Pop Quiz: How Much Will a New HVAC System Cost You?
- An arm and a leg
- “It Depends”
Thankfully, we can say at least D. is incorrect. Your arms and legs are quite safe in the transaction.
Since we can’t know who is reading this article, answer E., “it depends,” is the most truthful among those five options, but it’s also the most frustrating. You want answers. And we’re here to provide them.
We’ve installed over 20,000 HVAC systems, and have run countless more service visits. Cost is the #1 question we receive. And we’ve learned that direct answers are better than avoiding the question.
This article will break down costs. No, we can’t give you an exact number without an in-home estimate, since we don’t know what type of equipment you’ll need and the particulars of your home. But we can give you accurate price ranges and considerations that will give you a sense of what your system will cost.
What’s in an HVAC System?
First, it’s useful to be reminded of everything that’s in a heating and cooling system. Because it’s not just an air conditioner and furnace, which is usually what we think of when we imagine HVAC.
- Air Conditioner or Heat Pump: this has two primary sections, the indoor unit and outdoor unit. The outdoor portion removes heat from the home, while the indoor unit absorbs heat and humidity to be vented outside. With heat pumps in the winter, the reverse is true, and heat is added to the home.
- Furnace: the two primary types of furnaces are gas furnaces and electric furnaces, though some older or rural homes may use oil or other alternative fuel sources to heat their home.
- Air Handler: some homeowners believe this is only part of the furnace, but your air handler moves air through the home year-round. It’s necessary for the cooling side of your HVAC system as well, and controls the airflow in your ductwork.
- Ductwork: ductwork is often forgotten, but is the circulatory system of your heating and cooling network. Without good ductwork, you’ll leak air and have poor circulation in different parts of your home.
- Thermostat: thermostats communicate with the major equipment and can also do things such as monitor humidity levels in your home, and communicate with accessories like air purifiers, remote temperature sensors, and other HVAC products.
- Filters: you’ve probably forgotten to check and replace your filter before. We’ve all done this, but it’s important not to forget too often, because filters not only keep your air clean and healthy, but they can inhibit airflow when they get dirty. If it’s been a while since you’ve replaced your air filter, you’re losing money on utilities because your system has to work harder.
- Accessories: these are the most wide-ranging and can include remote thermostat sensors, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air purifiers and other quality-of-life upgrades for your home. Depending on where you live, some of these can be more important than others. For example, humidifiers in dry climates and dehumidifiers in humid climates (particularly in homes with basements) can be necessities.
Each of these have sub-sections. For example, air conditioners have refrigerant lines that travel from inside to outside over and over again to absorb and disperse heat. Or gas furnaces will have gas lines and either a pilot light or other lighting mechanism to generate flame for the furnace to distribute throughout the home.
Point being, there are a lot of moving parts in a good HVAC system, and each one is important to the overall health and safety of your home.
What Type of HVAC System Do I Have?
To get toward a better answer, you first have to know what type of system you have. And if your response is “There are different types of home HVAC systems?!” That’s fine. We’re here to explain the differences. Many take for granted that most systems are built similarly. And to be fair, most are, but there are still exceptions.
Split HVAC Systems are the most common in homes, and this simply means that the HVAC system is split between an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. Your furnace won’t have an outdoor portion (besides an exhaust pipe) but your heat pump or air conditioner will. If you have one of the two types below (packaged or ductless), you’ll likely know it. Otherwise, this is the preferred solution for most homeowners.
Packaged HVAC Systems are more common in commercial use, but can occasionally be used in residential homes. The bonus is that they usually sit entirely outside (reducing the need for in-home space) and save on installation costs by being pre-assembled. But they’re large, can lose efficiency due to being exposed to the elements, and can run more expensive compared to traditional split systems.
Ductless Systems are used in homes that don’t have ductwork built into them. Adding ductwork to an entire home can cost thousands (or tens of thousands in larger homes!), so a ductless system is preferable for some. These systems utilize ductless mini-splits, which you’re probably familiar with in-home additions, liveable attics, garages, or master bedrooms as supplementary heating and cooling. But they can be used to heat and cool an entire home as well.
Fuel Source matters as well, since whether or not you have a gas line running to your furnace, or it’s entirely electric, will determine installation and maintenance needs. In general, the southern United States has many more electric furnace systems, paired with heat pumps. In northern areas, this is more expensive, since the cost of electric heat is generally much higher than gas heat. If you have access to natural gas in a colder area, it’s probably your best option.
Sizing Your Heating & Cooling Equipment
Have you ever bought one of those small space heaters and tried to use it to heat an area of your home? It’s probably toasty-warm directly in front of it, but you probably can’t even feel the heat 5-10 feet away from it.
