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How Much Does Central Air Cost?

Central Air Prices

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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 isnít required. In this buying guide youíll 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.

Be sure to get multiple estimates, as there are so many factors that will determine the cost of installing central air conditioning. Not the least of these is the quality of a prospective contractor. Donít try to skimp on price only to receive a flawed system or one installed by an un-licensed service provider. Do your homework.

System Size
Once youíve decided on the type of central air conditioning system, itís crucial to select a setup that is powerful enough to cool your entire home on hot days, but not so powerful that it doesnít 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 whatís 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 unitís SEER rating, the more efficientóand less costlyóit 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 unitís 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.

Author: Brian Eckert

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