How much does a new ac unit cost to install?

Updated July 25, 2021

The cost to install or replace an HVAC system in your home will depend on a number of factors. A heating and cooling expert will consider the size of your home, quality of insulation, and desired energy efficiency, among other things, to generate a quote. 

On average, a new ac unit cost will fall between $3,300 and $7,800. Most homeowners pay around $5,500 for a new unit and installation.

Understanding what you should budget for your air conditioning upgrade calls for exploring the best AC brands, comparing units, and getting quotes from at least three HVAC installers. The good news is, homeowners typically only have to purchase a new central air conditioning system once.

HVAC systems are designed to last 15 to 20 years. To ensure you invest in the right system for your home, check out our AC unit cost by size chart below and be sure to look for our three must-have elements on any dealer quote.

Central AC unit cost by size

Size is just one element that helps determine the cost to replace an AC unit, but it’s a good place to start. In the HVAC world, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, installing a unit that is too large for your home could prevent the system from running long enough to properly dehumidify your space. You’ll be left with a sticky, uncomfortable home (not to mention an outrageous monthly energy bill). 

On the other hand, installing a unit that is too small to properly cool your home could prevent the unit from ever taking a break. This situation will also leave you with high energy costs and uneven cooling throughout the home.

How do HVAC experts measure how much space a central air conditioner can cool? Glad you asked.

Simply put, a central AC system removes the hot air from your home, separates the warm energy, and returns the cooled air to maintain a comfortable temperature.

When you see or hear the term “tonnage” or “tons” as it relates to AC, it’s not referring to the weight of the unit. Tonnage refers to the cooling capacity of any given system. 

Tons are measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. Generally, one ton of air conditioning can remove 12,000 BTUs of heat each hour. Use the table below as a reference for the AC size that may be best for your home.

Area To Be Cooled (Square footage) Unit Size Capacity (BTUs Per Hour) AC Unit Cost With Install
600 – 1,0001.5 Tons18,000$2,200 – $3,200
1,001 – 1,3002 Tons24,000$3,300 – $3,600
1,301 – 1,6002.5 Tons30,000$3,600 – $3,800
1,601 – 1,9003 Tons36,000$3,900 – $4,100
1,901 – 2,2003.5 Tons42,000$4,100 – $4,500
2,201 – 2,6004 Tons48,000$4,600 – $5,000
2,601 – 5,0005 Tons60,000$5,100 – $7,000+

AC unit installation cost factors

The average cost of an AC unit will fluctuate depending on variables like labor costs, your home size, SEER rating, and whether the unit is a single-, two-, or variable-stage cooling system. Use our HVAC cost calculator to get an estimated price for your new system and consider each factor below as you set your budget. 

AC installation labor costs

The average labor cost to install a new HVAC system hovers around 40% of your total bill. For a home that has a 3-ton AC unit installed for $4,000, an estimated $1,600 of that investment covers labor.

This fee can vary, of course, depending on the dealer used and complications that arise within the project. Ask for a breakdown of labor costs versus equipment fees in the dealer quote.

Square footage

The size of your home is the one constant, no matter which company you select or brand of unit installed. As you may expect, the larger the space that needs to be cooled, the more powerful (and expensive) the system.

Refer to the chart above to get an estimate of the tonnage you’ll need to cool your home based on square footage. Your home’s layout will also play into the HVAC system choice. For example, if you have a large, multi-level home, your dealer may provide the option of installing two HVAC units. You’ll be able to customize the temperature in different areas of your home while using less energy to keep it cool.

SEER Ratings

A SEER rating, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is the optimal cooling output of an AC unit during the cooling season divided by the energy used to create the cool air. In simpler terms, SEER represents how much energy a unit uses to cool your home at different temperatures during the hottest months.

SEER ratings range from 13 to 25, but many homeowners shop units with a 14 to 17 SEER rating. The higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient the unit.

A unit that’s 10 to 15 years old likely offers no more than 8 or 9 SEER. The initial cost to replace your AC may be a considered purchase, but you should begin seeing monthly savings with a more efficient unit.   

Single-stage vs. two-stage cooling system

Another factor that affects the energy efficiency of the HVAC system you choose is whether it’s a single-stage, two-stage, or variable-stage cooling system. 

A single-stage cooling system has one operative mode: on or off. When your indoor temperature rises above the desired level on the thermostat, the system begins to cool at 100% capacity. Once the temperature is lowered, the system shuts off completely.

A two-stage cooling system functions more efficiently by rarely operating at full capacity. Most units will cool at around 80% capacity and run for longer periods of time. This type of system uses less energy, helping you pay less to stay cool.

A variable-stage cooling system is the most energy efficient, but it also carries the largest initial cost. This type of HVAC has multiple cooling levels and will pull the least amount of energy possible to cool your home. The best part is, no work is required on your end. The unit automatically selects the best cooling variable to keep your space comfortable.

How much does it cost to run an AC?

Trying to determine how much it costs to run an AC will require a few numbers specific to your HVAC system and location. For instance, you need to know how many watts your central air conditioner requires to operate, and you need your area’s average residential electricity cost per kilowatt. 

For now, we’ll rely on national averages to give you an idea of the cost to run an AC. Most central air systems operate on 3,000 to 5,000 watts, or 3 to 5 kilowatts (kW). The average residential electricity customer in the U.S. pays 13.31 cents per kW. That means it will cost between $0.39 and $0.55 per hour to run your unit.

On average, a central AC system runs eight hours a day during the cooling season. Your AC may run more or less depending on your climate. The daily rate to operate your central air system falls between $3.12 and $4.40.

It’s important to recognize that these are average costs. If you install a window AC unit to cool a single room, the operational cost will be much lower. Conversely, if you’re cooling a 10,000 square foot home in Texas, you’ll pay more than our averages to stay cool.

Window AC cost

For a quick fix to a hot room, a window air conditioner may be the most budget-friendly option. These window-mounted units cost between $75 and $1,000 and use less energy than a central air system.  

Window AC units require 500 to 1,500 watts of electricity to run. Using the same formula as with the central AC energy cost, we can calculate that the average window air conditioner will cost between $0.48 and $1.52 daily to run for eight hours a day.

What to look for in an HVAC quote

One of the most important things you can do when determining your cost to replace an AC unit is request multiple quotes from local dealers. We recommend getting at least three quotes to compare the equipment price, labor fees, and recommended system changes.

Each quote should be presented in writing and easy to understand. Review each of your quotes for these three crucial elements.

Equipment model numbers and SEER ratings: Look for specific equipment details so you can research the unit, read reviews, and ensure it meets your energy-efficiency requirements. Quotes with general information like, “3-ton unit with 16 SEER” is not sufficient. Request equipment details.

Warranties on equipment and labor: Ensure that you understand the manufacturer’s warranty for the equipment and what you need to do to register your unit to validate the warranty. Also, request the dealer’s labor warranty in writing. Most companies offer at least a one-year warranty on their craftsmanship, but you shouldn’t assume that’s the case.

Rebates and financing options: Manufacturers may offer special discounts or rebates on particular products (another reason to get the equipment model number). In addition, some dealers provide a deeper discount, especially in the spring and fall seasons. Financing is typically available with brand-certified dealers. If you’re interested in financing your heating and cooling system, ask for information.

As with many of your home’s features, a new HVAC system will run more efficiently and may offer a longer lifespan with proper seasonal maintenance. Don’t assume that because your AC unit is new, it doesn’t need regular upkeep. Schedule a yearly inspection to ensure your AC unit installation cost is a protected investment for years to come.