Cost of an Air Conditioner Replacement in 2021, a Complete Breakdown

Cost of an Air Conditioner Replacement in 2021, a Complete Breakdown
Arne Jacobsen
Residential Sales Professional

I have been in heating and air conditioning trade for 44 years. In that time, I have installed, serviced, designed ductwork, sold, and sized thousands of residential heating and cooling systems.

About This Article

Are you looking for answers on how much an air conditioning replacement will cost? In this article we discuss the factors that go into pricing an air conditioner, why some A/C systems cost more, and what you should know to make the best decision for your home.

Replacing your air conditioning unit is a major decision and a significant investment. Many homeowners go into the process having no idea what the overall cost will be, and how those costs are broken down. You deserve this information, since the decision to replace your air conditioner can be a decision on par with renovating your home or buying a car.

In this article, we'll take you through the factors that affect the price of an air conditioning system. There isn't a single price that will cover every household and system. By the end of this article, though, you'll be prepared to make a decision that's right for your home, and avoid the confusion and fear that can come with worrying about the cost.

Common Air Conditioning Costs & Accessories

The air conditioning unit itself is what most people think of when they imagine their new system. What other accessories and items need to be included, though?

The following items are typically included in an air conditioner installation:

  • Physical parts including: indoor evaporator coil, outdoor pad, outside electric disconnect, electric conduit from the disconnect to the air conditioner, new copper line set from the indoor coil to the air conditioner, and 15 feet of PVC pipe for use as a drain line
  • Local permits
  • Electrical costs involving breakers and thermostats
  • Ductwork modification, if necessary
  • Condensate drainage

In addition to these physical items, the air conditioner itself is included in the final cost, as well as the cost of labor.

Air Conditioner Components

Electrical Costs

HVAC installation is one of the few trades that includes multiple disciplines, including carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work. The variables associated with these areas in your home can affect the final cost of a product or service.

Electrical modifications are not always needed. When they are, though, there are a couple common areas:

  • Updating the control wiring that goes to a new thermostat
  • High-voltage wiring and breakers at the electric panel that feed energy to your new air conditioner

Many older systems do not have modern thermostats with the level of air control that you may wish to have. In those instances, this work becomes a necessary addition to ensure that you have a modern system that runs smoothly.

The high-voltage work often requires a state-licensed electrician to perform. Without this licensure and the knowledge required to obtain it, you risk both the quality and efficiency of your installation and air conditioning system.

Depending on the complexity of the electrical modifications, additional costs for these items can range from $100.00-$600.00.

Ductwork Modification

Ductwork Modification Costs

Ductwork modifications are needed for any existing ductwork that is not sized properly for correct airflow requirements. This is important, because different air conditioners have different requirements, and occasionally a home's existing ductwork was improperly sized in a previous installation.

Failure to correctly modify your ductwork can create an inefficient system. This is often what is happening when people experience hot or cold spots in their home, even with a new system. Long-term, this will end up costing you more in increased energy costs or a shorter lifespan for your air conditioner.

Any technician that visits your home should do a thorough duct analysis to determine if your existing ductwork is sized properly for the heating and cooling capacity required. The end result should always be a system with freely flowing, properly sized ducts that operate efficiently.

Improper ductwork size can cause hot /cold spots throughout your home, decrease the longevity of the heating and cooling system, and increase operating costs.

Condensate Drainage

When an air conditioner runs, one of its functions is to remove moisture. This moisture is condensed into water and needs to be drained off. This condensate runs to a floor drain, sump pump, or approved standpipe.

Sometimes this cannot be done because of obstructions in the way. In this case, a condensate pump would be required to pump it to the proper drain.

Condensate pumps typically cost around $370. Make sure you discuss whether or not you'll need one with your HVAC company in order to properly adjust your budget.

Matching Your Equipment

In considering an air conditioning replacement, you're generally not thinking about your indoor furnace. However, depending on the type of air conditioning and heating system you have, they may share infrastructure that requires them to be matched.

This is typically the case if you choose a variable-speed or two-stage air conditioner and don't have a compatible furnace unit. Variable-speed air conditioners also require indoor blower motors to operate at different speeds. They also require proper communication between the air conditioner, furnace or air handler, and thermostat.

The end result is that your furnace or air handler may need to be replaced.

The cost of replacing a furnace varies based on similar factors, which should be considered when evaluating new A/C options.

This is why it is sometimes better to replace both systems at the same time. This can increase efficiency and reduce costs if both systems are running optimally and are communicating properly with one another.

Air Conditioner Capacity

It makes sense that an HVAC provider would want to measure the size of your home, as well as the number and size of windows, doors, and the height of the ceilings. This allows them to recommend the best air conditioning unit for your home.

What's less obvious is that a larger or more powerful air conditioner isn't always going to be better for a home.

If an air conditioner is sized too small, it will run a lot and not cool your home or remove moisture properly.

If it is sized too big, the air conditioner will cycle on-off too much and again not cool or remove moisture properly.

