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The heat during peak summers can get sweltering, and the last thing you want is your air conditioning system giving up on you. However, if that does happen, and if your current AC system is more than eight years old, you may want to consider installing a brand new air conditioning unit. How much does it cost to replace an AC unit and what are the factors that affect that cost? Let’s take a look.
Types of AC Units
Most homes are fitted with a central air conditioning unit, which is a part of the home’s HVAC system. Often, these units are paired with a heating system like an indoor furnace to be able to handle both the eating and cooling needs of the home.
Among the simplest AC units available there is the window unit AC, which can be easily installed in the window of a room and used to control the temperature of just that area of the home.
A mini-split system or a split AC system is a ductless air conditioning system that combines an inside as well as an outside unit to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the home.
Another popular ductless system is the heat pump split AC system. During summers, this system pumps out heat from the home to the outside, while doing just the opposite to warm the house during winters.
For those looking for flexibility on a budget, portable air conditioners are the way to go. These units use an evaporative HVAC system that can be moved around the house and used wherever needed using a hose system to regulate temperatures.
You can take a look at our most popular ones:
When to Replace an Old AC
Let’s take a look at when it’s time to replace an old air conditioner.
If your current air conditioning unit was installed before 2010, it uses a CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) refrigerant which is harmful to the ozone layer. Modern air conditioners use a much more ecologically friendly refrigerant.
If your current system keeps breaking down frequently, or if your home is just not getting cooled as much as it should be, you may need to consider replacing it instead of constantly repairing it.
New AC units are also known to consume half the amount of power when compared to older models, while also being a lot more efficient when it comes to cooling. This is because older models operate at or below 10 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). The minimum efficiency legally allowed now is 13 SEER, with some premium brands offering a SEER rating of 26 SEER. This means a minimum savings of 30% on your cooling bills thanks to your new air conditioning system, if not more.
So unless your current system only needs a bit of cleaning or a minor repair like a fan belt change, you’re better off getting a brand new system. A new AC system should last you for at least 15 years once installed. However, we’d suggest you get an expert opinion from your HVAC contractor before you do.
What Does it Cost?
The cost to install a central air conditioner varies from around a low of around $2,800 to a high of around $7,700, with the national average being around $5,285.
A 1500 square foot home will need a 2.5 ton for adequate cooling. An AC system with a 13 SEER rating will cost you close to $4,000 including installation, with the unit itself costing around $1,300.
A premium 16 SEER rating air conditioner installation will put you down around $6,000 for a home of similar square footage. While that may seem steep, keep in mind that these systems will reduce your energy costs by almost 60%. Opting for them will also make you eligible for federal tax credits of up to $300 and possibly other local incentives as well.
Factors That Affect Cost
Efficiency is a crucial factor when it comes to air conditioning.
To begin with, the energy efficiency or cooling power of your air conditioning system will not matter if your HVAC system has leaky ducts. So get your HVAC unit thoroughly checked by a technician and seal any leaks before you buy a new AC.
Next, you will need to consider local weather conditions. The warmer the climate is in your region, the higher your AC SEER rating ought to be for you to be able to save on cooling costs.
Similarly, living in an area that doesn’t experience blistering summers does not require investing in a premium air conditioning system with a high SEER rating.
2. System Size
For your air conditioning to be efficient, you will also need to accurately calculate how big a system you need, or how many tons your air conditioning needs to be to cool your home efficiently.
A lot of contractors calculate the size of the system by taking an average of one ton per 400 square feet. This will mean a house of around 2000 square feet will need a 5-ton air conditioning system.
However, that may not always be accurate or very energy efficient. A good contractor will ideally use a load calculation software using inputs like the thickness of your home’s insulation, attic configuration, number of rooms, number of windows, how much sunlight different parts of your home receive at different times of the day, and more to arrive at how large your system needs to be as well as how to efficiently direct the right amount of cool air to each room.
Your air conditioning system is made up of multiple individual parts, all of which come at a price. Here’s a list of those parts and what they’ll cost you.
Depending on the size and quality, you will end up spending between $750 and $4,000 on your condensing unit.
- Evaporator Coils
The bigger the size of your AC condenser, the bigger your evaporator coil needs to be. Coil cost will also differ based on whether you choose to install uncased coils or those with steel cases. Depending on size and quality, expect to pay anywhere between $175 to $1,100.
- Refrigerant Lines
Refrigerant lines, depending on the length required as well as the amount of refrigerant needed will put you down as much as $400.
