How Your HVAC Contractor Determines the Cost of AC Installation

How Your HVAC Contractor Determines the Cost of AC Installation

We can all appreciate air conditioning, especially in summer, but the cost of AC installation is undeniably expensive. According to Forbes, a central AC unit averages $5,900 to install. While a window unit may cost as little as $200, a mini-split system can cost $4,000 or be an investment of $16,000+, depending on the number of units.1 These expenses aren’t only determined by equipment prices; an HVAC contractor uses many factors to determine what installing an air conditioning system will cost.

Aside from the type of unit, the cost of AC installation is determined by considering the following:

AC Unit/System Size

An AC unit’s or system’s size is one of the most important installation factors and a major cost consideration. Generally, the larger your home, the larger and more expensive a system you’ll need. Air conditioning systems are sized in tons (one ton equals 12,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs), which measure how much energy an AC uses to remove heat from the air).

When calculating the right AC size, a licensed HVAC contractor uses the rule of 1 ton per 500 to 600 square feet of space. There are other factors, too. However, common sizing versus cost scenarios include:

  • 1.5-Ton AC: Suits a 750- to 900-square-foot home and costs $2,500 to $4,500
  • 2-Ton AC: Suits a 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot home and costs $3,100 to $5,100
  • 3-Ton AC: Suits a 1,500- to 1,800-square-foot home and costs $3,400 to $5,400
  • 4-Ton AC: Suits a 2,000- to 2,400-square-foot home and costs $4,200 to $6,2001

While a larger system costs more upfront, it will save costs over time if correctly sized. An AC that’s too large or too small won’t be energy efficient. But aside from increased energy costs, it can also wear out more quickly, so you’ll incur more repair expenses during its life.

Equipment Brand

When budgeting for an AC system, research different brands and their price points. An HVAC professional can help you evaluate the many brands of AC equipment. Prices can vary significantly from one manufacturer to another, even for the same type of equipment. For example, a York AC system averages $2,100 while a Rheem unit averages $2,500. Meanwhile, American Standard, Trane, Lennox, and Carrier AC systems average $3,000 or more.1

However, comparing prices is just one step to choosing a brand. Some AC brands may be more readily available in your area. Some may also be more easily serviced, depending on the availability of parts, the experience of your trusted HVAC contractor, and other factors.

Pre-Installation In-Home Assessment

Some HVAC contractors may include the cost of an assessment in your quote. However, this service isn’t free. An AC installation professional must travel to your home and take time to evaluate its size, insulation, and ductwork. They’ll check for air leakage and other issues that can affect efficiency. A pre-installation assessment can cost as little as $250 but averages $420, while you could spend up to $2,000 for a more thorough audit.1

No matter what you spend in preparation for AC installation, a detailed assessment can save you thousands in energy and repair costs later.

An AC’s Energy Efficiency Rating

Tacoma isn’t known for excessive summer heat, but it still pays to invest in a high-efficiency AC system. The cooling season can bring heat waves. And, when they hit, you want your home to be comfortably cool. The seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) measures an air conditioner’s efficiency; a unit’s SEER rating must be at least 14 in northern states (as of 2023), but there are ACs rated as high as 27 SEER.

The higher an AC’s SEER rating, the more it costs upfront, but the more you can save over time. An air conditioner that meets the minimum efficiency requirements averages $3,200. A  high-efficiency system up to 18 SEER can cost up to $4,700, while a unit in the maximum efficiency range averages about $7,700.1

Whether the Installation Is Brand New or a Replacement

Replacing an existing AC system costs $4,600 to $9,100.1 The main considerations here include the type of system and size of your home. However, installing a system from scratch will cost much more, as your home’s infrastructure must be set up before AC installation (modifications may also be required during AC replacement, which can increase costs).

Installing a new system can cost $20,000 to $30,000.1 The total cost may account for:

  • New Ductwork: Running new ductwork for a central AC costs $20 to $45 per linear foot. This can add up to anywhere from $600 to $9,000. An average home can require 30 to 200 linear feet of ductwork to support its air distribution needs.1
  • Plumbing: Whether you need a new or replacement system, a drain line may need to be installed or repaired. Licensed plumbers generally charge $100 to $150 per hour.1 
  • Electrical: A dedicated circuit may need to be installed; in some cases, a contractor will recommend an electrical panel upgrade. Expect to pay an electrician $100 to $150 per hour, plus the cost of equipment and materials.

But even if you’re having an old unit replaced, you may have to pay for:

  • Unit Removal: Disconnecting, removing, and hauling away an old AC unit takes time and effort. Equipment removal and disposal may cost anywhere from $25 to $200. The contractor sets this rate based on system size and accessibility; they may include the cost in the total or list it as a separate charge.1
  • Ductwork Repair: If your existing ductwork isn’t repaired, your new AC unit won’t be reliable or energy efficient. Repairing duct leaks and other issues can cost from $175 to $2,000; if there’s mold in air ducts, you’ll have to pay for mold remediation. A standard duct cleaning can cost $300 to $700, so this stage can be counted towards the cost of AC installation.1


Many homeowners plan air conditioner installation by comparing the cost of systems and models. However, labor is a major determinant of the cost of AC installation. Depending on a contractor’s hourly rate, the type of unit, and your home’s size and layout, labor can add $500 to as much as $2,500 to the total project cost.1 That’s why it helps to obtain quotes from several contractors and evaluate what’s included before choosing one.

Why Does AC Installation Cost So Much?

Installing or replacing an AC system is so expensive because of:

  • The cost of equipment can vary depending on the unit type, size, and brand.
  • An HVAC contractor’s labor rates are usually changed by the hour and set based on their skills, experience, and licensure.
  • Local regulations require permits and inspections; the cost of these varies by location.

Can I Reduce the Cost of AC Installation?

Cutting corners on quality equipment, materials, and service won’t save you in the long run. However, you can benefit from the following ways to save on AC installation:

  • Take advantage of state/federal rebates or tax credits (installing an Energy Star-approved system can qualify you for up to $3,200 in federal income tax credits).1
  • Schedule installation with your HVAC contractor in the spring or fall, when their work volume is less.
  • Avoid installing ductwork by investing in a ductless mini-split system or window AC units.
  • Inquire about any special discounts your contractor offers or that you may qualify for.
  • Sign up for your AC installer’s annual maintenance plan; regular tune-ups can improve efficiency, reduce repairs, and increase a system’s lifespan, yielding long-term savings.

Can I Install an Air Conditioner Without a Pro?

A DIYer can often install a window AC unit. However, a trained and licensed professional must install central air conditioners, mini-splits, and other HVAC equipment. They have the equipment, materials, and tools to do the job right and understand all installation and permitting requirements. Plus, they can avoid costly mistakes and safety hazards.

Can a New AC Installation Increase Home Value?

One benefit of replacing and upgrading your AC system is increased home resale value. Having a newer, more efficient unit is a selling point. A home buyer may be willing to pay more if you’ve recently installed a central air or ductless system, possibly offsetting some of the installation cost.

Call Kliemann Brothers to Discuss AC Installation

Whether your AC unit has reached the end of its life or you decide to include AC installation in your home remodeling project, our experienced professionals can help. We can install a similar central air conditioning unit or weigh more energy-efficient options, such as a heat pump. If your home lacks ductwork, we can install a ductless mini-split system. Our team is committed to ensuring your comfort and safety and provides up-front pricing, while access to special offers, rebates, and financing improves affordability. 

For more information or to schedule an appointment, request service online or call (253) 201-8498.

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