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.
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
- Air filters
- UV lights for killing microbes
- Home zone systems
- Whole-house humidifier
- Whole-house dehumidifier
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.
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 single unit that sends cool air to all parts of the home via hidden ductwork (with especially large houses, there may be more than one unit). This unit, located outside but near the house, draws moisture from the house's interior and sends back drier, cool air.
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.
Air well distributed throughout the home
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.
Heating and cooling in one
Lower efficiency in extreme temperatures
Cost of HVAC Gas Furnace
A gas furnace is a heating-only system that burns piped municipal natural gas as its fuel.
No fuel to replenish
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.