Central Air Conditioner Prices Guide – Compare Your AC Units Cost

The advent of air conditioning has changed how and where we spend our time and for many homeowners across the world, it’s a necessity they can’t live without. In fact, the US Department of Energy estimates that American homeowners spend more than $29 billion each year on units and regularly scheduled maintenance to ensure they’re equipped with cool, clean air.

Especially for those living in warmer climates, a high-quality, high-efficiency central air conditioner can make all the difference in the world, but it comes at a cost. Depending on where you live, how big your home is and what brand of unit you purchase, prices can vary. The good news is that there’s a suitable and relatively affordable price point for everyone, as long as you’re buying for your specific home size and location.

Buying an air conditioner unit can’t be determined by one element alone, but rather by considering a number of variables, including the quality of the manufacturer, the efficiency of the unit, the capacity required to cool your home and how maintenance and service costs factor into the equation. In order to compare prices and costs, we’ve compiled the following guide to help homeowners determine their budgets and expectations.

Prices By Brands

If you’re not sure where to start your search for an affordable air conditioning unit, sorting by brand can give you a rough idea of what to expect in terms of cost. As you probably might expect, top-tier brand name units will be priced higher than average or low-tier units. Some of this is due to name or brand recognition, though much of the cost is due to how it’s manufactured and its overall quality.

You can also expect more (and inevitably higher) price points from top-tier brands, as they tend to produce higher efficiency units as well as average ones. Certain brands also offer better maintenance packages, warranties and customer service that can make higher costs more palatable for interested buyers. In this way, it’s important to consider what more a brand can offer than just its name.

Central AC Brands

Unit Only Cost

Final Cost with Installation

Armstrong/Ducane

$1,400

$2,400

Amana/Daikin 

$1,700

$2,620

American Standard

$2,100

$3,100

Bryant

$1,750

$2,700

Carrier

$2,300

$4,450

Goodman

$1,410

$2,420

Heil/Tempstar

$1,600

$2,350

Lennox

$2,400

$4,750

Trane

$2,150

$4,120

Ruud/Rheem

$1,720

$2,900

York/Coleman/Luxaire

$1,850

$3,100

Note: This table is based on prices for 2.5 ton central AC units—roughly the size installed in most 1400 to 1800 sq. ft. homes—from leading brands.

Prices By Efficiency (SEER) and Size (Ton)

While brand names affect prices by the quality of components and build, efficiency is what ultimately determines whether you will pay a premium for a central AC unit or not. High-efficiency units are better at doing their job and essentially reduce energy consumption in the process, while average to low-efficiency units require more.

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating reflects system efficiency and ranges from 13 SEER to 25 SEER. SEER standards vary within the US and a minimum requirement of 13 SEER is required in most states—in the Southeastern Region of the US, it’s 14. Units with a higher SEER will likely include a higher price tag than a lower one, but this cost may be offset in the long run due to their energy-saving abilities that ultimately lower utility bills over time. That said, not every climate favors a higher SEER rating and installing a high SEER central air system in a northeast state, for example, will provide little to no cost benefit.

AC Units are manufactured in specific sizes that range from 1.5 to 5-ton capacities. As you can probably guess, larger homes require larger systems, while smaller homes can get by with a lower capacity unit. In order to determine which size fits your home, a load calculation can be done by an HVAC contractor for specific measurements. In fact, many states require a load calculation when purchasing a new central air system or replacing an old one for a system permit and inspection.

Bigger isn’t always better, however. The higher prices for a larger unit don’t pay off when your goal is to install it in a small home. While big homes will require the larger capacity, a small home, especially in a cooler climate, won’t benefit from a system that produces more than is needed and only serves to rack up costs, both initial and subsequent. By determining your house size, you can find a system that meets your requirements so you can get the most value out of it.

Here the average prices for different SEER and Efficiency. We choose the mid-tier Brands for the price calculated. The average profit margin for contractor is 30%-40%. Your real local price may vary according to your locations and contractors.

Size (Ton)

Efficiency

AC Unit Prices with Installation



1.5 Ton  (600-1000 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$2,100

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$2,400

High (18-19 SEER)

$2,900



2 Ton  (1001-1300 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$2,450

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$2,950

High (18-19 SEER)

$3,350



2.5 Ton  (1301-1600 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$2,700

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$3,300

High (18-19 SEER)

$3,750



3 Ton (1601-2000 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$3,000

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$3,680

High (18-19 SEER)

$4,120



4 Ton (2001-2600 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$3,400

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$3,990

High (18-19 SEER)

$4,350



5 Ton (2601-3200 sf)

Low (13-14 SEER)

$3,650

Mid (15-17 SEER)

$4,120

High (18-19 SEER)

$4,600

Note: This table is based on prices for mid-tier brands central AC units with installation—roughly the size installed in most 1400 to 1800 sq. ft. homes.

Prices By Extras

The cost of a central air system isn’t limited to its upfront price and installation. Different brands offer different levels of service beyond the initial purchase which can end up influencing price down the line. Things like warranties, maintenance and replacement part costs are all important factors to consider when choosing an air conditioner based on price.

Though the purchase price of a low-tier unit may seem reasonable, the real test when it comes to savings is how the manufacturer stands by its product. Most brands offer warranties, but the comprehensiveness of each will vary—some are base limited warranties, while others are 10 or 12 year limited extended warranties or even lifetime warranties. They each have different stipulations and some will require registration in order to take advantage of their benefits and coverage. For example, while some brands may cover replacement parts, shipping costs and labour for service or reinstalling those parts isn’t included and are then the responsibility of the homeowner to pay.

Similarly, it’s also worth noting which tax credits you may be eligible for when purchasing high-efficiency or Energy Star air conditioners. Not only will these units use up to 30% less energy in your home, you may be qualified to receive a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost with no upper limit.

Conclusion

While it’s clear to see how different aspects of central air conditioning system prices affect their cost, it’s also easy to see how diversified the marketplace is when it comes to finding a unit that fits your budget. Once every factor is accounted for and you can find a unit that matches the needs of your home size, local climate and service or maintenance requirements, the price will often match—comprehensive systems that need to cool a big home will generally cost more, while less efficient, smaller capacity units will tend to be lower in price.

To maximize savings, be sure to get a load calculation for your home, as you don’t want to be paying for and installing a system that provides more than you need at a higher cost. Furthermore, check warranty types and possible tax credits or consult an HVAC professional to ensure you don’t accrue high additional costs within the lifetime of your AC system. Though it may take a bit of research, you’ll be glad you did.