Best Central Air Conditioner Prices

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Last updated: 
September 6, 2016

When looking for a new central air conditioner, it’s important to know that the lowest central air conditioners prices are not necessarily the best prices. In fact, pricing should be among the last criteria on your list. Here’s what to focus on when buying a central air conditioning unit, and how each aspect influences the pricing of said unit:

central air conditioner prices and features

Central Air Conditioner Prices: Why the Big Differences?

Central air conditioner units prices start off at about $800 for a new appliance and can go well beyond $10,000. This means installation and any additional work will increase the overall cost. Although the price range is extensive, it’s not unjustified. The most important variables when talking about central air conditioners prices are capacity, efficiency, and brand. Here’s a breakdown of the costs involved in acquiring and installing a new central air conditioner:

Central Air Conditioner Prices by Brand

Here are the most popular central air conditioner brands and their lowest, highest, and average prices:

Brand Lowest Price Average Price Highest Price
Rheem $1,000 $1,500 $3,700
Bryant $900 $1,300 $3,900
Amana $1,100 $1,600 $3,200
Lennox $1,200 $1,800 $3,800
Trane $1,300 $2,000 $16,000
Carrier $1,500 $1,900 $3,900
Goodman $1,100 $3,100 $8,000

Note: These prices only refer to the central air conditioner unit; Installation costs are not included in the examples above.

As you can see, the price range is considerable for many manufacturers. The lowest price usually refers to the small, less efficient, and usually, older models that are still available for sale. The highest prices are those of new appliances that feature the highest efficiency ratio and the most powerful compressors.

Even though the manufacturer is an important criterion when looking for a new central air conditioner, it is not the only one to matter. Capacity and efficiency are critical aspects that need to be taken into account when looking for a new central air conditioner.

Central Air Conditioner Prices by Capacity

Generally, the climate zone you live in determines the capacity of your future central air conditioner unit. However, the area of your home is a decisive factor, too. Here are the average prices for different central air conditioner units in terms of capacity:

Central Air Conditioner Capacity Average Price
1 Ton (12,000 BTU) $900
1,5 Tons (18,000 BTU) $1,200
2 Tons (24,000 BTU) $1,300
2.5 Tons (30,000 BTU) $1,400
3 Tons (36,000 BTU) $1,500
3.5 Tons (42,000 BTU) $1,700
4 Tons (48,000 BTU) $1,800
4.5 Tons (54,000 BTU) $2,000
5 Tons (60,000 BTU) $2,300

Note: 1 ton = 12,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) = the amount of energy it would take to melt 1 ton of ice in 24 hours. To put things in perspective, a 12,000 BTU central air conditioner will be able to cool off about 500 square feet.

When buying a central air conditioner, it’s important to accurately match the unit’s capacity with the space it needs to cool off. An appliance that is too weak will obviously not be able to provide a comfortable temperature during summer months. However, one that’s too strong will cycle on and off every few minutes, thus becoming inefficient. In addition, given it will not work permanently, it will not be able to control the air humidity – an important factor when it comes to your comfort.

Central Air Conditioner Prices by Efficiency

The most efficient central air conditioners are usually the most expensive, but they are the cheapest to run. Therefore, the cheapest appliance is not always the best one for long-term use. in fact, efficiency should be among the first things to take into account when looking for a new central air conditioner. Here are the average prices for central AC units in terms of efficiency:

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) Average Price
<14 (Low) $1,250
15-17 (Average) $1,800
18-20 (High) $2,200
21-24 (Highest) $2,900

No matter their efficiency ratio, central air conditioners can be heavy consumers – especially if you live in warm or hot areas. At the moment of writing, the U.S. government offered a tax credit of about $300 for those who purchase central air conditioners that comply with Energy Star rules and have a SEER of 16 or more.

The highest efficiency central air conditioners are the best for our environment: They use significantly less energy and produce fewer greenhouse emissions. However, when it comes to our wallets, things are not that simple. There’s a fine balance between efficiency and overall costs, balance that mainly depends on the following factors:

  • How much and often you will use your central air conditioner.
  • How well insulated your home is.

For example, if you live in the northern part of the country and only use the central AC 2 or 3 months per year, sending more than $3,000 for a highly efficient appliance will not make as much sense as spending $2,000 for an average efficiency one. On the other hand, if you live in Southern California, a highly efficient central AC is the best way to go – but only if you have proper home insulation.

Extra Costs of a Central Air Conditioner Unit

The following initial expenses might save you more in the long run:

A Thermostat

A programmable thermostat is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to reduce energy consumption in your home. It can cost anywhere from $20 to $400, but will pay for itself in a month or so. A thermostat adjusts the activity of your central air conditioner based on a pattern inputted by you.

Extended Warranty

If you feel the manufacturer’s default warranty is not enough, you can invest in extending it. Default warranties usually last between 8 and 15 years, with an average of 10 – 12 years. Many sellers offer 1, 2, or 5 extra years of warranty for a few dozens or hundreds of dollars. This is particularly important for those who live in warmer climates since the appliance will be used more frequently.

Keep in mind the lifespan of a central air conditioner unit depends on how often you use it. The average lifespan of 10 years that most manufacturers promise refers to temperate areas where the appliance is used a few months per year. If you live is warmer climates with high humidity, or by the ocean where the air is saltier, your central AC is likely to last about 8 years or less.

Extra Functions

Most central air conditioners today come with a humidity control function. However, other features might be desirable for some customers. Quiet operation functions can be extremely useful for small homes or for those where the outside unit is placed near the bedrooms. Multistage compressors are another desirable feature in central ACs. They can significantly lower your energy bills and extend the appliance’s lifespan.

Central Air Conditioner Prices: Installation

Installation costs alone for a central air conditioning system range between $350 and $8,000 for a new appliance. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Delivery costs: Completely depend on each retailer.
  • Materials & supplies: Between $50 and $150 if your home already has ducts and they are properly insulated.
  • Contractor(s): Between $300 and $2,000, depending on the amount of work needed to install the central AC unit. Some appliances can be installed in just a few hours with minimal effort, while others require extensive work. Under no circumstances should you install the central AC unit by yourself. This is a complex project that involves handling refrigerant, high-voltage electricity, and sensitive electronics – not to mention the environmental concerns that come with improper
  • Ducting: Between $400 and $3,500, mainly depending on the size of your home.
  • Insulation: Between $450 and $3000, depending on how many ducts you have in your home.
  • Debris removal & cleanup: If you do not want to do this by yourself, be prepared to pay $100 at most for these services.

Some high-SEER central air conditioners will also require solar panels to keep the energy consumption to a minimum. Therefore, you might need to be ready to invest in these, too.

How to Find the Best Central Air Conditioner Prices

As mentioned before, the lowest price rarely is the best price. Here’s how to effectively find the best central air conditioner price and contractor:

  • Ask yourself how long you plan on living in this house. If you are not sure, installing an expensive appliance might not be the best idea.
  • Always check for references and read reviews for contractors.
  • Ask recommendations and quotes from at least 3 professionals. Analyze what they have in common – ideally, they should have identical or similar capacities. Then, analyze their differences and see which ones matter the most to you. Maybe a certain model has an extensive warranty, while another is highly efficient. Use what you read in our article to decide which will fit your needs.
  • Do not cheap out, but don’t go above your budget either.

Central Air Conditioner Prices Recap

All in all, installing a new central air conditioner will cost between $2,000 for small homes or apartments and $15,000 or more for large homes. Given the significant number of variables that decide the central air conditioner prices, it would be impossible to give a more accurate response.

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