Air Conditioning Replacement Options & Recommendations

An overview of air conditioning replacement options and how to pick the right one at the right price

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Air conditioning replacement marks a substantial investment that savvy homeowners consider beyond initial cost and instead look at the many factors that lead to long-term savings.

In other words, the question you should consider is: Swap out an old unit for a similar model, or upgrade to a more efficient system?

Unfortunately, arriving at the best answer is challenging because of the numerous aspects of air conditioning replacement that determine cost, and the many other factors that improve quality of life, such as a system that runs quieter. For example, it could cost ten times as much to upgrade to a central air conditioner rather than replace old window units. But you’d have a quieter air conditioner that more evenly distributes cool air and could save you money in the long run.

The best method to determine whether you should consider an upgrade for your air conditioning replacement is to calculate your expected costs over the long-haul. It takes a few minutes and the results may surprise you, but you’ll need some information: your area’s electricity cost, air conditioners’ initial cost, the systems’ efficiency ratings, and the estimated annual use in hours. These details are easy to gather but you’ll need to know the specs for specific air conditioning units. Then go to Alliant Energy and plug the information in.

If you’re considering upgrading to a new style for your air conditioning replacement, the following is a rundown of the pros and cons of the most popular systems.


Window Units

Window units are the most popular cooling system, heard buzzing in any given neighborhood and seen hanging out windows of apartments, homes, businesses, and even, in rare occurrences, cars.

Window air conditioning units are cheap to buy, easy to install, and usually work with existing electrical wiring. One window unit is usually good for cooling a single room, but not much more. Prices range from about $100, for a 100-square-foot room, to $800, for an 800-square-foot room.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to remove these units from windows during winter months in cold climates and, generally, window units are less efficient than other styles, meaning they cost more to operate in the long run.


Wall-mounted units are similar in cooling capacity to window units, but mount into a wall via a metal sleeve. These systems fit more snug and securely than window units, meaning you won’t need to remove them during winter months, are usually slightly more efficient, less of an eyesore, and leave your windows free to do what they’re meant to do: give a clear view of the outside world.

However, wall-mounted units are costly to install because a section of the wall must be removed to exact specifications and a metal sleeve must be mounted. Often, you’ll also need a 220-volt line--the same electrical wiring used by most clothes dryers.

Wall-mounted units range from about $400 to cool a 400-square-foot room to $700 for a 1,000-square-foot room. But install prices can run a few hundred dollars: the metal sleeve alone costs about $50 to $100, plus added cost to remove a section of the wall and install a 220-volt line, if necessary.

Ductless Split Air Conditioner

Like the name suggests, split air conditioners are separated into two units: an outdoor condenser and an indoor unit that regulates air flow. Connecting these split units is a conduit that requires no ductwork in the home.

Split air conditioners have a number of advantages over other systems. They can have up to four different indoor units connected to the outdoor condenser that cool different zones with individual thermostats for each one, so you can avoid cooling empty rooms. These units are cheap to install because the conduit only requires a three-inch hole in the wall, rather than major ductwork for central air conditioning units that can cost thousands. They can be installed up to 50 feet from your home. These systems are usually more efficient than central air conditioning because cool air stays in your home that would otherwise be lost in the ducts. And the air handlers are barely noticeable when set flush with walls, ceilings, and floors.

However, these benefits come at a high price. Split air conditioners are one of the most expensive cooling systems available, with a price tag ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 to cool a 600-square-foot space. That’s an average of about 30 percent more than central air conditioners and more than twice as much as window units.

Central air conditioner

Central air conditioners are generally used to cool large homes and office spaces. The unit is kept outdoors and spreads cool air through a maze of ducts tucked behind a building’s walls. These systems evenly distribute cool air throughout a building and are more efficient than window and wall-mounted units, but the initial cost is significantly higher.

Central air conditioners cost about $3,000 to $4,000 for the average home, but that price can spike upward to around $7,000 if new ductwork is needed, which is usually the case for homes that have never had a central air system.

These prices can vary, however, depending on factors such as insulation, climate, windows, and more.

Central air conditioners come in two flavors: split systems and packaged systems. Split systems are separated by an indoor unit housing the evaporator and an outdoor unit that holds the condenser and compressor. The indoor unit also contains a furnace, which hooks up to the air conditioner’s evaporator coil. Because of this configuration, you may save more on installation if you own a furnace but no air conditioner.

Packaged systems are a single unit that contains the condenser, compressor, and evaporator. Generally, these include electric or natural gas furnaces, which can save you money should you need new heating. Gas is a cheaper fuel source than electricity, so it may be a wise investment to buy a central air conditioner with a built-in gas furnace.


Air Conditioning Replacement