How Much Does Replacing an HVAC System Cost?

HVAC System

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When you need a new HVAC system, it is usually a realization that you have arrived at after many uncomfortable experiences. Your current HVAC system may be costing you too much in repairs. Or it might be leaving you stranded all too often on cold nights or hot days. Perhaps your HVAC system does work but it is noisy or inadequate for your home's needs.

Whatever the case, you need a new HVAC system and you want to make sure that it is properly sized for your home and for needs—at a cost that fits your budget.

What Is an HVAC System?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. HVAC is a catch-all term that refers to the overall system composed of any number of units, in any combination, that provides heating and cooling to your house.

With HVAC systems, the common thread is always that the heated or cooled air is delivered to parts of your house through ductwork in a type of loop.

HVAC systems pull air either from the exterior or the interior of the house. Because that air contains dust and allergens, it is then run through a filter. After the filter, the air is heated or cooled according to instructions from a remote thermostat. The HVAC system pushes the air through extensive hidden ductwork located under your floors or over the ceiling. Finally, an air return vent pulls in air from the rooms and sends the air back to the heating or cooling unit through separate ductwork.

Individual standalone units such as humidifiers, dehumidifiers, space heaters, and window unit air conditioners are not considered to be part of HVAC systems.

HVAC System Components

Because HVAC is a broad definition, any of these components are considered to be part of an HVAC system:

Heating and Cooling Units

  • Air conditioner
  • Gas or electric furnace
  • Heat pump

Filtration

Delivery Systems

  • Ductwork
  • Vents

Controls

Peripherals

HVAC System Cost Determiners

Not all new HVAC system costs are the same. Prices are fluid and are based on:

  • Location: HVAC systems with air conditioning will cost more in hotter areas because higher capacity units are required. Likewise with furnaces: These will cost more in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada than in the southern areas.
  • Home: The size and condition of the home partially determine the type and size of the HVAC system needed.
  • Unit: The heating and cooling unit is the heart of the HVAC system and comprises most of the cost. For example, higher efficiency modulating furnaces will cost significantly more than single-stage furnaces. Or a 22 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) air conditioning unit may cost almost twice as much as a less efficient 16 SEER unit.
  • Ductwork: Whether or not your house has ductwork is the second-most important driver of HVAC costs since this is such a labor-intensive project.

Fun Fact

Higher SEER numbers are better than low numbers. All HVAC units must have at least 13 SEER, per the U.S. Department of Energy, though in the U.S. southwest the number is raised to 14 SEER. Some older HVAC systems have SEER ratings as low as 8—an indication that it's time for a new HVAC system.

Cost of a Central Air Conditioner

A central air conditioner is a unit that is located outside but nearby the house, and which helps to pull moisture from the house's interior and cool it.

At a minimum, you can expect to pay between $3,000 and $4,000 for the most basic 3-ton 16 SEER air conditioning unit, including installation.

As efficiency rises, costs rise. Air conditioning units in the 22 SEER range can cost as much as $8,000 to $13,000. For all air conditioning units, the average cost, including installation, is $5,700.

What We Like
  • Air well distributed throughout the home

  • Air filtration

What We Don't Like
  • High energy costs

  • Ductwork maintenance and cleaning

Cost of a Heat Pump

Heat pump is a deceptive name since the unit both heats and cools a home. In warm months, a heat pump moves hot air from inside your house to the outdoors. In cool months, a heat pump is capable of moving available heat from outside to the inside. Essentially, a heat pump moves heat instead of creates it.

Heat pumps cost about $1,000 to $3,000 more than central air conditioning units with the same SEER rating. When comparing, keep in mind that heat pumps are two units in one. For example, a central air conditioning unit rated at 17 SEER and costing between $4,000 and $6,000 may cost between $6,000 and $9,000 as a 17 SEER-rated heat pump.

The average cost of a 3-ton heat pump begins at around $4,000, including installation. Mid-range SEER 16 to 17 units cost between $6,000 to $8,000. Maximum efficiency SEER 20 heat pumps cost upwards of $15,000.

Pros
  • Energy efficient

  • Heating and cooling in one

Cons
  • Lower efficiency in extreme temperatures

  • High maintenance

Cost of HVAC Gas Furnace

A gas furnace is a heating-only system that burns piped municipal natural gas as its fuel.

On average, you will pay between $3,000 and $4,000 for a 3-ton gas furnace. The full range of costs for gas furnaces is from $2,000 to $8,000.

Pros
  • No fuel to replenish

  • Clean burning

Cons
  • Expensive units

  • Loud burners

Cost of HVAC Whole-House Ductwork

If your house currently has no ductwork or if your ductwork needs replacement, then ductwork installation is a required component of installing a whole-house HVAC system.

Expect to pay from $3,000 to $10,000 on the ductwork alone, including materials and labor. Ductwork installation takes about two to three days, depending on the size of the house.