How Much Does A Central AC Cost In 2024?

The average central AC unit cost is $5,900, with most homeowners spending somewhere between $3,600 and $8,200 to have an HVAC professional install a central AC unit. Central AC installation costs will be higher if your home does not have pre-existing ductwork. Central air conditioner prices also vary by unit size, efficiency and other factors.

Central AC Cost Breakdown

How much does it cost to install central air? Let’s examine how factors like unit size, compressor type and home size can impact the final price.

Note: You have other options beyond central AC, including ductless mini-splits, window units and even swamp coolers. The type of unit you select will impact your overall AC installation cost. This guide focuses on central air only.

By Unit Size

You’ll need to familiarize yourself with two measurements when it comes to the size of your AC. British thermal units (BTUs) are the unit of measurement for an AC’s output; tonnage refers to capacity. A 1-ton AC has an output of roughly 12,000 BTUs.

You’ll also need to know your home’s square footage. In general, a 1-ton AC unit can cool 500 to 600 square feet of space. That means you’ll need 12,000 BTUs for every 500 to 600 square feet of living space. If your home has high ceilings, multiply the tonnage you need by 1.25.

A 1.5-ton unit generally costs between $2,500 and $4,500 and could adequately cool 750 to 900 square feet of space.

The table below shows the typical price for various unit sizes.

Unit Size (Tons)BTUsCentral AC Unit Cost Range
1.518,000$2,500 – $4,500
224,000$3,100 – $5,100
336,000$3,400 – $5,400
448,000$4,200 – $6,200
560,000$4,300 – $6,800

By Compressor Type

The type of compressor in your central AC unit can also impact the total cost:

Single-Stage Compressor

An AC unit with a single-stage compressor is the most affordable, but you’re trading efficiency for the low upfront cost. In the long run, it’s less valuable to go this route.

Two-Stage Compressor

Think of ACs with a two-stage compressor as the middle-of-the-road option—that happy medium between price and efficiency. AC units with a two-stage compressor can run at full capacity, but they can also reduce capacity to 60% to 70% to save money.

Variable-Speed Compressor

Variable-speed compressors offer homeowners multiple capacities, maximizing cool temps while minimizing output. This is the most efficient but also the most expensive option, but it could be well worth the investment: An efficient AC means a lower cost to run the air conditioner.

By Home Size

The size of your home also impacts your overall central air cost. Naturally, larger homes need an AC unit with a higher capacity, and you’ll spend more money upfront (and likely per month) on those larger units.

The table below shows common home sizes and the typical central AC unit cost. Remember, homes with vaulted ceilings may need a unit with more output, which could increase costs.

Home Size (in Square Feet)Central AC Unit Cost Range
750 – 900$2,500 – $4,500
1,000 – 1,200$3,100 – $5,100
1,500 – 1,800$3,400 – $5,400
2,000 – 2,400$4,200 – $6,200
2,500 – 3,000$4,300 – $6,800

By Home Type

The type of home you live in will also dictate your central AC installation costs. For instance, a newer single-family home averages $5,850, but if you live in an old home without ductwork, you’ll spend closer to $7,850 to install the unit and the ducts, depending on the size of the house.

If you rent an apartment, you won’t be in charge of installing and paying for the AC unit—but you may need to budget for a window AC unit or portable AC if the apartment’s AC system isn’t great.

And if you own an apartment building or condos, the cost to install central AC for each set of units in one central building could exceed $100,000.

By Unit Efficiency

We measure the efficiency of an HVAC system using the SEER rating. At minimum, the United States Energy Information Administration requires that air conditioners in the northern half of the country have a SEER rating of at least 14. In the south, the requirement jumps to 15. High-efficiency units can go as high as 28.

As you’d expect, the cost to install a central AC unit increases in tandem with the efficiency rating. A 14-SEER unit costs on average around $2,700 while a 16-SEER unit could go for closer to $4,100.

