How Much Does it Cost to Install Central Air?

Many people may be asking, “How much does it cost to install central air?” now that summer has arrived. Air conditioning helps circulate cool air and reduces the humidity in a home. For some, central air is just a luxurious addition to the home that maximizes comfort. However, for the majority of people, air conditioning is an essential part of surviving the intense heat of summer. Either way, knowing what expenses to expect is beneficial to the homeowner since air conditioning units typically need to be replaced every 10-20 years.

National Average Cost

According to statistics compiled by HomeAdvisors.com, the U.S. national average price for central air installation in 2013 ranges from $2,000 (basic) to over $10,000 (top quality). HomeAdvisors.com based these statistics off actual project costs reported by members who contributed 7,325 cost profiles. Most of the homeowners spent between $4,511 and $6,185, with the average reported price being $5,348. The average project timeline was 5-6 days, which may seem like a long time when you are miserable due to the extreme heat of summer. However, this time range is reasonable considering several different licensed contractors may have to be called in to complete each stage of the project. For instance, hiring a certified electrician may be required for completion of the electrical phase of the installation.

Cost Factors

The size, age and location of the home greatly affect the total price, as these will determine the type and size of the cooling unit and the amount of labor. The price increases with the increased size of the home and cooling unit’s BTUs. The price goes up as the unit’s energy efficiency rises and its noise production is reduced. The home’s architectural style will also affect the price, as will its existing heating system. Central air systems integrated with existing heating systems are less expensive than those that require installation of new ducts and vents. Additionally, how well the home is insulated will affect the final cost of installing central air.
Although central air can be installed as a DIY project by expert handymen, it is not highly recommend doing so. Some states, mortgage lenders and home insurers legally require that the installation work be performed by certified HVAC professionals. The installation project would require the DIY homeowner to be an expert electrician, as well as an expert duct and vent installer. Moreover, the homeowner would have to be an expert on HVAC systems and their proper installation.

Ways to Reduce Central Air Installation Costs

Although installing central air is an expensive project, the costs can be reduced in various ways. Some local, state and federal government programs may be available to assist with the expense of installing energy-efficient systems. So doing a bit of research prior to purchasing a system may be very beneficial. Another way to save money is to purchase and install the central air system during the off-season, such as in fall or early winter. Installing adequate insulation and/or central heat along with the central air can save money, if they do not already exist in the home.

Doing some comparison-shopping before buying a system and hiring a contractor is also a good way to save money. Prices fluctuate among various HVAC contractors and system suppliers due to the companies having different operating and overhead expenses. Since most contractors give free estimates, it is usually easy to obtain 3-5 estimates for the comparison-shopping. However, be sure to check out the reviews as well as compare the prices. Nevertheless, please remember that the reviews may be a bit biased toward certain affiliated contractors and suppliers. Moreover, ensure you are comparing the similar types and grades of cooling units when comparing the prices. Comparing unlike items distorts the information and lowers the value of the comparison.

In some instances, buying the air conditioning system directly from a supplier may be less expensive than purchasing it via the installation contractor. However, be sure to get a professional opinion as to what systems should be used in your home before purchasing any system directly from the supplier. It usually takes an in-person visit to the home to determine sufficiently which system is appropriate and to estimate the total cost adequately. Having the wrong type or size of cooling unit or improper installation can be just as bad as not having any air conditioning, as well as be a great waste of money.

Another Way to Determine Cost

Although obtaining a professional estimate is the best way to determine the amount of expense, there is another way to do so. This way entails visiting various websites that offer project cost calculators such as HomeAdvisor.com or RemodelingExpense.com. These calculators break down the prices based on the zip code you enter. The estimate may not be completely accurate if the calculator’s database has not been well maintained. However, the cost calculators can provide you with some idea of how much it costs to install central air in your specific location.

Penny Vincent

Penny Vincent has been a professional writer for 3 years. She joined TheHousingForum Team in January, 2009. Penny enjoys spending time with family and friends, managing two small, home-based businesses, and sharing her vast knowledge with others.


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