Home HVAC isn’t the same as a space heater, but some principles apply to both. The size and power of your system can affect comfort and efficiency throughout the home. This also affects price.
What is sizing? It’s the process of measuring your home to figure out what its heating and cooling needs are.
Some companies only look at the square footage of your home. This is wrong. Many other factors contribute to heating and cooling needs, including:
- Quality of the insulation
- Quality of the windows (single pane, double pane, etc.)
- Number and size of the windows in your home
- Their orientation to the sun (windows facing east/west let in more heat from the sun)
- Height of the ceilings (since warm air rises)
- Whether or not there’s a basement
- And others
The bottom line is that the proper calculations need to be done in order to ensure the proper sizing for your system. And that sizing will then affect the cost of the system.
Cost of HVAC Replacement & Installation
We’re close to price ranges for major equipment, but it’s important to note that the ranges we’ll list are all affected by things like the size of your home, the exact model of equipment you choose, and things like ductwork modifications that may need to happen.
Staging in HVAC
A single-stage air conditioner, heat pump or furnace has only two settings: ON and OFF.
A two-stage unit has one more, usually 60% or 70% capacity. This can be more cost-efficient for days that are only moderately hot or cold.
The most sophisticated units are variable-speed systems (also called “modulating” in furnaces). This means that the equipment has dozens or even hundreds of stages, and can produce very fine control over your home’s heating and cooling.
Beyond the size of your system and home, staging is the biggest factor in determining cost. Let’s see how that affects price ranges for major HVAC equipment:
Entry-Level: $4,400 - $8,000
These are usually lower SEER rating units, and are single-stage, meaning they only have one setting (on or off).
Ideal Customer: Homeowners on a budget, or who plan on moving from their current home in the next five years, will want to look in this range.
Mid-Range: $6,200 - $9,500
These are generally two-stage units, meaning they have a full-power setting and one other (generally 70%) to provide better-than-average levels of comfort and efficiency.
Ideal Customer: Those looking for a compromise solution that blends comfort, efficiency, and initial cost, or who are unsure if they’ll be in their home for 10+ years.
High-End: $8,200 - $13,000
These are your top-of-the-line models. They are variable-speed, which means they have dozens or even hundreds of settings to maximize your comfort and efficiency.
Ideal Customer: Homeowners who will be in their home for 10+ years and want the highest levels of comfort and lowest long-term costs.
Equipment & Installation Costs:
- Entry-Level: $5,500 - $8,000
- Mid-Range: $7,500 - $11,000
- High-End: $9,000 - $13,000
The biggest factor that separates those tiers is whether the equipment is single-stage, two-stage, or variable-speed. The tonnage (power) of the system is also one of the largest factors that can affect pricing within that range.
This range includes labor and any additional fees that are routinely a part of installation. We never hide anything in our pricing.
Outside of that, where you fall in those ranges will depend on your comfort goals, how long you plan on being in the home (which might justify a larger investment), and your budget.
Gas furnaces fall into two broad categories: standard efficiency and high efficiency. Electric furnace costs generally fall in line with high-efficiency gas options, with some small differences depending on model type.
Standard efficiency gas furnaces are 80% efficient, meaning that 20% of their heat gets exhausted outside the home. High-efficiency units are anything at or above 90% efficient. The best can be up to 98% efficient. Electric furnaces are 100% efficient. However, the cost of electricity is often higher than the cost of gas, so this doesn’t always translate to lower energy bills.
Standard-Efficiency Furnace (~80%)
Single-stage: $3,000 - $4,100
Two-stage: $3,750 - $5,300
Modulating (variable-speed): $4,300 - $5,400
High-efficiency Furnace (90%+)
Single-stage: $3,400 - $4,950
Two-stage: $4,300 - $6,550
Modulating (variable-speed): $6,250 - $7,600
Is It Cheaper to Buy AC and Furnace Together?
It can be, yes. The reason is related to labor costs. You’re not wasting two trips of the installation crew, and they can create certain efficiencies in handling both installations at once.
Labor costs are significant. 40-50% of your total cost can end up being labor in some cases.
So there’s not an exact calculation for how much you can save - it depends on the installation - but the price of an AC + furnace installation will be less than that same AC and furnace installed separately by the same company.
You may only need one or the other, but it’s a good consideration if both units are older and in need of replacement.
When Should I Replace My HVAC?
There isn’t one answer to this. But here are some considerations for when it may be time to consider a replacement:
- Your energy bills are significantly higher than the previous year
- You notice that your equipment has to run almost constantly to keep your home heated and cooled
- You’re facing a very expensive repair on a system that’s older than 10 years
- Noises, smells, and pockets of unconditioned air are around your home
- Your system is 15-20 years old (or older!) and you want to save on utilities
- You’re getting ready to sell your home and want to maximize its value
This list isn’t comprehensive, but these are many of the reasons we hear when speaking with homeowners about their decision to invest in a new HVAC system.
