Are you tired of trying to use fans to cool your home on the hottest summer days?

If so, you may be considering installing central air. Central air conditioning is a type of system that cools the air in your home at a central location and then redistributes it throughout your home using ductwork and fans.

It’s not unusual for people who are considering an upgrade to their home’s cooling system to have numerous questions. Foremost among them is, “How much does it cost to install central air?”

While it is impossible to arrive at a precise estimate without visiting the property and making some essential calculations, it is possible to provide some ballpark figures.

Moreover, it may be helpful to understand how central air works, how it’s installed and how an updated system can save you hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars over the course of years.

Factors that Affect the Cost of Installing Central Air

Most homeowners are concerned with the cost of the central air unit itself, but the reality is that it’s likely there will be other expenses involved.

All of these expenses are influenced by a number of factors. These include:

  • The evaluation before installation
  • Existing ductwork
  • The central air unit itself
  • Labor for Installation

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:

The Evaluation

An HVAC professional will need to complete a Manual J load calculation before doing anything else. Thanks to the results of this calculation, your technician will have an accurate idea of how much heat is absorbed by your house throughout the day, which helps to determine which size of air conditioner will be needed to keep your home cool.

It is wise if the load calculation is performed as part of a larger home energy audit. This audit is critical for identifying leaks and vulnerabilities that will make it more expensive to operate the central air unit.

It is possible that a full energy audit could cost up to several hundred dollars. Before having such an audit performed, it makes sense to check with your utility company to see if they are providing any rebates or discounts.


Now that the HVAC professional has a good idea of how big of an air conditioner your home requires, it’s time to examine the existing ductwork. Basically, the ductwork needs to be capable of handling the powerful air flow that will be generated by the AC unit.

If your home is relatively modern, then chances are good that you will need few, if any, improvements to its ductwork.

The story can be quite different for older homes. As long as any existing ducts are in good shape, the process to upgrade them can be relatively inexpensive and easy.

However, older homes that do not have ductwork are a different story. This may mean adding ductwork, which can be made extremely complicated by features of the architecture and treasured, impossible-to-replace design elements. Such issues may necessitate adding vents to places like closets or ceilings.

It also is a possibility with some older homes that it will not be possible to add ducts. In this case, it still may be possible to install a ductless cooling system. While these generally are more costly to install, they tend to offer better energy efficiency. The trade-off is the need for individual zone units, which can spoil the aesthetic of historic rooms.

Even in more modern homes, problems may arise. Perhaps the technician will discover that there isn’t enough room for placing a refrigerant line that runs to the exterior or that there are no properly sized vents. Any of these issues could result in hundreds or thousands of dollars being added to the final price tag.

The Central Air Unit

Choosing the air conditioning unit comes next. In general, you’ll have three choices, with split air conditioning systems being the least expensive, packaged central air systems being middle-of-the-road and heat pumps being the most expensive option.

Split air conditioning systems contain three major components, a condensing unit that is placed outside the home while an air handler and evaporator coil are located indoors. These are an economical choice in homes that have an existing furnace. They feature quiet, efficient operation and are affordable to keep in good working order. Prices of between $1,400 and $1,700 are common.

Packaged central air systems don’t split up the major components. Instead, all three are found in a single container that may be placed next to the foundation or on the roof. These systems aren’t as efficient as split systems, and it is unusual to see them in residential applications. A packaged system may cost anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000.

Heat pumps offer a two-for-one punch by acting as furnace and air conditioner. They are a solid choice for homes in mild climates. During the summer, the heat pump takes the hot air from inside your house and redirects it toward the outdoors. Heat gets pumped from the outdoors to the inside during winter. These can be a really efficient heating and cooling option, but they also tend to be the most costly, with prices ranging from between $3,200 to $3,700.

After choosing the type of unit to be installed, it’s necessary to select the appropriate size. The cost of the unit varies by type as well as size. HVAC professionals use measurements in tons to describe the size of AC units. With residential systems, it is common to see AC units with capacities of between one-and-a-half to five tons.

Keep in mind that bigger isn’t necessarily better. It’s always best to rely on the Manual J load calculation for your home when it comes to choosing the AC unit’s size.

Labor and Installation

Of course, homeowners might be tempted to choose the lowest bid when it comes to installation, but this doesn’t always make sense. Proper central air installation takes time to be done properly. A company that offers the lowest bid may make a rush job of it, cutting corners just so they can get on to the next job.

This leaves you with an inefficient system that is more likely to need extra maintenance in the future.

In fact, according to the EPA’s Energy Star program, approximately half of all new HVAC systems are incorrectly installed.

If you want to avoid this, then it is critical that you work with a central air installer that is well-reviewed by your friends and neighbors and is considered an industry expert by competitors.

What Can You Do to Control Installation Costs?

Before signing up for a new central air system, consider these factors:

  • Your home’s cooling needs
  • Timing
  • Rebates and tax credits
  • How much ductwork is required
  • Payment options

If you live alone or are home only at night, then you may be able to opt for a less comprehensive ductless mini-split air system. Also, if you time installation for the less busy spring or fall seasons, you may be able to save some money.

Utility companies, air conditioning manufacturers and local governments all may provide incentives for upgrading your home’s HVAC system. Look into this before scheduling an installation.

It similarly may be wise to consider the age and existing ductwork of your home and look for ways to finance the improvements, like a home equity loan or line of credit, before proceeding. On average, the total cost to install central air in your home runs between $4,000 and $7,000.

When It Gets Hot, Turn to Delaware Heating and Cooling

At Delaware Heating and Cooling, our experienced HVAC professionals are adept at helping you find the right air conditioning unit to suit your needs. Moreover, we have considerable experience when it comes to ensuring that your new system is installed in line with all industry practices and recommendations.

This guarantees not only a job well done but also the greater energy efficiency of your home for years to come. Call Delaware Heating and Cooling today to schedule an appointment.