Central Air Conditioner Cost Estimation Tips & Tricks

Central air conditioner cost estimates - easy recommendations to save cash-zilla

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In summer there are few happy days in a home without working central air conditioning, and while a replacement won’t allow you to punch-start a jukebox, the right unit can keep you as cool as the Fonz.

Maybe not. But you’ll be partway there. You won’t be drenched in sweat. And Fonzie never sweat, even when jumping a shark under the summer sun.

Times--and air conditioning shopping--were simpler in the 1950s. Central air conditioner cost had just become affordable enough to be practical and options were limited. For the most part, you bought whatever Carrier air conditioner was available locally.

These days options are numerous, and not just for the central air conditioner cost. Brand names are vast, efficiency ratings vary widely, and local contractors are available by the dozens. This is a change for the better. Competition breeds lower prices. However, it means you’ll need to shop around to ensure the best central air conditioner cost.

Here are some tips to ensure happy days for your wallet and your comfort.


Prepare to shell out a few thousand dollars to cover central air conditioner cost. The price for a new unit, with installation, is about $3,000 to $4,000. Add an extra $3,000 if you don’t have ducts in the home, which usually exist on houses that have previously had central air conditioning or certain home heating systems, such as many types of furnaces.

That price can fluctuate depending on the brand, size, efficiency, and contractor’s installation price.

Tip #1: Balance Efficiency

  • Higher energy efficiency will lower your bills, but will raise the cost of a new unit. Find balance to ensure the lowest long-term central air conditioner cost.

Efficiency defines the amount of energy transformed into cool air versus the amount wasted. In the 50s, central air conditioners cost far more to operate due to bottom dwelling efficiency ratings. Now, central air conditioning is far more efficient. As recently as 2006, President Obama signed into law an act that requires all new air conditioners have an efficiency rating at 13 or higher. Prior to that law, air conditioners could have efficiency ratings of 10. However, parts for old air conditioners rated 10 to 12 are still available for purchase. Efficiency is often referred to as SEER, or seasonal energy efficiency ratio.

The law was largely intended to reduce the environmental impact of central air conditioners, which have been shown to cause depletion of the ozone layer. On the other side of the coin is that, for many people, the law will create long-term savings.

How much will it save? Take out your calculator. And gather a few details to find your savings: local electricity costs, expressed in dollars per kilowatt hour; the central air conditioner cost, including purchase price and installation; the air conditioner’s Btu per hour usage; and the unit’s efficiency rating, expressed as a double digit number representing the SEER and ranging from 13 to 23. For the most part, air conditioners rarely exceed a SEER of 18.

Take all these figures and plug them into an energy efficiency calculator, such as the one offered by Energy Star.

Of course, you won’t know one of the most important facets of this calculation, the central air conditioner cost, until you seek estimates.

Tip #2: Just say yes to estimates

  • There’s one rule of thumb that is universally endorsed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Consumer Reports, and other reputable consumer watchdog groups: seek as many estimates as possible.

There are multiple reliable ways to seek estimates. Ask neighbors or friends for recommendations. Flip open a phonebook. Or use internet services that gather quotes from hundreds of professional contractors at no cost, such as QualitySmith.

Tip #3: Just say no to guesstimates

  • Avoid installers who do not use industry standard guides to correctly pin down the right size central air conditioner for your home.

Some contractors say they can size central air conditioners with estimation based largely on past experience. They may be right a good chunk of the time. They’ll probably be wrong a good chunk of the time as well.

There are a wide variety of industry sizing guides available, but the Air Conditioning Contractors of America Manual J Load Calculation is usually preferred. This outlines how to properly account for windows, insulation, climate, air infiltration, outdoor shading, and more. For a complete overview of what Manual J covers, see the official Manual J checklist.

If your home needs new ducts, a similar industry guide called Manual D exists for installation of ductwork.

Tip #4: Stay cool

  • Be prepared for potential changes to initial estimates.

Initial estimates can vary widely, but can help you narrow your search for a central air conditioning contractor.

Because so many factors are at play, contractors can’t give you a quote that reasonably reflects the final price until they survey your home. Be prepared for fluctuations from the initial estimate until the final estimate, often referred to as a proposal, which usually outlines exactly what tasks the contractor will perform.

In other words, stay cool.


Central Air Conditioner Cost Estimation