If you’re shopping for a new air conditioner, then you may be wondering why nearly every company you call acts like the price of a central air conditioning unit is a matter of national security. There are basically 2 reasons air conditioning companies won’t give you even general information about prices of ac units over the phone…
Reason #1 They want you to meet with a salesman who has been trained to base the price he offers you on how informed you are on the cost to install a new central air conditioning unit.
Reason #2 The answer to exactly how much your new air conditioner will cost is… It depends.
In my experience, Reason #1 is why most people find the process of buying a new air conditioner so frustrating, and Reason #2 is really just an excuse to justify Reason #1.
Truthfully, there’s no reason air conditioning companies can’t discuss ballpark ranges for prices on central air conditioning units with customers… as long as they make it clear what things are included in the basic price of installation, and what types of things would be an additional cost.
This blog post will give you an overview of the 3 variables that will dictate the cost of your new air conditioner, and roughly how much each one affects the price of the air conditioning unit you choose to install.
Top 3 Factors That Dictate The Price Of A New Air Conditioning Unit
- Efficiency (SEER rating)
- Single-Stage vs. 2-Stage Cooling
#1 EFFICIENCY (also referred to as SEER rating)
The energy efficiency of a new air conditioner is referred to in different terms than the efficiency of a new furnace. While furnace efficiency is expressed in terms of a percentage, 80% efficient for example, the efficiency of a new AC unit is expressed using the less straightforward measurement known as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER rating. (I know technical acronyms annoy me too!)
The SEER ratings for air conditioning units start at 13 and go all the way up into the 20’s. Typically, the most popular models are rated between 13-17 SEER since most people choose to install single-stage air conditioners.
Cost Implications of an AC Unit’s Efficiency:
A 16 SEER air conditioner will usually cost between $1,200-$1,300 more than a 13 SEER unit (before accounting for any potential Xcel Energy rebates). If you choose an air conditioner that has a SEER rating higher than 16, you’ll most likely get a unit that offers 2-stage cooling as well. You can expect to pay between $1,200 – $1,400 more for a 17 SEER AC unit that offers 2-stage cooling than you would for a 16 SEER model that is single-stage.
#2 SINGLE-STAGE COOLING vs. 2-STAGE COOLING
A single-stage air conditioner is like flipping on a light switch, it’s either on or off. When it turns on it’s all the way on at 100% of its capacity. A 2-stage air conditioner starts up at about 2/3 of its full capacity, and will only ramp up to 100% when it’s hot enough outside that it requires 100% of the unit’s cooling capacity to keep your home comfortable. (For more on the difference between single-stage and 2-stage cooling, check out the 2015 New Air Conditioner Cost Guide)
Cost Implications of 2-Stage AC Units:
If you’re already considering an ultra high efficiency air conditioner like a 16 SEER model, you can expect to pay between $1,200 – $1,400 more to install a 2-stage air conditioner that would come with a 17 SEER efficiency rating.
#3 SIZE OF THE AIR CONDITIONING UNIT YOU NEED
When we talk about the size of an air conditioner, we refer to how many tons the unit is. And no, it does not mean that if you need a 3-ton air conditioner that the unit will weigh 6,000 pounds. It refers to how much cooling capacity the unit provides. I won’t delve into how to know what size air conditioner you need in this blog post since it’s covered in greater depth in the Air Conditioning 101 section of our website. But central air conditioning units come in 1/2 ton increments ranging from 1-ton all the way up to 5-tons.
Special Note: I’ve met with customers who have worked themselves up into a giant ball of stress because they’ve gotten quotes from 2 or 3 companies, and each company told them they needed a different size air conditioning unit.
The size of the unit you need should not be your concern. Sizing the unit properly is the job of the company you choose to install your new air conditioner. If you are having a new furnace installed at the same time, you should ask for a written guarantee that states the new air conditioner will cool your house to at least 70 degrees when the temperature is 95 degrees outside. Any company that won’t guarantee the cooling performance of your new AC unit when they are installing a new furnace for you at the same time should be crossed off your list.
To give you some perspective, a small condo that is less than 1,000 s.f. might need a 1.5-ton AC unit, while a 4,000 s.f. home is likely to have a 5-ton AC unit.
Cost Implications of an AC Unit’s Size:
As a general rule, the bigger your home the bigger your air conditioner will be. The bigger your air conditioner is, the more it will cost. Typically a 13 SEER air conditioner that is 3-tons in size might cost between $300 – $500 more than a 2-ton unit. As you go up in size the difference in cost gets bigger. On average a 13 SEER air conditioner that is 5-tons in size will cost between $400 – $600 more than a 4-ton unit.
Hopefully this will help give you a basic understanding of the industry jargon you’ll run into when shopping for a new air conditioner, and how these 3 variables will impact the cost to install a new central air conditioning unit in your home. If you’d like more in-depth information on how to choose the right air conditioner for your home, check out the Air Conditioning 101 section of our website or download the 2015 Central Air Conditioning Buyer’s Guide.