How Much Does It Cost to Install Central Air?

Desmond Rhodes
A person installing a central air conditioning vent in their home.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The summer heat can quickly become miserable for you and your family. Often, you’ll need more than a couple of box fans to keep your house cool and comfortable when things start to warm up. Although fans and other cooling methods may be inexpensive, they can also be ineffective.

Central air conditioning is one way to sufficiently cool down the whole house, however, it can quickly become expensive. Many times, central air inefficiency or lack of central air can become a dealbreaker when people are considering buying a house.

Installing central air without existing ductwork in your house can cost $8,000 to $15,000. If there is already ductwork in your house, it still may cost $3,900 to $5,000 to comfortably cool a 1,600 to 2,000 square-foot house. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your central air conditioning is properly installed to ensure you are not wasting energy — and therefore more money on the power bill.

To guarantee you’re getting the best deal, let’s break down the cost of the various AC options, factors that will affect the cost of central air conditioning installation, and see where you can save money along the way.

Central Air vs.Window Unit and Other AC Options

You have several options when it comes to cooling your house down. Many times, this will come down to how much money you can spend, how large an area you want to cool, and the ductwork design of your house.

Window Unit

Buying a window unit may be your lowest-cost option, but will only cool one to two rooms. Window unit air conditioners range from $138 to $502, but will typically only cool an area of 150 to 500 square feet. While window units are the thriftiest option, if you need them to cool more than a couple of rooms you may want to consider another route.

Split AC System

Many split AC systems are ductless and consist of an air handler, an indoor evaporator coil, and an outdoor condenser and compressor unit. According to Home Advisor, the average cost of these units is $4,000 but can get much higher depending on the square footage you are intending to cool as you will need a larger unit to cool a larger area.

Packaged Central Air System

A packaged central air system is similar to a split system, but can also provide a little heat as well. For this reason, they tend to cost a little more than a standard split system. The elements in a split system are housed in a packaged central air system, and this is usually placed on the side of your home or on the roof.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps can be used both as a heater and an AC. These run more efficiently than the options above and will cost between $2,000 and $8,000. Depending on the size of your home, and if you leave your room doors open, heat pumps can cool quite a large area. However, it is still worth a look at the square footage of your home to see if this is a sufficient option for your cooling needs.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Installing Central Air

If you’ve come to the conclusion that other AC units simply won’t work and that central air is best for your house, you’ll have to figure several factors into the cost of this air conditioning option.


For proper installation, it is a good idea to hire a contractor and get a better understanding of what size air conditioner you need in your house. The preinstallation evaluation can also include an energy audit, which will pinpoint leaks in your house where cool air can escape, costing you hundreds of dollars.


Central air will require ductwork to disperse cool air throughout your house. To make sure your AC unit has enough capacity to push air through your house, and ensure the ductwork can handle this air, it is important that you get a contractor to check your ductwork design. If any upgrades or modifications need to be made, it will likely increase the cost of the installation of your central air.


Lastly, the labor of installing your central air conditioning will be an additional cost. This is an area you won’t want to skimp on. It is best to take the time and spend the money for proper installation, or you may end up finding that your HVAC contractor installed the central air conditioning inefficiently — wasting energy and costing you money.

Tips to Reduce Central Air Installation Cost

If central air still seems costly, you have several opportunities to find some financial relief. All it takes is looking at your financial options, understanding what you need out of a central AC unit, and taking advantage of rebates and tax credits.

Financing Options

Since central air conditioning units and installation can be expensive. It’s always helpful to see if you can find some financial relief. Consider the following finance options if you are serious about installing central air.

  • Personal loans: To help with any large expense, you can always take out a personal loan. Although it is vital to understand how a personal loan works, this option can help tremendously for home improvement projects.
  • Home equity loans: A home equity loan can be used to secure a large loan with a low interest rate. This could be a good option for large purchases, especially for home improvement projects. As usual, address your financial situation to make sure you can pay the loan back.
  • Home equity line of credit: A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is similar to a home equity loan, although a HELOC may give you more wiggle room on how much money you can borrow at a time.

Examine Your Needs

With all of the AC options available to you, it’s important to understand whether you want to cool just one room, a section, or your whole house. This will ultimately determine whether you’ll buy a less expensive AC unit or a central air unit. As far as central air units go, you’ll want to examine the size of the unit, how much square footage the unit can cool, and the average installation cost.

Size of Unit Square Footage Average Cost
2 Ton Up to 1,000 square feet $3,350
3 Ton Up to 1,600 square feet $4,600
4 Ton Up to 1,900 square feet $4,900
5 Ton Over 2,000 square feet $5,900

Equipment Rebates and Tax Credits

In an effort to reduce energy waste, governments, utility companies, and manufacturers will financially incentivize using high-efficiency air conditioners. Many times, local governments may give tax breaks, and manufacturers will give you rebates for purchasing efficient units.

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