How to Install a Central Air Conditioner | HVAC.com

Central Air Conditioner Installation Guide

Updated on | by: HVAC.com

Looking for central air conditioner installation? With so many resources listing different prices, installation times and recommended units for your home, it can sometimes seem easier to do it yourself. This is not recommended. It can be dangerous to install a new cooling unit without the proper expertise, not to mention that doing so can damage your system and cause reduced efficiency. In the long run, this leads to added costs for you.

 

Instead, a licensed professional HVAC installer should always perform your installation. This doesn’t mean that you should trust just anyone with the process though. Doing a bit of research to better understand how central air units are installed while also compiling a list of provider prices can take the headache out of hiring someone. This guide will walk you through the process as you plan your central air conditioner installation.

Man wearing blue repairs AC unit
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Types of central air conditioners

 

  • Split systems: This is the most popular type of central air conditioning system in the U.S. It’s ‘split’ because it utilizes indoor and outdoor components. Inside is the air handler, which holds the blower and evaporator coil. Outside is what most people think of as the ‘air conditioner:’ a metal cabinet that holds the condenser coil and compressor. Refrigerant lines connect the system. If you use a furnace for central heating, you likely have this sort of cooling system, too.
  • Heat pump: Heat pumps are another type of split system. Instead of a furnace and air conditioner, the heat pump supplies cooling in the summer and heating in the winter. It also has an air handler indoors, and the heat pump cabinet sits outdoors. Heat pumps can be air source or geothermal. Air source heat pumps extract heat from or release heat into the outdoor air, depending on heating or cooling needs. Geothermal, also called ground source, heat pumps pull heat from or deposit heat into the earth to supply heating or cooling.
  • Packaged air conditioners: Packaged air conditioners combine electric air conditioning and a heat pump, or heating plus cooling equipment. These units sit on the rooftop or just outside the home or commercial building. They are often chosen for commercial applications due to their installation flexibility and small footprint.
  • Ductless mini-split: Ductless systems are a great choice for cooling a home or business without ductwork. The other systems require ductwork to distribute cool air – a ductless system does not. Ductless mini-split systems have an outdoor air conditioner or heat pump, connected to air handling units placed in one or more rooms of the home or building. Control cooling delivered to each room or area separate from the other air handlers, offering greater control over energy use and temperature.
 

Other considerations to install central air conditioners

Depending on the type of central air conditioner considered, other factors may come into play.

  • New duct systems: If your home or business does not have existing ductwork, you can choose a ductless air conditioner. If you want to go with another type of central air conditioner, you’ll have to have a duct system installed to work with it – this comes with extra cost and space considerations.
  • Duct system repairs: If your home or business does have a duct system and you want to install a ducted central air conditioner, the existing ducts may require repairs or alterations to support the new system. Air leaks can reduce air conditioner efficiency up to 30 percent, leading to energy loss and poor temperature control. Your duct system may require duct sealing to support the new air conditioner. Additional duct runs may need to be tied into your existing system to facilitate your new central air conditioner installation.
  • Indoor air quality: Central air conditioners provide a certain level of dehumidification, but it may not be enough for your climate or indoor environment. Installing a whole-home dehumidifier to work with your air conditioner may be the best option for indoor air quality treatment in your home or business. If indoor contamination is an issue you face, a whole-home air purifier may be an add-on you want when installing a cooling system.
 
man checks hvac unit for repair
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 Working with AC contractors

Meeting with air conditioning contractors

Once you’ve selected a few companies, contact them to arrange an estimate to install a central air conditioner. A trustworthy HVAC pro will guide you through the installation process. They’ll answer questions you have about system types, helping you choose the right option for your comfort and financial needs. They’ll perform cooling load calculations to determine the size of central air conditioner needed. Your HVAC pro will advise you as to other considerations needed for your new air conditioner to work optimally.

 

Choosing a central air conditioner installer

Once you have your quotes in hand, compare them for price and what they offer. Ask for itemized quotes that list the equipment included, so you know you’re comparing apples to apples. Check into warranty terms, for both equipment and labor.

After choosing the HVAC contractor you’d like to work with, contact them. They may want to meet with you again or schedule a time for a sales representative to come pick up your contract. The contractor will inform you of the project’s timeline and schedule your installation. Your contractor may order the central air conditioner from a supplier first before scheduling specific installation dates.

 

Process to install a central air conditioner

On the day of your central air conditioner installation, expect a process similar to what’s listed below. Of course, the actual steps may vary among contractors.

  1. If your local government requires permitting for the HVAC work, your contractor will either obtain the permit or inform you that you need to take care of it. In most cases, your contractor will do this for you.
  2. The contractor will take apart and remove the existing air conditioner.
  3. The contractor will install new duct systems or perform duct repairs.
  4. Preparing the installation site. This may involve setting a concrete pad outside to support the air conditioner or installing rooftop supports for a packaged system installation.
  5. Your new outdoor unit will be positioned correctly. The contractor will install it and secure it to the site.
  6. If you are also replacing your air handler, install the indoor unit. While it’s a smart idea to replace both indoor and outdoor units at the same time, in some cases you may elect not to replace the air handler when you have a new outdoor unit installed.
  7. Connecting the indoor and outdoor units. The contractor will determine the appropriate size for refrigerant lines, drain piping, and electrical lines. Some of these components link the parts of the split system.
  8. Connecting the thermostat to the central air conditioner. You may have a new thermostat installed or continue to use your existing unit.
  9. The vacuum will be pulled to remove contaminants from the refrigerant lines and charge the new central air conditioner with refrigerant.
  10. The new cooling system will start and run.
  11. The contractor will perform an installation inspection to ensure the installation was done correctly and the system functions properly.
 

Start your search for an air conditioning contractor

Buying a new central air conditioner is a major investment. Working with a skilled HVAC contractor, you’ll receive valuable guidance regarding system types, options, and efficiency levels available. The professional guidance you gain will allow you to select the right central air conditioner for your home or business. As you move through the installation process, feel free to ask your contractor for information or clarification along the way.

HVAC.com can help you jump-start the installation of your next central air conditioning system. Find an HVAC pro in your area by accessing our Contractor Directory, or let us recommend a licensed contractor who knows how to install central air conditioning systems. All you have to do is fill out the HVAC.com contact form, and you’ll be connected with a top-rated HVAC professional.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is it to install a central air conditioner?

The price to install a central air unit starts at just under $3,000 and can go as high as $15,000. The exact figures vary quite a bit based on the unit you are having installed and where you live, among other factors.

How do I install a central air conditioner thermostat?

Installing a new central air conditioner thermostat involves disconnecting the old unit, turning off the power to your heating and cooling system, mounting the wall plate for the new system, and making sure that all wires are connected correctly. In some cases, you’ll also need to install batteries. Because manufacturer directions are often unclear, it is recommended that buyers contact a licensed HVAC professional to ensure proper installation.

How do you install a central air conditioner in a home with central heat?

While it is possible to add a central air conditioner to your home with an existing central heat system, the price and the time required may make it more than a DIY task. Instead, it’s recommended that you reach out to a certified HVAC professional who will be able to properly assess your system and install your central air unit correctly.

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