How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air?

Central Air Conditioner (AC)

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Central air conditioning is a valuable addition to a home, especially in hot or humid climates. Central air provides comfortable and consistent temperatures throughout your entire home. The cost to install central air ranges from $4,260 to $9,220. On average, central air costs about $6,740 to install.

Cost to Install Central Air Per Square Foot

The cost to install central air can be priced by the area of the home in square feet. Expect to pay between $3.00 and $7.50 per square foot to install central air. The average cost to install central air is $5.25 per square foot.

Size of Home Cost of Central Air
500 square feet $2,625
750 square feet $3,950
1,000 square feet $5,250 
1,250 square feet $6,570 
1,500 square feet $7,880
1,750 square feet $9,188 
2,000 square feet $10,500
2,250 square feet $11,820
2,500 square feet $13,130

Types of AC Units

Central air offers effective cooling throughout a home, but it's worth considering mini-split, window-unit, and portable ACs as well.

Central Air Conditioners

Central air centralizes all mechanical air conditioning operations in two areas: the cooling compressor (outside) and the fan unit (inside.) Ductwork running through the house's ceiling or floor delivers cool air to each room through registers or vents.

Central air is the quietest type of air conditioning because the mechanical operations are removed from the living areas. A permanent addition to the home, central air can add to the value of the home.

Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Ductless mini-split AC systems have a wall-mounted unit in each room, with a compressor and condenser outside. 

Mini-split ACs work well for homes that have no ducts or where ductwork would be impractical or too expensive to install. Most of the noisy mechanics are on the exterior, so the only sound in the interior is that of the quiet fan. The drain, refrigerant, and electrical lines lead from the indoor evaporator units to the outside.

One downside of mini-splits is the indoor evaporator unit that must be mounted on the wall. Also, each room to be cooled would need to have its own unit.

Window Unit Air Conditioners

Window unit air conditioners fit in an open window to cool an individual room. So, to cool an entire house, each room must have a window unit AC. 

Window unit air conditioners are flexible and can quickly provide cool air without the need for complicated installation. But window unit air conditioners block light and prevent the window from being opened to fresh air. With an estimated five- to seven-year lifespan, window unit air conditioners frequently need replacement.


Window unit air conditioners start at $160 to $200 for 5,000 BTU units capable of cooling 150 square feet and range up to $800 to $900 for 25,000 BTU units that can cool around 1,500 square feet.

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable air conditioners are self-contained cooling devices that have wheels on the bottom to make them easier to move around. Portable ACs can be set up anywhere there is an operable window and a 120V outlet.

Portable air conditioners must be vented to the outside through a window. Portable ACs are easier to move around than window-unit ACs.

Cost of Central Air by Brand

Central air unit brands and units are worth discussing with the HVAC contractor, as some will cost more or less than others.

Brand Average Cost
Aire-Flo $1,700
Amana $5,000
American Standard $4,870
Bryant $5,350
Carrier  $4,850
Frigidaire  $2,900 
Goodman $4,075
Lennox $4,960
Rheem $5,475
Trane $4,910
York $4,650

Cost of Central Air by Unit Size

Central air conditioning units for residences have cooling capacities ranging from 18,000 to 60,000 British thermal units (BTU). It's important to buy an AC unit that fits the size of your home.

Size of Unit Average Cost
1.5 Tons (18,000 BTUs) $5,000
2 Tons (24,000 BTUs) $5,600
2.5 Tons (30,000 BTUs) $5,830
3 Tons (36,000 BTUs) $6,300
3.5 Tons (42,000 BTUs) $6,800
4 Tons (48,000 BTUs) $7,500
5 Tons (60,000 BTUs) $8,100

Purchase the central air unit size according to the size of the house.

