How much does a new AC unit cost? The top 8 price factors explained

Image source: HGTV

Jack Wisniewski

By Jack Wisniewski

November 11, 2021

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The cost of a new AC unit ranges between $150 and $16,000. Including installation, you can expect to pay $4,877 for a new AC unit on average.

A long list of elements dictates new air conditioning unit costs.

Of all the cost factors at play, AC unit size, efficiency, and type arguably play the most measurable and substantial roles. More abstract, albeit significant, details to consider include installation costs, the unit brand, and ductwork.

Unless you're an HVAC technician, diving into the cost of a new AC unit may seem daunting.

That's why we set out to explain the must-know cost factors in as simple terms as possible.

By the end of this article, you'll have a firm grasp of not only what goes into pricing an AC installation but also a reasonable idea of how much you might pay.

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Cost by air conditioning unit type

AC unit type Low cost High cost
Central air $3,660 $6,488
Ductless mini-split $987 $5,615
Window unit $150 $1,006
Heat pump $2,638 $7,125
Portable unit $250 $500

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The five main air conditioner types include ducted units, window units, ductless mini-splits, air-source heat pumps, and portable units.

Ducted air conditioner costs

Ducted air conditioner set into the ceiling of a residential home

Image source: Apex Air Conditioning

A new ducted air conditioning system costs between $3,000 to $7,800 to install.

When discussing AC, most homeowners and contractors probably think of ducted systems, also referred to as central air conditioning.

This should come as no surprise as most homes in the United States use central AC units.

As their name may suggest, these AC systems deliver air throughout the home via ductwork. Whether you need new ductwork or a few simple repairs can greatly affect AC installation costs.

Another key cost factor is whether you choose a packaged or split system.

Ductless split system cost

Ductless air conditioner affixed to a wall

Image source: HGTV

Typical costs for a ductless mini-split air conditioner installation ranges between $987 to $5,615.

For homes without existing ductwork, ductless mini-splits are ideal because they take ductwork out of the equation.

The air handler (the box that shoots out air) fastens to a wall or ceiling directly facing the outdoors. Through a 3-inch hole, the air handler connects to an outdoor condenser via wiring and refrigerant lines – no ductwork required.

A single air handler only has enough capacity to cool the room it's in. Therefore, you need to place air handlers strategically throughout the house to cool the home effectively and efficiently.

The more air handlers, or zones, you have, the more you can expect to pay for a ductless mini-split system.

Heat pump cost

Heat pump installed outside of a residential home

Image source: The Heat Pump Store

Heat pumps cost between $2,638 and $7,125 to install.

Whether installed via a ducted or split system, heat pumps provide unparalleled versatility in that they can both cool and heat a home.

While heat pumps cost more than air conditioners, they're often more cost-effective than buying a separate cooling and heating system.

Heat pumps, therefore, deserve a shout if you see yourself in the market for a new heating solution on top of a new air conditioner.

Window AC unit cost

Window air conditioner installed in a home

Image source: Compact Appliance

Including installation, you can pay as little as $150 or as much as $1,006 for a new window AC unit.

We say “including installation” because installing a window AC unit is easy enough to DIY, which means you could eliminate labor costs.

Although we like their affordability and uncomplicated installation, a single unit can only cool a relatively small area.

They’re also generally less efficient than central air conditioners, according to the Department of Energy.

Therefore, window AC units make more sense to address one under-cooled room as opposed to cooling an entire house.

Portable AC unit cost

Portable AC unit in a residential home

Image source: The New York Times

Portable AC units cost between $250 to $500.

Like window-mounted AC units, portable air conditioners cost relatively little, require window access, and work well for single rooms. They also need minimal installation.

Unlike bulky window units, you can move a portable unit to new spaces for cooling as long as it has a compatible window bracket.

Air conditioning unit size

Cooling capacity in tons (BTUs) Low cost High cost Average estimated cost
2 (24,000) $1,000 $5,384 $3,192
3 (36,000) $1,667 $5,645 $3,656
5 (60,000) $2,297 $7,125 $4,711

The size or cooling capacity of the new AC unit directly influences costs.

Smaller systems cost less but also cool less. Larger systems are more expensive but cool expansive areas.

You should size your new AC unit to as close to your cooling needs as possible because oversized air conditioners tend to short cycle. This hampers their efficiency and can lead to costly compressor failure.

To indicate cooling capacity, manufacturers use cooling tons or British Thermal Units. 1 ton equals 12,000 BTUs.

What size AC do I need?

Determining the appropriate size as accurately as possible calls for a Manual J Load calculation, which takes a copious amount of variables into account.

HVAC contractors experienced with recording these measurements and performing this complex calculation should know how to provide a reliable sizing figure.

