How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air?

By Kristin Luna · October 13, 2021 · 5 minute read

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How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air?

The average cost to install central air is $5,660, though that price can fluctuate based on several factors including where you live and what unit you choose. Read on to determine everything that goes into the cost of central air (HVAC).

On a hot summer day, there’s nothing like the cool blow of a high-powered air conditioning unit to keep your body temperature down. And if you live in a warm climate but reside in an older house that relies on fans for cooling your home, it may be time to consider installing central air.

Before you start dreaming about upgrading your environmental controls, though, you’ll want to consider several factors, the most important being: how much does it cost to install central air?

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 conditioner unit alone runs between $2,500 and $4,000 on average.

If you add in the labor of an air conditioner contractor, the cost to install central air ranges from $3,834 and $7,528 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:


Average Cost

3-ton $3,800
4-ton $4,200
14 SEER $3,000–$6,000
16 SEER $3,700–$9,000

Pre-Installation Evaluation

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 over-building 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 project budget.

Recommended: What Is the Cost to Replace an HVAC System?

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 while more complex models that include heat-pump, hybrids, 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 because of their affordable efficiency in cooling living spaces. Ductless units have a central compressor and fan with standalone wall-mounted units that eliminate the need for ducting. Instead, the wall-mounted fan serves the room independently while coolant and drainage lines are routed through the wall back to the centralized air conditioning assembly, making for a clean finish.


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 run around $10 to $20 per linear foot on average for new ductwork, depending on the costs for materials and labor. A home smaller than 2,500 square feet might need up to 150 linear feet of ductwork, which could potentially cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to install. Homes ranging in size from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet could need 250 linear feet of ductwork, with the total potential cost ranging between $2,500 and $5,000.

The cost to replace old ductwork is higher since it involves both removing the existing materials and installing new ductwork. Replacing ductwork can cost from $12 to $25 per linear foot depending on the location of the existing system and choice of materials for the new ductwork.

AC Installation and Labor

While you may be tempted to tackle the central air installation on your own, it might be wise to consult an air conditioning contractor 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.

Recommended: The Top Home Improvements to Increase Your Home’s Value

The Takeaway

The cost to install centralized heat and air may not be cheap, especially when you take into consideration the labor involved, the removal of old ductwork, the cost of rehanging new pipes, in addition to the price of the unit by itself. But it should give you peace of mind knowing you have a new central air system, not to mention improve the resale value of your home if you plan to list your house or refinance in the future.

Wondering how you’re going to pay for it all? You could consider taking out an unsecured home improvement loan to cover the central air installation cost. With SoFi, there are no fees required.

Learn more about how a home improvement personal loan from SoFi can help you finance the install of central air.

Photo credit: iStock/Pramote2015

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