The capacity of the air conditioner is determined by performing a Manual J Load Calculation of the home. This calculation takes the square footage of the home’s walls, floors, ceilings, windows, doors, and other factors to come up with the total heat gain (cooling gain/BTU) the house has.

 An example would be: 36,000 BTU heat gain / 12,000 BTU per ton= 3 ton capacity. Most homes are within a 2-5 ton capacity range. However, the location of the home and elevation can affect this calculation as well, which means there will never be a "one size fits all" solution for every home, even some that are the same size.

By calculating this correctly, you'll lower your monthly utility bills and will also be more comfortable in your home. Additionally, by avoiding unnecessary on-off switching, you'll increase the longevity of your air conditioner.

The cost of equipment can increase as you go up in capacity. This range of cost is included in our total cost range below. State licensed heating contractors will perform this calculation on every job.

Air Conditioning System Efficiency

One of the considerations in purchasing an air conditioner is the efficiency rating or SEER rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio).

This rating can be compared to miles per gallon on a car. New air conditioners can have a SEER rating of 13-20+. Usually as the SEER rating goes up, the initial purchase cost may increase. However, the operating costs will be lower at higher SEER levels, which can reduce the long-term costs of your system.

The efficiency of a system can also provide increased comfort and, at times, a quieter system. This overall efficiency is part of the total cost of any air conditioning unit.

Annual Savings

A/C Installation Costs & Considerations

When choosing a company to replace your existing heating and/or air conditioning system, the installation process is the single most important step for the safety and life expectancy of the system.

Several key processes must be followed and adhered to for the efficiency, comfort, safety and life expectancy.

Failure to comply with any of the necessary processes required by local codes, the manufacture, and industry standards can only lead to high energy bills, discomfort, and a drastically shortened life expectancy of the equipment.

Total Cost of an Air Conditioner Replacement

So after all of those are calculated, what's the total cost of replacing an air conditioning system?

The cost of replacement for an air conditioner in a residential home can range between $4,400-$13,000. This range includes each of the items discussed above, with the exception of a furnace replacement.

To get a bit more detailed with that range, we've broken down some typical ranges below:

  • Entry-Level Air Conditioner (single-stage): $4,400 - $8,000
  • Mid-Range Air Conditioner (two-stage): $6,200 - $9,500
  • High-End Air Conditioner (variable-speed): $8,200 - $13,000

Those ranges reflect the wide range of variables and choices available to a homeowner, including things like SEER rating and the size of your home.

Regardless of your home size, need for modifications, and the efficiency of your A/C unit, though, you can feel confident that a budget in that range will provide you with numerous quality options for an air conditioner replacement.

RELATED: How Much Does a Furnace Cost? A Comprehensive Breakdown

Why Costs Change

A pricing guide from even a few years ago can be horribly outdated. Why is this? Reasons can vary, but include the following:

  • Inflation
  • Cost of materials to manufacture parts and units
  • Regulatory and manufacturer standards that necessitate updates to products
  • Innovations in the industry that provide new options or greater efficiency

Most of the items on that list can both increase or decrease cost, but the only constant is that costs will fluctuate as they each change. Make sure you're getting recent information as you research cost, and be prepared to ask about each of these areas when a comfort specialist visits your home to provide an estimate.

You can also read about what to expect during your estimate when a qualified representative visits your home.

Air Conditioning Tax Credits and Rebates

Local utility rebates may be available on multiple types of furnaces, air conditioners, air handlers, and heat pumps, some of which include full system installations.

Product manufacturers will occasionally have product rebates available. These rebates are usually on full system installations and require the thermostat to be installed with the system.

At Fire & Ice, we include the thermostat with the system. These digital, programmable thermostats can also save on energy usage by allowing more precise control over your system.

Lastly, Energy Tax Credits may be available on certain energy efficient rated heating and cooling products. These ratings generally increase with the purchase of full systems at the same time. Be sure to ask about these along with the efficiency rating of your intended system.

Financing Your Investment

If you are interested in extending your payments out longer, there are many financing options available for you with approved credit. Partial payment of cash/check and balance with financing can be an option as well.

Fire & Ice has a range of financing options to meet your budget and lifestyle. We're happy to work with you to find a plan that fits both, and provides you with the best possible air conditioning system.

Cost and Choice: What's Right For You?

The only way to know exactly how much an air conditioner replacement will cost is to schedule an in-home estimate with an experienced professional. However, in knowing how costs are calculated and what factors affect them, you will be better prepared to ask good questions and make an informed decision when the time comes to make your investment.

At Fire & Ice Heating and Air Conditioning, Your Trust is Our Business, and this includes providing the knowledge you need to make an informed decision. We have the team to help you determine the right product for you, your home and your budget. Our professional administration, sales, installation and service staff will make sure you are 100% satisfied. If you live in Columbus or surrounding area, schedule your in-home estimate with Fire & Ice us today by filling in your zip code below to start the process!

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