  • 800 sq ft: 18,000 BTU, 1.5 Ton
  • 1,000 sq ft: 24,000 BTU, 2 Ton
  • 1,200 sq ft: 24,000 BTU, 2.5 Ton
  • 1,600 sq ft: 30,000 BTU, 3 Ton
  • 1,700 sq ft: 33,000 BTU, 3.5 Ton
  • 1,800 sq ft: 36,000 BTU, 3.5 Ton
  • 1,900 sq ft: 39,000 BTU, 4 Ton
  • 2,000 sq ft: 42,000 BTU, 4 Ton
  • 2,100 sq ft: 44,000 BTU, 4.5 Ton
  • 2,200 sq ft: 46,000 BTU, 4.5 Ton
  • 2,300 sq ft: 47,000 BTU, 4.5 Ton
  • 2,400 sq ft: 48,000 BTU, 4.5 Ton
  • 2,500 sq ft: 50,000 BTU, 5 Ton
  • 2,600 sq ft: 52,000 BTU, 5 Ton
  • 3,000 sq ft: 60,000 BTU, 5 Ton

How to Decide If You Need Central Air

With expensive projects like central air installation, it can be difficult to decide whether it's time to go ahead with the project or to continue using your current cooling methods. Consider these factors when deciding if you need central air.

  • Comfort: Central air is ultimately about comfort, providing quiet distributed cooling to every room of the house. Registers can be opened or closed to serve individual rooms as needed.
  • Humidity: Uncontrolled moisture invites mold, mildew, and deterioration into a home. It also leads to pest and vermin infestation. Air conditioning's most important job is to remove moisture from the air and it does so very well, pulling from five to 20 gallons of water per day from the air.
  • Home value: A new central air conditioning system can add up to 10 percent to the value of a home. The older the system, the less value it passes onto the home's total value, due to replacement costs.
  • Energy costs: Changing from passive or inexpensive cooling methods like open windows, fans, or small window-unit ACs to central air conditioning will significantly raise your energy bill.

Fun Fact

Across the U.S., air conditioning represents 17 percent of all electricity costs. In hot-humid areas, that share jumps to 27-percent. In other words, in hot and humid areas like the U.S. Southwest, over one-quarter of a home's electricity bill goes to air conditioning.

DIY vs. Professional Cost

Central air generally cannot be installed by a do-it-yourselfer. A few peripheral projects such as pouring a concrete pad for the AC compressor or clearing up the electric service panel for the new circuit can be done by experienced DIYers. Otherwise, it's best to leave central air installation to qualified HVAC professionals.

How to Save on AC Installation

It's possible to pare down the relatively steep cost of central air with a few methods:

  • Take advantage of rebates: Public utilities or state and federal agencies might offer rebates or tax breaks for upgrading from an older system to a newer, more efficient system.
  • Install in the off-season: Some HVAC professionals may be willing to offer discounts if you install central air during the cold season when work is slower for them.
  • Keep your unit well-serviced: As long as your existing AC unit has a few years left on it and is energy efficient, it's usually less expensive to keep it running than to install a new AC unit.
  • Consider a mini-split: For homes that have no ductwork, mini-splits can offer the perfect compromise between window or portable units and central air.


Air conditioner repairs range from $125 for electrical circuit and drainage problems to $900 for a compressor replacement. The average cost of AC repairs is about $600.

Questions to Ask an HVAC Contractor

When speaking to an HVAC contractor about central air installation, be sure to ask these questions:

  • Which type of system is best for my home?
  • What size and capacity do you recommend?
  • Is my ductwork sized right for the recommended AC unit?
  • Is there a cost to remove and dispose of my existing AC unit?
  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • How long have you been doing business?
  • Are there any federal or local public rebates available?
  • What is your labor and service warranty?
  • What warranties do the materials have?
  • What is your realistic timeframe for starting the job?
  • How long do you estimate the job will take?
  • What maintenance tasks should I do myself?
  • Can I install my own central air unit to save on costs?

    While it is technically possible for a highly experienced do-it-yourselfer to install their own central air unit, this is not recommended. Central air installation is a complex, multi-trade project that involves electrical work, ductwork, and HVAC unit installation. It is best to hire a licensed and experienced HVAC contractor to install your central air unit. 

  • Is it worth it to install central air?

    It can be worth it to install central air if you live in a hot, humid climate and your home is large enough. Homes in mild areas can be cooled with fans or window-unit ACs during heat spells. Smaller homes, too, can be effectively cooled with window-unit or portable air conditioners.

Article Sources
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