How much does it cost to install central air conditioning?

Don't suffer through another summer. Learn what to expect for your money.

Types of Air Conditioning Systems

Split System:

The most common type of central air conditioning system is a split system, in which part of the system is located outside the house and part is inside the home. The heaviest, loudest, and heat-generating components are outdoors – the compressor and condenser coil. The evaporator coil is located inside the home. The split system works with a forced air heating system in which ductwork is already in place and utilizes the furnace’s blower system to distribute cool air throughout the house.

Mini split:

Also called a ductless system, this is an alternative for older homes that don’t have existing ductwork. These homes may have radiant heat that disperses heat through radiators located in each room. As with a conventional split system, the compressor and condenser coil are located outside. The difference is that instead of one air handler to cool the entire house, a mini-split system requires an air-handler for each room or zone to be cooled.

Central Air Conditioning Efficiency

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is calculated by dividing the cooling capacity of a continuously operating air conditioner by the electrical input required to run it. Federal Law requires air conditioning systems to have a SEER of 13 or higher to be sold in the U.S. The higher the SEER score the higher the efficiency, and in general, the cost of the system. Learn more about SEER and air conditioner efficiency standards from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Air Conditioning Size

It is important to purchase the correct size air conditioning system for your home. An air conditioner that is too small will not be able to keep up with your cooling requirements and may even freeze over on very hot days. A system that is too large will cycle on and off too often, which reduces its ability to maintain a steady temperature and keep humidity in check and, in turn, lowers efficiency.

An experienced HVAC contractor will perform a cooling load calculation to determine the optimal size system for your home. Some of the things that will factor into the calculation are size of home, one-story versus two-story, ceiling height, number of windows, amount of insulation, and climate. The amount of sun exposure is also a factor – a home with no shade trees will have different requirements than a home that is in the shade most of the day.

Typical Cost to Install Central Air Conditioning

  • Low-End Estimate* (utilizing existing ductwork): $3,500 - $5,500

  • High-End Estimate* (no existing ductwork): $6,500 - $15,000

*Estimates based on installing split-system in 2,000 square foot home.

Since demand will be highest in the spring and early summer when temperatures begin to soar, you may be able to get a better price if you buy your central air conditioning at the end of the summer or during the cooler months.

Tax rebates may be available for installing energy efficient appliances, so make sure to find out if you are eligible. See products eligible for tax credits on

Any Extra Costs Associated With Buying Central Air Conditioning?

  • Proper maintenance is required to keep your system running properly and efficiently. While you can probably take care of routine maintenance yourself, it is a good idea to have an HVAC professional inspection every other year. A one-time inspection can cost $100 - $250, or you can set up a maintenance contract with your installer.

  • Fire inspection and/or local permits will cost from $50 to $100.

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