Alternatively, using the old-fashioned method of dividing your home’s square footage by 500 provides a decent, albeit imprecise, idea of the required system size in tons.

A 2,000 square foot home would need a 4-ton AC unit via this formula: 2000 ÷ 500 = 4. Again, you should not rely on this method to make your purchase. We only recommend it for roughing out costs.

Air conditioning unit efficiency

High-efficiency AC units cost more than their inefficient counterparts. However, that boosted efficiency can pay for itself in energy savings and tax credits.

You can quickly identify the overall efficiency of an AC unit by its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. For window units, the Department of Energy uses the Combined Energy Efficiency Ratio.

A higher SEER number indicates better efficiency.

Currently, the Department of Energy requires new AC units to have at least a 13 SEER rating. That minimum will rise to 14 SEER in 2023.

Many top-of-the-line AC units exceed 20 SEER. To achieve these numbers, these units often come equipped with variable-stage compressors, which fine-tune the rate of cooling to precise needs.

The least efficient units only have a single stage. Essentially, that means they're either at full power or off. Imagine the only way to drive your car is to floor it – that would be way less fuel-efficient!

Tax credits

The federal government offers up to $500 in tax credits for HVAC equipment that meets distinct SEER and Energy Efficiency Ratio requirements.

Since heat pumps can also warm a space, tax credit eligibility also looks at Heating Seasonal Performance Factor – a heating efficiency rating.

To qualify for this tax credit, you must install a new system before December 31, 2021.

AC brands

AC brand Average cost, central air SEER rating
Ruud $3,522 13-20.5
Goodman $3,574 14-24.5
HEIL $3,812 13-19
Rheem $4,330 13-20.5
York $4,349 13-21
Amana $4,464 14-24.5
TRANE $4,770 13-25
American Standard $5,071 14.5-22
Lennox $5,322 13-28
Carrier $5,420 13-26

Air conditioner manufacturers differ in price.

High-end brands like American Standard, Lennox, and Carrier will cost more than value models from Goodman and Ruud.

Many HVAC companies work with select brands, which may pass savings onto you if they receive special pricing.

As with any big-ticket purchase that you expect to last for at least the next decade, your decision on which brand to buy should not solely come down to price.

Each brand differs in warranties, accessories, and customer service records that warrant at least some consideration.

Air conditioning ductwork

Ductwork throughout an attic

Image source: Planted Shack

Installing ductwork costs $3,067 on average.

A slew of factors plays into ductwork installation prices, namely the project difficulty, size of your home, and the materials used.

Of course, you can avoid this expense if your home already has adequate ductwork. Opting for ductless mini-splits, window units, and portable units – all of which run without ductwork– can also save you from this costly add-on.

Installing heating with AC at the same time

A hybrid central heating and cooling system can cost between $7,038 and $12,886, mainly depending on the system size and installation complexity.

Throwing a new heating system into the mix undoubtedly adds to project costs.

Even so, it may come out cheaper than replacing your AC and heating systems separately.

On top of economizing both installations into one job, you can also ensure your cooling and heating systems operate with compatible tech.

A mismatched system, such as when the existing air handler uses an older single-stage blower, may diminish the effectiveness of a state-of-the-art efficient cooling unit.

Additionally, you can save space by purchasing a packaged HVAC system. These two-in-one HVAC units combine heating and cooling into one compact box as opposed to several individual components.

Installation costs

A professional installing central air conditioning units

Image source: The Training Center of Air Conditioning & Heating

Installation expenses make up a significant portion of total costs, but they vary depending on the contractor and project.

For instance, more elaborate installations involving ductwork, electrical work, and plumbing will cost more than a straightforward ductless mini-split installation.

Make sure to ask prospective contractors if their estimates incorporate these hidden costs to avoid getting blindsided when the bill arrives.

3 savvy tips to save on new AC unit costs

1. Install in the off-season: prices rise during the peaks of summer and winter – when HVAC companies and manufacturers see the most demand. Look to install your new AC unit during the fall or spring to avoid price hikes.

2. Get at least three quotes: multiple quotes provide a better perspective over what your project will entail. We’re not just talking about a fair price, but also qualified opinions on how to best approach your cooling needs.

Insulate your home: although it introduces a new set of costs, properly insulating your home can reduce your energy consumption by up to 20 percent. That’s up to $175 per year in savings based on the average annual bill for a home with a gas furnace and central air conditioner.

New air conditioner costs can seem like a lot to stomach.

Having said that, replacing an AC past one’s prime can pay for itself in lower energy bills. Even if you only have a 10-year-old unit, you can save a bundle on cooling costs by upgrading to today’s energy-efficient models.

Get in touch with a reputable contractor today.

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