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How much does an air conditioner cost?

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by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team
tech working on air conditioner

Homeowners can plan on spending an average of $5,600 to install a new central air system. It’s a purchasing decision that could save you thousands on repairs and ultimately improve energy efficiency.

Whether your home is outfitted with window units, a ductless air conditioner or central air, AC plays a vital role in keeping residents cool and comfortable.

An air conditioner can last anywhere from 10 to 15 years — there are, of course, many factors that could cause this life span to fluctuate.

How much does a new air conditioner cost?

The national average for a new central air conditioning system is approximately $5,600. Low-end central air systems cost around $3,800, while high-end ones cost $7,500.

When estimating your air conditioner cost, keep in mind that installation can add $500 to $2,500 to the price, depending on local rates.

Installing a new central air system costs, on average, about $5,600.

The cost of a new air conditioner depends on:

  • System type
  • Brand
  • Ductwork
  • AC tonnage
  • Seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating
  • Installation and labor
  • Square footage of the property

Each of these potential cost points provides some flexibility for homeowners looking to make installing a new air conditioner affordable. For example, adjusting the system type could reduce overall cost.

You’ll likely take on a property with some older appliances in place when you purchase a home. Among them might be an air conditioning unit that’s going to need replacing.

When this is the case, investing in a home warranty might be a good idea. A home warranty pays for repairs and replacements of essential household appliances and systems when they break down. With one of these contracts, you only have to pay a service call fee ($60 to $125, depending on your plan), and the home warranty company sends a licensed technician to your home to diagnose the problem and make the repair or replace the unit. A home warranty typically costs $300 to $600 for a year of coverage.

How much does it cost to repair an air conditioner?

In some cases, it may make more financial sense to repair your air conditioner instead of replacing it. For instance, if your air conditioning unit is closer to 5 years old than 10 and the part you need to fix isn’t a major component, like a condenser or evaporator — then you might opt for a repair. Depending on the type of air conditioner, the repair issue and how long it takes to fix the problem, repair costs can be from $160 on the low end to $1,000 on the higher end. The average is about $380. An HVAC technician can help you determine if it’s more cost-effective to choose repair over replacement.

How much does it cost to replace an air conditioner?

Replacing an air conditioner costs, on average, around $5,600. Costs usually fall in a range between $3,800 and $7,500. Different factors might lead you to replacing an air conditioner rather than paying for multiple repairs. These could include:

  • The unit reaching the end of its life span
  • The unit breaking down often
  • Your energy bills increasing significantly
  • Strange sounds coming from the unit
  • Unpleasant odors emanating from the unit
  • Concern about the unit’s use of R-22 refrigerant
  • The unit only blowing warm air through the home
  • Significant moisture buildup around the unit

Either on their own or combined, any of these issues can be reason enough to install a new AC unit for your home. No matter what the core problems might be, the replacement and installation process is fairly similar.

The process begins with a full evaluation of the old system before the air conditioner is removed. During this time, air duct leaks are sought out and handled as needed.

Next, the new air conditioning system is installed. If a technician is replacing similar parts, it can be a quick process. If new ductwork and connections are needed, it could take more time and add to the cost.

Once the thermostat is linked up to the new air conditioner, you’re on your way to a more comfortable living experience. The technician doing the installation should always perform final checks before you sign off on the work.

Factors that affect air conditioner costs

Various factors can influence the final cost of having a new air conditioner installed. Some of these include the brand of the AC unit, its power, its BTU rating, the installation process and tax credits.

  • Brand: The brand of the unit is a big factor in the price of replacement. It’s important to know your options because some brands, like Aire-Flo, have less expensive products, while other brands, such as Lennox and Trane, tend to be more expensive.
  • Unit power/size of your property: The size of the property can also influence price when it’s time to replace an air conditioner. As a general rule, 20 British thermal units per square foot is needed to keep a property sufficiently cooled.
  • Installation: If you’re simply replacing an older unit with an upgraded but similar model, the cost will be lower than if extensive in-home changes are required.
  • Energy efficiency: Energy efficiency is key to the cost of a new air conditioner and lower monthly energy costs. A higher SEER rating on a unit indicates greater efficiency — and a higher cost.
  • Tax credits: As of publishing, some AC units are eligible for a federal tax credit of $300 which expires Dec. 31, 2021.

Types of air conditioners

The type of air conditioner you choose for your home plays a major role in the final cost. There are many different air conditioners on the market to choose from.

A few primary options include window air conditioners, central air systems, ductless systems, geothermal systems and dual-fuel.

  • Window: Window air conditioners are the most cost-effective of the different options. They are mounted through exterior windows and can be self-installed.
  • Central air: Central air functions using a collection of ducts that transport cool air throughout the home.
  • Ductless: Ductless systems rely on multiple indoor units instead of ducts to regulate the temperature across a property.
  • Geothermal: Geothermal cooling systems use heat transfer from the ground to move water and cooling agents through distribution systems in the home. These are often linked to heating systems as well.
  • Dual-fuel: A dual fuel system requires the use of both electricity and propane to function properly.

On average, a central air system will cost anywhere from $3,800 to $7,500, depending on the brand. Alternatively, a ductless split system can cost from $2,000 to $14,000.

Those homeowners utilizing window units and portable units will see a significant drop in average price. Both window units and portable air conditioners cost anywhere from $150 to $500.

Common air conditioner repair costs

If you’re estimating the cost of AC repair versus the cost of replacement, here are some average parts and repair costs to consider:

  • Condensate drain tube: $20
  • Condensate drain pump: $240 to $450
  • Drain pans: $250 to $575
  • Compressor: $1,900
  • Breakers, relays or fuses: $75 to $290
  • Condenser coil: $1,900 to $2,900
  • Thermostat: $150 to $500

To repair:

  • Refrigerant leak: $200 to $1,500
  • Outdoor fan motor: $200 to $650
  • Clogged air filter: $75 to $195
  • Electric circuits: $200 to $250

To flush:

  • Drain line: $75 to $250

To recharge:

  • Refrigerant: $250 to $750

While these estimates are helpful, it’s important to keep in mind that costs will vary depending on the HVAC company you use. It’s a good idea to get multiple estimates from different contractors before making your decision.

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    Bottom line

    In many homes, a well-functioning air conditioner is an important element. This means it’s essential to keep up with maintenance and repairs if you want to make sure the unit lasts a long time.

    That being said, even the most well-maintained system will eventually wear out and need replacing. When it comes to weighing the cost benefits of repair or replacement, using the “$5,000 rule" might be helpful. Multiply the repair costs by the age of the AC unit in years. If the result exceeds $5,000, it’s likely more cost-effective to replace the entire unit. Take time to carefully evaluate your options regarding brand, unit type and efficiency.

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    Profile picture of Danni White
    by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Danni White is committed to providing valuable resources designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. Danni specializes in content strategy and development, with over a decade of professional writing and research experience.