think about when evaluating your home for a new air conditioning system include a careful analysis of how big of a system your living quarters need. The price jumps quickly for larger units, so it’s often smart to make sure you’re not overdoing the cooling capacity for your project.
Ease of access for installing the bulky ducting system of a traditional air conditioning setup is important, so if you have a tight basement or attic crawl space, expect to pay more in labor costs than if you had more room to mount all the equipment and pipes easily.
Also, think about where you’d want to locate the duct feeding into the room. You might have to cut through hardwood or tile, for example, to gain an access point for the air to flow. Or there could be a spot in your house that needs a little more airflow and will therefore require multiple ducts into the room.
Though an AC installation typically just takes one day, if extensive cutting into floors or walls or ductwork is required, it could take several. If this might disrupt your quality of living, you’ll likely want to consider staying with family or friends as your central air is installed — or move into a hotel, the cost of which should factor into your overall air conditioning home renovation budget.
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Types of AC Units
Affordability and preference help determine the type of air conditioning unit that you’ll need, which affects the overall central air cost. A traditional split system — with air conditioning on one side of the unit, heating on the other — is on the lower end of the pricing range vs. packaged units. In addition, more complex models that include heat-pump, hybrid, and geothermal functionality can run substantially higher.
Ductless air conditioning systems have been around for years and are rapidly entering the U.S. market from overseas. They can offer affordable efficiency as they cool living spaces. Ductless units have a central compressor and fan with standalone wall-mounted units that eliminate the need for ducting. Instead, a wall-mounted fan serves each room independently. Coolant and drainage lines are routed through the wall back to the centralized air conditioning assembly, making for a clean finish.
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When planning central air installation, you should consider what kind of ductwork is best for your home. Ductwork falls into two categories — flexible or rigid — with many different options for materials within each. Flexible and rigid ductwork each has its own pros and cons regarding price, lifespan, efficiency, and flexibility.
The cost of ductwork can vary greatly. The national average cost for ductwork is $1,179, but can range from $454 to $2,056 or significantly higher depending on the job specifics.
The cost to replace old ductwork is higher since it involves both removing the existing materials and installing new ductwork.
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AC Installation and Labor
While handy types may be tempted to tackle the central air installation on their own, it might be wise to find a contractor who is well-qualified to ensure that the job is done properly.
City codes departments typically require permits for work like central air installation that can be obtained easily by a state-licensed contractor. Handling refrigerant chemicals like Freon™ also require a license .
Many websites offer contractor and price-compare quotes in your area. Angi and Thumbtack both can be good places to start your research. A referral from someone you know also can be a great way to find a vetted air conditioning contractor.
You might also search online communities and neighborhood forums to find a reliable air conditioning contractor. There’s a good chance that someone locally has had similar issues and might be able to recommend a professional contractor to handle your air conditioning installation job.
The cost to install central air conditioning is, on average, almost $6,000. While that’s a considerable expense, it can include the labor involved in addition to the price of the unit by itself. And it can give you peace of mind knowing you have a new central air system to keep you cool and likely improve the resale value of your home if you plan to list your house or refinance in the future. For this reason, it may be wise to look into your financing options, such as taking out a personal loan.
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Photo credit: iStock/Pramote2015
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