How Much Does A Central AC Cost In 2023? (2023)

Average Central AC Unit Cost
Average Cost$5,850
Highest Cost$2,900
Lowest Cost$9,000

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 SizeBTUsCentral 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.

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

Pro Tip

Have a multi-story house with a top floor that’s always hot, even when you crank the central AC? You don’t necessarily need to replace your air conditioning system. It may be more cost-effective to keep the central air you have for the rest of the home but install a ductless mini split system in the attic. On average, installing a ductless mini-split AC costs $3,000 per unit. Run the unit when you’re in the attic, and keep it off when you’re not.

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 might cost as little as $3,000 while a 16-SEER unit could go as high as $9,000.

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.

Labor rates may be higher in areas with a high cost of living, including urban and coastal locations.


THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT EDITORIAL CONTENT. Please note that we do receive compensation for any products you buy or sign up to via this advertisement, and that compensation impacts the ranking and placement of any offers listed herein. We do not present information about every offer available. The information and savings numbers depicted above are for demonstration purposes only, and your results may vary.

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Additional Costs and Considerations Associated With Central AC Installation

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


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.


THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT EDITORIAL CONTENT. Please note that we do receive compensation for any products you buy or sign up to via this advertisement, and that compensation impacts the ranking and placement of any offers listed herein. We do not present information about every offer available. The information and savings numbers depicted above are for demonstration purposes only, and your results may vary.

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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 actually 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 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.


THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT AND NOT EDITORIAL CONTENT. Please note that we do receive compensation for any products you buy or sign up to via this advertisement, and that compensation impacts the ranking and placement of any offers listed herein. We do not present information about every offer available. The information and savings numbers depicted above are for demonstration purposes only, and your results may vary.

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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 thermostat 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 so you keep the heat 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%. Get our window caulking dos and don’ts before tackling this project.

DIY Central AC Installation vs. Hiring a Professional

Installing a central AC system is difficult work, especially when you also have to install new ductwork. Unless you have prior HVAC experience, we highly recommend finding a trusted air conditioner installer near you. In fact, the warranty on your unit likely requires professional installation.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long should a central air unit last?

A high-quality central air unit should last 15 to 20 years. To get the most life out of your central AC, keep up with regular air conditioner maintenance, like changing the filter, cleaning around the exterior unit and hiring a pro to handle regular tune-ups and maintenance. Never put off AC repairs; running a broken air conditioner could cause further damage.

Can you replace just the outside AC unit?

It may be possible to replace just the outside AC unit rather than the entire system. In fact, if your AC is still under warranty and the outside unit malfunctions, the manufacturer will usually have you just replace the outside portion of the central air system rather than the entire system.

However, if the outdoor unit is out of warranty, it usually makes sense to replace the entire system, but remember that you can use your existing ductwork to keep costs down.

How many square feet is a 2.5-ton AC unit?

A 2.5-ton AC unit is ideal for about 1,250 to 1,500 square feet of space. On average, every 500 to 600 square feet of space requires 1 ton of cooling power. Various factors, including ceiling height and how well-sealed the home is, can impact this estimate.

Why is replacing HVAC so expensive?

Imagine your home without central air conditioning in the summer or a furnace in the winter — our utter reliance on them inherently makes them more valuable (and expensive). Beyond that, HVAC systems contain a large number of complex, expensive components that work together to keep your home at the right temperature.

The machinery itself isn’t cheap, but the specialized knowledge it requires to install and service HVACs also contributes to the high total cost.

Does replacing HVAC add value to a home?

Replacing an HVAC system can add tremendous value to your home. If your central air is nearing the end of its life, potential home buyers may be less hesitant to make an offer knowing that they’ll soon need to pay to replace the system.

Buying a home with a newly installed HVAC has quite the opposite effect; homeowners will appreciate how new and efficient it is, and the warranty is an added bonus. If your house does not currently have central AC, you might have difficulty selling it at all.

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