How much AC units cost also largely depends on the brand you choose and will affect your spending by up to 20%. Premier brands tend to be quieter, last longer, and have higher SEER ratings, making them more energy-efficient.
5. Labor Costs
Labor costs will account for another major chunk of your spending.
The more complex the installation, the more it will cost.
How much labor costs will also depend on whether the AC installer is certified by the brand you’ve bought or not. An installer who is certified will be more expensive than a technician who is not aligned with a particular brand.
The time of the year also makes a difference to labor itself. Summers are busy, so expect to pay more. Getting your AC installed in winters will cost you considerably less. In fact, a lot of contractors offer discounts during off-seasons.
And finally, the area you live in will also play a part in how much you will end up spending on labor by up to 20%.
Labor by itself will cost you between $1,200 and $2,300.
- Remember, the higher the SEER rating, the more expensive the system cost will be, but the bigger your savings on your energy bill. The bigger the AC system you need, the more expensive it’s going to be.
- Not all contractors have the same skill sets nor do they charge the same for AC system installations. Make sure you get at least three quotes before choosing the right HVAC contractor to install your home AC system.
- If possible, save money by pre-empting your AC change. If you’ve had to make repairs during the summer or if your system is older than a decade, buy a new one and get it installed in the winter. You will save money on everything from purchasing the unit to labor costs.
Can You Install the New AC System Yourself?
A lot of home improvement projects can be done DIY, and you’re probably wondering why you can’t save a couple of thousand dollars by installing your new air conditioning system by yourself. Well, you could, but it’s not going to be easy. Let’s look at the pros, cons, and the process, so you have a clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
- You will save a ton of cash since you won’t have to pay labor costs.
- Complete control over what system gets installed since you won’t have contractors trying to upsell brands they’re aligned with.
- You will pick up new skills while figuring out how to install your AC unit.
- You will have to handle all the legwork required to get the necessary paperwork and permits in place before you begin the installation. If you’re a greenhorn, this can be overwhelming.
- It’s very hard work. Installing an AC system involves heavy lifting, getting into crawl spaces, and a lot of physical work that you may not be used to. While you may not hire labor, you will definitely need help to finish this project. Which is why professional installations are done by teams and not individuals.
- You forego the benefits of the maintenance plans and services that air conditioning contractors offer their clients. This means all future repairs and upkeep will either have to be done DIY or will cost you a fair bit more.
- You cannot legally remove an old air conditioning system or install a new one without EPA certification. Getting certified entails paying a fee and writing an exam.
DIY Installation Process
Most air conditioning systems will come with diagrams and a manual explaining how to interlink different parts and how to get the system up and running. However, here’s a brief description of the process.
- Check out how much different air conditioning systems cost and choose the right one based on your budget and cooling needs.
- Decide where you want to install the new air conditioner. While it is given that the new system has to be installed outside your house and connected to your ducts, you will need to decide whether you want to pour a concrete pad to place it on or if you’d rather have it on your roof.
Due consideration must be given to make sure the location allows for the noise condensers make without being an irritant and has sufficient air flow while still being easily accessible for maintenance.
- Check the existing ductwork in your home to make sure there are no leaks or sags in the pipes. Check for debris build up in your ducts. If you find any discrepancies, address them immediately. This is critical to the efficiency of your new AC system.
- Remove any remaining refrigerant from your older system. Make sure your new refrigerant lines are long enough and are loaded with enough refrigerant.
Again, this needs an EPA certification. Handling refrigerants without proper training can be very dangerous.
- Measure and make sure your drain piping is the right length.
- Connect the electrical lines and thermostat to your new system.
- Clear any impurities and contaminants from your refrigerant lines.
- Turn on your system and check if everything is functioning properly. Your compressor and your blower should be working and should efficiently cool your home.
Post Installation Upkeep
Once your new AC system is in place, here’s a list of what you need to do in terms of regular upkeep.
- Clean your air filters periodically. Change them when required.
- Check and clean your evaporator coils at least once in a year.
- Make sure your ducts and drainage lines are free of debris. Clean them periodically.
- Make sure your refrigerant lines aren’t leaking. Top up refrigerant when required.
Think You Can Handle It?
Seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It also requires a very specific set of skills that HVAC professionals are trained to have. So unless you have a lot of time and patience on your hands, it might be a better idea to just hire professionals to handle the installation and maintenance of your new air conditioning system for you.
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