SEER RatingAverage Cost Per Unit

By Brand

The brand can also impact your total AC replacement cost. The table below shows the AC unit costs from some of the best air conditioning brands on the market. Expect your costs to be higher if you choose a higher-efficiency model or need to install ductwork. Labor will also drive up overall costs.

AC BrandAC Price*
American Standard$2,300
*Pricing is based on a standard efficiency 2.5-ton central AC unit and matching evaporator coil. A 2.5-ton unit is the approximate size installed in most 1,400 to 1,800-square-foot homes.

Labor Cost to Install a Central AC Unit

You should always hire an HVAC contractor to install, repair and maintain your central AC unit. Most warranties require that a licensed professional handle the installation.

On average, HVAC contractors charge between $80 and $150 per hour, though you can pay even more for emergency services, especially during peak season. You can expect a contractor to need roughly eight hours for the installation, assuming the ductwork is already in place. That comes out to $640 to $1,200 in typical labor costs.

Additional Costs and Considerations Associated With Central AC Installation

You may encounter additional costs when installing a central air conditioning system, including:

Pre-Installation Evaluation

In some cases, you may need a qualified HVAC tech to come out for a pre-installation evaluation. During this evaluation, they’ll determine the right size of AC unit you need from your home, but they can also advise on the status of your ducts and vents, whether your home is well insulated enough and if there is a better type of AC to consider.

These costs will vary depending on the size of your home and local labor rates in your town. However, service fees for this type of evaluation typically surpass $200.


The average cost to replace a central AC unit is less than the cost to install central air in a home that did not have it previously. Why? Because if your home never had central AC before, you’ll have to have extensive ductwork installed throughout your home.

This cost depends on how much ductwork needs to be installed. As you can expect, larger homes with more rooms to cool will require more ductwork.

On average, HVAC duct installation costs $2,000, but you could spend anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to have ducts installed.

Removal of Old System

On the flip side, if you’re replacing an old system, you likely won’t need to budget for new ducts, but you will need to budget for the removal of the old system. Junk removal costs for an AC unit should average around $225.


Depending on where you live and whether your home will need new ductwork installed, you may also need to get a building permit. Ask your HVAC contractor about this; they’ll know your city’s codes and can advise on what steps to take.

Asbestos and Lead Paint Removal

While installing ductwork in an older home, an HVAC contractor could spot asbestos or lead paint. In that case, you’ll need to budget for their removal.

Plumbing and Electrical

If you’re installing a central air conditioning unit for the first time, you may also need to find a local plumber and a local electrician to install the proper drain lines and upgrade the electrical panel, respectively.

Zones and Controls

Depending on the size of your home, you may need to install more than one AC unit. That’s because a single AC unit may only be able to cool a portion of your home, called a zone. The number of zones can quickly drive up your new AC unit cost, as you’ll have to budget for multiple models.

Some systems also allow you to control which rooms or zones get more cool air throughout the day. Investing in a more complex system with zones and controls will drive up project costs.


A good AC brand should offer a manufacturer’s warranty standard with the purchase of a central air conditioning unit. However, you may be able to expand on that warranty by purchasing an extended warranty through the manufacturer.

Alternatively, you can purchase a home warranty that covers a central AC unit. On average, a home warranty costs $600 per year.

Not every home warranty covers HVAC systems. Review our roundup of the best HVAC home warranty companies to start your search.

Do I Need to Add or Replace a Central AC Unit?

If you notice your AC unit isn’t regulating your home’s interior temps as well as it used to, you may be tempted to simply repair your AC—and in many cases, that’s the right call. However, sometimes an AC repair costs as much as it does to replace it; in that case, consider purchasing a new unit.

