How Much Does a Central AC Unit Cost?
$2,400 – $3,875, Installed
Average Cost to Replace a Central AC Unit
The average cost to replace your central air conditioner condensing unit is $3,240, installed by a local HVAC company. While we do not recommend it, homeowners can buy a condensing unit and coil online which cost around $1,400 – $2,750. Finding a company to install it will be a challenge and unless you are experienced with HVAC replacement, it’s not an easy DIY project.
Professional AC unit installation costs between $2,400 – $3,875, which usually includes the AC unit condensing unit (outside unit), a matching evaporator coil (inside of air handler or furnace), recharging the refrigerant as needed, cleaning the drain line, inspections as needed, all labor and warranty of workmanship, removal and disposal of all old equipment.
If other equipment is needed, like a furnace or air handler, expect the cost to rise accordingly.
Note: This page represents the estimated replacement cost of the outdoor AC condenser unit and evaporator coil only. Not a complete HVAC system. If you don’t need a complete unit, you can view the individual component costs like your evaporator coil or compressor on the linked pages.
Overview of Central AC Units
If you live in an area with a long cooling season, having a central air installed at your home is very common. In fact, central AC systems have quickly become standard equipment on most newly built homes in all of the US, where smaller window units used to be the rule. The AC unit itself, is just one piece of a complete HVAC system, including the AC condensing unit, evaporator coil, forced air furnace or air handler, air ducts, thermostat, and more.
For this Costimate, we’re going to help you understand more about your central air conditioner replacement cost, as it relates to replacing the outdoor ac unit and evaporator coil only. Since your HVAC system is an expensive home repair, we’ll also explain some of the other components that may need to be changed out at the same time, as well as how you can save money by replacing the entire hvac system at the same time. Throughout this page you’ll learn about factors that affect unit cost for central air, installation cost, and what others who have replaced their own central air conditioners have paid.
AC Unit Cost and Installation Supplies
Condenser Unit and Coil Cost Factors
The most costly component of a central air conditioner, is the outdoor ac unit itself. In order to do it right, at minimum you’re going to have to replace the outdoor condenser unit and a matched evaporator coil. Assuming nothing else is wrong with the air handler or furnace, these two components will restore central air conditioning to your home. Since this is going to be one of the higher cost home improvements you’ll make, it’s important to understand the options and how they affect the replacement ac unit price as well as the impact on efficiency, longevity and most important your comfort for the next 12-15 years.
- Size of AC Unit (Cooling BTU / Tons)
Central AC units range from 1.5 tons (18,000 btu) to 5 tons (60,000 btu) in most residential systems. You don’t get to choose a size when replacing an existing unit, the size is determined by the other components already installed, that your new ac unit needs to work with. There may be some leeway, but most often there’s not.
- SEER Rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio)
Ranging from 13-21 SEER, higher values are more efficient to operate and cost more at the time of purchase.
- Type of Compressor
AC Compressors are either single or two-stage. Single stage is cheaper and two-stage are generally found on very high efficiency systems.
- Sound or Noise Level (db)
Noise from the outside condensing unit can range from 50 – 100 or more decibels. The quieter the unit is, the more its going to cost you.
- Length and Type of Warranty
All central air conditioner units come with a standard parts replacement warranty that will range from 5 years on lower priced models, to 10 years and beyond on the compressor and other parts. Extended part warranties are available, as well as service and installation cost warranties directly from your contractor.
- Consumer Brand Ratings
Consumer ratings of the brand you purchase will have an effect on price as well. On the lower end you’ll find brands like Goodman, York, Amana and others. On the high end of HVAC brand rand ratings for central air conditioners, you’ll find American Standard, Trane, Carrier, Bryant and others. You can expect to pay a slightly higher cost for higher rated brands.
Note: Since you’re replacing just the central air unit and inside coil, there are going to be limits on what you can install. The outdoor unit and evaporator coil must be compatible with the rest of the hvac system it will be matched to. If you need a larger unit to better cool your home, you’ll probably need to replace the entire system.
Cost of Installation Supplies
We include this cost of supplies section in the installation cost area, since most homeowners don’t clearly understand other expenses that are included when they see a contractor price quote. Your installation may or may not require all of these items, but most do.
- $35 – $100 | Miscellaneous copper tubing and fittings.
- $150 – $300 | Copper line-set tubing to connect indoor and outdoor unit. (Not always needed, most common when changing refrigerant or sizing)
- $40 – $760 | New thermostat if needed.
- $15 – $50 | Condensate drain line pipe and fittings.
- $50 – $150 | Sheet metal transition or plenum supplies.
- $10 – $50 | Misc fasteners and screws, metal seam tape, etc.
- $25 – $75 | Outdoor condensing unit pad.
- $40 – $250 | Electrical wire, disconnect, supplies and/or circuit breaker.
Permits, Inspection, and Installation Costs
Since you will be connecting to the electrical and mechanical systems (power disconnect, duct, drain line) on your home, chances are very good that you’ll need a permit and inspection to finalize your central air installation. Check with your local code enforcement office, or ask your contractor.
Permits and Inspection
- $50 – $200 ea. | Mechanical and Other Inspections
Your contractor is usually required to be present during all HVAC mechanical inspections.
AC Installation Cost and Time
There is no general rule-of-thumb pricing system in place with HVAC contractors. Some will use a flat-rate pricing system and others will charge you by the hour. Flat rate installation costs are typically determined with a set of variables, that multiply the wholesale cost of ac equipment and supplies, with additional factors for overhead and profit, and a final calculation based on the difficulty of installation. Hourly rates are determined by how much money the company needs to earn per hour, per person, plus overhead and profit.
- $60 – $90 per-hour | Lead Mechanical Installer
- $60 – $75 per-hour | Apprentice and Helpers
Completed Installation Time
You can expect at least 2, and possibly 3 installers to replace your central ac unit. On average, it will take 4-6 hours for simple projects, and 5-8 for the most common installations, and 8 hours or more for more difficult installations involving duct modifications, crawl spaces, 3rd floor attics, etc. That does not include travel time to/from your home, time to pickup new equipment, etc.
- 4-6 hours | Simple Installation
Easy outdoor, utility room or garage access to all central ac unit components, replacing with a matching unit and coil, connect to existing thermostat through your existing refrigerant lineset.
- 5-8 hours | Most Common Installation
Indoor closets, or basement location, with sheet metal transition work, connect to existing drain and lineset, install new thermostat, etc.
- 8 hours or more | Difficult Installations
Attic and crawl space installations that are hard to reach. Considerable duct work, replacement copper linesets, new electrical service, programmable thermostat, etc.
DIY or Hire a Pro
Without a doubt, installing a central air conditioner is a job best left to a pro. While many DIY’ers could probably handle the mechanical portion of the installation, its very uncommon that you would have the specialty tools and certifications to handle refrigerants, braze copper tubing, etc.
- Requires refrigerant handling certification.
- Requires many specialty tools and skills. (vacuum pump, high temp torch, brazing, etc)
- You need to be fairly knowledgeable in mechanical, ducting, sheet metal, plumbing, electric, etc.
- You need to get mechanical inspection by local code officials.
Trying to install your own system to save on the cost to install central air can go wrong and cost you much more very quickly. I consider myself an 8/10 on the handyman scale, and I would hire a pro to do this job every time.