How much does ductwork installation cost? 5 factors to consider

Image source: Carolina Ductmasters

Jack Wisniewski

By Jack Wisniewski

October 26, 2021

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Ductwork installation costs typically range between $459 and $6,000. The national average price for duct installation is $3,067.

However, you might pay over $15,000 for a new ductwork installation in aggravating circumstances.

The difficulty of the job, size of your home, materials required, accessories used, and ductwork location can all affect the total cost.

Our comprehensive ductwork installation cost guide examines exactly what goes into an installation and how much it will cost you.

If you find that a ductwork installation exceeds your budget, we’ve included a few HVAC alternatives that require no ductwork at all. Let’s jump in!

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What is ductwork?

Exposed ductwork in an attic

Image source: Aeroseal

Ductwork facilitates the path air takes to and from your HVAC system and in and out of your house.

Well-functioning ductwork promotes both home energy efficiency and room-to-room comfort in terms of air quality and temperature.

Do I need ductwork?

Most homes need ductwork, but it depends on your HVAC system type.

If you live in a home with central air conditioning or a central warm-air furnace, you need ductwork.

Find a contractor near you.

For reference, the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey – the most recent one as of writing – found that 74 percent of American homes with air conditioning use central air while 60 percent with space heating equipment use a central furnace.

You also need to routinely maintain your ductwork to ensure optimal performance.

Over time, seals can deteriorate. Leaking air ducts can reduce home heating and cooling efficiency by up to 20 percent, according to the Department of Energy.

Even if your ductwork performs well enough, it may pay to upgrade it. Advances in ductwork technology, particularly airflow controls and high-quality insulation, can reduce heating and cooling costs as well as prolong the life of your HVAC system.

HVAC ductwork installation cost factors

Project difficulty

Project difficulty heavily influences ductwork installation costs.

Ductwork installation complexity essentially comes down to how easily HVAC contractors can access the installation site.

Easier projects Tougher projects
New construction Existing ductwork replacement
Home addition New install in a finished home
Adding a vent to existing ductwork Retrofits

 

Easier ductwork installation

Installing ductwork for new construction, home addition, or a home remodel, for example, is relatively straightforward.

It’s not DIY-friendly per se, but without walls and insulation in the way, installers can seamlessly place ductwork where necessary and build around it.

Open areas like basements, attics, and crawl spaces also make for easier installation.

How much does ductwork cost per square foot?

Ductwork costs between $0.33 and $2.26 to install per square foot on average.

By “square foot,” we mean the house size – not the ductwork dimensions.

Home size Low-cost estimate High-cost estimate
1,000 sq. ft. (110 linear feet of ductwork) $330 $2,260
2,000 (220 linear feet of ductwork) $660 $4,520
3,000 (330 linear feet of ductwork) $990 $6,780
4,000 (440 linear feet of ductwork) $1,320 $9,040

 

We based these estimates on the cost to install ductwork per linear foot.

A typical house needs 110 linear feet of ductwork per 1,000 square feet. The room layout within a house heavily influences this relation.

As every home has more or less a unique configuration, this ratio should serve as a rough guide.

A house with a wide footprint (more spread out) will often require more ductwork than a compact, multi-story home of the same square footage, for instance.

How much does it cost to install ductwork per linear foot?

Per linear foot, ductwork installation costs range between $2.96 and $20.59 per linear foot.

The exact cost per linear foot depends largely on whether you use rigid or flexible ducts. Many ductwork systems involve both types of ducts, which makes estimating total costs tricky.

Material Cost to install, per linear foot
Flexible $2.96 - $19.25
Galvanized steel $5.00 - $5.74
Aluminum $8.56 - $20.59

 

Types of ductwork

Rigid ductwork

Rigid ductwork

Image source: Superior Air Duct Cleaning

Rigid ductwork can further be broken down into aluminum (more expensive) and galvanized steel (more affordable).

Aluminum ductwork costs between $8.56 and $20.59 per linear foot installed. For galvanized steel ductwork, you can expect to pay between $4.06 and $5.74 per linear foot installed.

Regardless of the alloy, installing rigid sheet metal ducts involves cutting, fastening, and sealing short ductwork runs.

This process takes far more time, and therefore costs more, than simply laying out flexible ductwork. However, rigid ductwork fosters superior durability and airflow when installed with properly sealed seams. Rigid ductwork, in turn, should reduce lifetime maintenance and energy bills.

Unfortunately, not all homes can accommodate such a bulky system throughout. Tight and otherwise inaccessible spaces make rigid ductwork installation difficult, if not totally impractical for many retrofits.

These situations often call for flexible ductwork.

Flexible ductwork

Flexible ductwork in an attic

Image source: Green Integrated Design

Flexible ductwork comes in steel or aluminum wiring with a coated fabric.

Costs range between $3.28 and $12.46 per linear foot, mainly by your choice of insulated or non-insulated ductwork and the ductwork diameter.

Fiberglass ductwork insulation creates additional costs but minimizes energy loss in ducts and can reduce demand on HVAC units.

As for ductwork diameter, you should expect to pay more per inch in size. Ductwork diameter influences airflow capacity and velocity, which play a role in how hard you work your HVAC and home comfort.

Compared to rigid ductwork, the flexible type is the cheapest and easiest to install. You should try to use it sparingly, though.

The wrinkles within flexible ductwork can create friction and reduce airflow, which increases energy costs. Additionally, flexible ductwork is less durable than sheet metal, which means you may need to spend more on maintenance and replacements over the years.

Ductwork dampers

Ductwork dampers installed in an attic

Switches indicating the location of dampers within the ductwork. Image source: LifeSavvy

Ductwork dampers can drastically reduce energy usage and enhance home comfort, but add to installation costs.

You can expect to pay between $48.08 and $441.40 per ductwork damper.

Damper type Cost range
Opposed blade $48.08 - $371.70
Parallel blade $72.96 - $142.10
Variable volume, motorized $172.72 - $441.40

 

Think of dampers like security guards at a stadium. If too many people congregate at one entrance, the guards will close the gate and send people to the adjacent ones to balance out the crowd.

Dampers do that exactly, except they block or release airflow down a ductwork branch. Effectively integrating dampers into a duct system will control temperature variations between different zones within a home.

Not only do dampers promote whole-home comfort, but they can also reduce how often you need to run your AC unit and heater, which saves you money.

Ductwork alternatives

A homeowner installing a wall-mounted air conditioning unit

Image source: Terry’s A/C & Heating

Most homes in the United States integrate HVAC systems that require ductwork, such as central air.

Despite this, homeowners have plenty of ductless system alternatives to choose from.

For air conditioning, ductless mini-splits offer more convenient temperature zoning capabilities compared to centralized cooling systems. Manufacturers also offer ductless heat pumps, which can function as both an air conditioner and heater.

Ductless mini-splits consist of individual indoor air handlers similar to window-mounted systems. However, all of the air conditioning happens at the outdoor compressor/condenser. They connect via a discreet series of wires and tubes.

On the heating side, baseboard heaters, radiant heaters, and underfloor heaters can perform just as efficiently as a forced-air system without ductwork.

Is replacing ductwork worth it?

Oftentimes, yes, but it depends.

Homes relying on central cooling or heating systems need ductwork. By replacing leaky ducts with insulated and sealed ductwork, you can lower your energy bills and prolong the life of your HVAC system.

Even so, ductwork costs can skyrocket with complex retrofits that require demolishing and replacing walls, framing, and other finished components.

Such expensive projects may call for ductless HVAC alternatives like mini-splits and radiators.

Get in touch with a local contractor today.

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