Cost of HVAC Maintenance & Repair
This section is going to be harder to nail down to a specific price range, because no repair is exactly like another. The time, work and parts needed can vary, and even something like manufacturing shortages can make some parts more expensive than they were even a few months ago.
However, we do have standard costs for many common repairs. Replacing a furnace filter could be as little as $10 (depending on filter type), all the way up to replacing a blower motor in a large system, which can be $2,000.
For expensive repairs, it’s usually worth looking at a brand new system altogether. That blower motor could run you $2K, and a brand new system might only be $4,000.
The videos below are a good start to start thinking about equipment repairs. Beyond that, it’s always worth a call to your trusted HVAC partner to see what the typical range is for a particular repair type.
Cost of Ductwork Modification
This is another area that could be as little as $400 (adding a new return air drop to a new installation) or as much as $12,000 or higher (full ductwork replacement or installation in a home).
The cost to modify or repair ductwork is almost always worth it, though, because otherwise you’re leaking air or risking further leaks being created through a buildup of airflow in a particular area. Your home won’t be comfortable without good ductwork.
Cost of Ductless Mini-Splits
Ductless mini-splits are more than those cheap window units you’ve seen in many homes and apartments. They’re the most efficient heating and cooling units on the market.
They can provide heating and cooling in those places where a traditional split system just won’t cut it.
Want to turn your garage into a year-round work area? Need to convert the attic into a new bedroom? Want to be able to use your patio in the winter? Ductless is the solution to these otherwise-impossible tasks.
Below we've listed typical costs. All costs listed include labor and fees.
A single zone/one room heating and cooling ductless solution will range between $4,000 and $6,000.
A dual zone/two room system will run between $5,500 and $9,000.
A system that provides heating and cooling for multiple zones/three to eight rooms starts at $8,500 and up.
The size of the areas and nature of the installation will again determine the exact cost, but that should give you a good sense of what to expect when approaching a ductless project.
Cost of HVAC Accessories
We tend to think of accessories as things that are “nice to have” but not necessities. Sometimes this is true. Other times, HVAC add-ons can dramatically increase the comfort in your home and can reduce energy costs throughout the year.
Let’s look at the most common that homeowners add to their system:
Humidifiers keep your home from being excessively dry in the winter. This can combat dry skin, flus and other illnesses, creaky floorboards and persistent coughs.
Price Range (including installation):
$600 - $2,500
FURTHER READING: Is a Whole-Home Humidifier Right For Me?
Dehumidifiers can remove excess moisture from your home, which can cause dust mites and insect infestations, allergy spikes, mold, and water damage to your basement.
Price Range (inc. installation):
$2,000 - $3,000
FURTHER READING: Is a Whole-Home Dehumidifier Right for Me?
Whole-House Air Purifiers
At Fire & Ice, we recommend and install the Reme Halo Air Purifier. The Reme Halo is a state-of-the-art air purifier, proven to eliminate common viruses like MRSA, bird flu, tuberculosis, flus, and even COVID-19!
Price Range (inc. installation):
$995 - $1,500
Getting & Comparing HVAC Quotes
Our prices won’t be exactly the same as the next company, and there are reasons for this. Not all heating and cooling companies are built the same.
Some won’t run a full load calculation to determine the proper sizing for your system.
Some will reuse the old copper piping in your line set in a new installation, increasing the chance of it leaking.
Some won’t test the system beyond “is it running?” and may leave it unoptimized and inefficient compared to what it could be.
At Fire & Ice, we’re rarely the cheapest option for home HVAC solutions, but we like to believe that we justify the cost tenfold with long-term value for your home.
Better comfort. Increased efficiency. A longer life for your system. These add up, both in terms of dollars and in terms of how much you’ll enjoy your investment in the next 5-20 years.
Still, we’re not the right solution for every Columbus, OH home, and we want to provide the tools to help you make that decision. Below is our HVAC Contractor Checklist, a quick list of 10 questions you should be asking every HVAC contractor who visits your home. We hope you’ll use this to determine who is the best fit for you!
Your Ideal Home Heating and Cooling System
Cost is important, and knowing what to expect is even more important. We hope that this article has given you a better expectation for expected costs as you approach your next big HVAC project.
This isn’t the end, though, but the beginning. It’s time to start to drill down to the specifics: what air conditioner or heat pump do you want? What furnace? What add-ons does your house need to truly be comfortable? What size equipment will best meet your needs?
These answers exist, and they’re just a click or phone call away. Click the button below to get started, or give us a call. We’d love to hear from you and walk through all of your options to select the one that’s best for you.