Here are a few signs it’s time to replace your central air conditioning system:

  • The unit is nearing 15 years old. A good central AC unit lasts between 15 and 20 years. If yours is closing in on 15, it likely makes sense to replace it rather than try to fix it.
  • There’s a problem with the compressor or condenser coil. These parts can be very expensive to replace. Depending on the cost of an AC compressor repair or the quoted price for a condenser coil repair, you may want to consider replacement, rather than fixing it.
  • The AC is encountering a number of problems. Strange noises, constant running and lack of cool air are all signs of a malfunctioning AC. Repairing the AC might fix the problem, but in some cases, replacement is the right call.

4 Ways to Save Money on Central AC Installation

Looking to save money on the cost of central AC? We’ve got a few tips:

Choose the Right Brand

We advise sticking with our selections of the best air conditioning brands because these will pay off in the long run since they’re more efficient (and keep your electric bills lower). That said, you can still prioritize some of the more affordable brands on our list, like York and American Standard.

Install in the Off-season

HVAC contractors will be busiest in the winter and summer when people are rushing to replace their furnaces and ACs, respectively. If you can wait, get your AC replaced in the fall, when you might be able to find better deals on units and lower rates from contractors.

Check Your Warranty

If your AC needs to be replaced early in its lifespan, it might be covered by your warranty. Check your coverage before footing the bill yourself. If you have a top home warranty, you may also be covered.

Consider High-Efficiency Systems

You may pay more upfront for a high-efficiency unit, but it’ll pay for itself in the long run. Plus, some systems may be eligible for special rebates or tax credits.

5 Ways to Save Money on AC Bills

Using the air conditioner can cause humongous spikes in your energy bills every summer. Short of turning off the AC, popping a box fan in the window and suffering through the sweat, how can you save money on AC bills? Here are a few tips:

Install a Smart Thermostat

Get a thermostat that learns your behaviors, turning up temperatures when you’re away from home and at night. You can also access the smart device with your smartphone to crank the AC shortly before arriving home so it’s nice and cool. Just remember that if you have pets at home, you’ll want the temperature to remain comfortable when you’re gone.

Cover Your Windows

Don’t make your AC work so hard. Close your blinds and curtains during the day to keep the sun out and cool air in.

Utilize Fans

Install ceiling fans and place pedestal fans throughout your house to create airflow. This will allow you to turn the thermostat up by a few degrees but still feel comfortable.

Keep up With Maintenance

Remember to change the unit’s air filter per the manufacturer’s recommendations, and consider getting an AC tune-up by a local HVAC company every year. They’ll clean the inner workings of the unit, like the coils, for more efficient operation.

Take Care of Drafts

Caulk and seal around doors and windows to better maintain the cool temperature of your home in the summer. This will also help retain heat in the winter. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this is an easy DIY task that costs less than $30, takes two hours tops and could improve your energy savings by up to 20%. Review our window caulking dos and don’ts before tackling this project.

How to Keep Central AC Unit Maintenance Costs Down

Looking for ways to cut the cost of central AC maintenance? Here are a few tips for reducing expenses:

  • Replace your air filter. This is the easiest thing you can do to ensure efficient operation of your central AC unit. Refer to the owner’s manual for notes on frequency, and change the filter more often during times of high pollen and if you have dogs or cats in your home.
  • Make your AC work less hard. Keep your home cooler by closing curtains and blinds and investing in quality insulation. You can also plant trees around your home to keep it shaded and open windows and use fans when exterior temps aren’t outrageous.
  • Keep up with maintenance. Hire an HVAC tech to do an inspection every year. Yes, this will cost you (usually around $150 to $200), but regular maintenance helps prevent major (and costlier) issues down the road.
  • Keep the outdoor unit clear. Sweep up leaves and other debris that might collect on, in or around the exterior unit.
  • Act fast when you notice issues. Don’t put off AC repairs if you notice something strange, like a spike in your utility bills or a strange noise coming from the unit itself. The longer you put off repairs, the worse that problem can become.

To arrive at the average costs in this article, we surveyed six local and national cost databases and two national retailers. All averaged figures were correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change

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