How much does it cost to install air conditioning?

Find out how much it costs to install air conditioning if your unit is old and needs replacing. From average costs to additional factors that will affect the final price

A living room with orange sofa and AC unit
(Image credit: onurdongel / Getty)

If you need to know how much it costs to install air conditioning then it's likely that your old AC has packed up and needs replacing or, you could be moving into a new home that doesn’t yet have air conditioning. 

Either way, it can be an expensive job so you'll need to budget correctly for your new AC unit. So yes, the bad news is they’re not cheap, however, when installed correctly, a quality AC unit will last many years, making it well worth your initial investment.

Of course, smaller homes may benefit from a portable air conditioner – some of them are surprisingly powerful and efficient. However, if you are looking to keep a larger home cool, you need built-in AC. Find out how much this will cost you – with expert help.

What is the average cost of installing an AC unit?

We’ve spoken to Walter Bennett, who is a Texas-based expert in home heating and cooling working at Green Leaf Air. Bennett helps answer the most common questions related to the costs of AC units.

The first thing you need to prepare yourself for is a substantial cost. The size, type, and model of your AC unit will all impact its cost, as will the type of installation service you choose. How skilled and experienced your contractor is will also affect how much they’re able to charge for the job.

Bennett adds that the ‘complexity’ of the installation also is a factor, but ‘generally, a basic installation will typically cost between $600 and $1,200. More complex installations may cost more, depending on factors such as the number of rooms being cooled, whether ductwork is required, and whether any special features are included.’ Some AC systems double up as air purification systems – these will cost considerably more than basic units that only do the cooling.

How much is a new AC unit for a 2000-square-foot house?

AC units for a 2000-square-foot house cost ‘anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. It depends on the unit's brand and model, as well as whether or not you need extra features like filters or UV protection. Generally speaking, the more square footage your house has, the more expensive an AC unit will be.’

How much is an AC unit for a 1600-square-foot house?

An AC unit for a 1600-square-foot house is typically around $1200 to $2000. This price can vary depending on the type of AC unit and the installation.

Why do AC units cost so much?

Although it can seem like there’s not that much to an AC unit, several reasons make AC installation costly. According to Bennett, these are:

  • Installing an AC unit requires a trained technician, as the installation process can be dangerous if not done correctly. Beware of hiring anyone to install your AC unit who isn’t correctly trained.
  • The sheer manual challenge of the work: ‘the size and style of the units typically require more power and can be more costly to install.’ AC units ‘need access to ductwork, which can add additional costs if the installation is done in an inconvenient or difficult location.’ Older homes with unusual layouts can be especially challenging, so prepare for a higher-end cost of installation. 
  • Labor costs can be high because contractors must pay employees a wage and provide benefits, such as insurance. In some cases, municipalities may also impose taxes on air conditioning installations. You should always check whether there is any tax on AC installation in your area.

Is it worth replacing an AC unit?

If you are daunted by the prospective cost of AC unit installation, you may be thinking, ‘should I just try to get my AC unit repaired or serviced?’ This is completely reasonable and your engineer will be able to advise you if your AC unit is still salvageable. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that it may be worth your time and money to replace your AC unit with a new one:

  • Your AC unit is over 10 years old: ‘An older AC unit may not be able to keep up with the demands of today's climate’, says Bennett. And If you live in a hot climate, you really need an up-to-date model. Also, you are unlikely to be able to find spare parts for an AC unit, making repairs impossible.
  • Your AC uses R-22 Freon: this is a cooling agent that is no longer produced in the US after it was found to have a negative impact on the environment. You can still use an AC unit that uses Freon, but you will have to replace it when it breaks down.
  • Your energy bills are too high: if you are finding that your energy bills keep rising even though you haven’t changed your energy consumption, it could be your old air conditioner is running increasingly poorly and inefficiently, wasting electricity. Replace.   

Ultimately, the newer your AC unit, the better it will perform, the better it is for the environment, and the lower your energy bills will be. Good-quality AC is an essential investment in a warming world and a must to keep rooms cool if small tweaks to your environment and lifestyle can't seem to significantly reduce your home's temperature.

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.