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How Much Does Central Air Cost?

Author: Brian Eckert

Central Air Installation Prices

Window air conditioners are certainly better than no air conditioners at all on a hot summer day, but quieter, more efficient central air conditioning represents a major step up in household comfort. Often referred to as just central air, a whole-house central air conditioning system distributes cooled air through a home or office space via a duct system. Central air can be added to your existing forced-air heating system, although an existing HVAC network isn’t required. In this buying guide you’ll learn more about centralized air conditioning and the cost.

Central Air Conditioning Considerations

Below are some of the points you should keep in mind when shopping for a new central air conditioner.

System Type

There are three main types of central air conditioning systems: a split system, a mini-split system, and a package system.

In a split system, the compressor (which cools the air) is located outdoors and the air handler unit (responsible for distributing the cooled air throughout the house) is placed indoors. Compare this to a package system, in which the compressor and air handler are placed together, usually on the ground or roof. A final option, and one that is relatively new, is the mini-split system, also known as a ductless mini split system. This type of system is technically not the same as central air, although installing several can serve the same function. It is ideally suited for older homes without ductwork and cooling additions of up to 1,200 square foot.

System Size

Once you’ve decided on the type of central air conditioning system, it’s crucial to select a setup that is powerful enough to cool your entire home on hot days, but not so powerful that it doesn’t adequately remove humidity. The size of an air conditioner is expressed in tonnage or BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour. A cooling contractor can help you evaluate the size of the system you need by performing what’s known as a Manual J load calculation.

System Efficiency

Although sizing for central air conditionings systems is determined formulaically, there is more leeway when choosing system efficiency. The seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) of an air conditioner expresses how much cooling unit provides relative to the amount of energy it uses. The higher a unit’s SEER rating, the more efficient—and less costly—it is to run. The federal SEER minimum is 13, while 16 to 23 SEER is considered high efficiency.

Central Air Average Costs

The actual cost of central air installation depends on a number of factors, including the size of the home as well as the unit’s tonnage and SEER rating.

  • In a 2,000 square foot home with existing ductwork, central air conditioning costs $3,000 to $5,000 installed. If ductwork is additionally required, costs could reach $6,000 to $10,000 or more.
  • Mini-split central air conditioner prices average $1,500 to $3,000 installed.
  • Note that while a high efficiency unit could cost up to 30 to 40 percent more than one with the minimum 13 SEER rating, the extra costs should be recouped in energy savings over the lifetime of the system.

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