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What is the Average Cost of a New Central Air Conditioner Installed in 2012?


As you plan for upcoming home projects, you might be asking, “What is the average cost of a new central air conditioner installed in 2012?” This guide discusses average costs as well as factors that might make your costs higher or lower than the average.  We’ll also make suggestions for how you can save money on the project as a whole.

How Much do Central Air Conditioners Cost?

Prices vary quite a bit.  Small, cheap air conditioners can be found for about $1,000.  High-end models in larger sizes may cost $5,000.  Here’s a look at the factors that affect the cost of a central air conditioner.

1. Capacity or Size: Central air conditioners are measured in tons – not weight, but cooling capacity – with one ton being roughly equal to the cooling capacity of one ton of ice.  More specifically, one ton is equivalent to 12,000 Btu’s.  Central air conditioners are made in sizes from 1.5 tons to 5.0 tons for residential use, with whole-ton sizes and some half-ton sizes.  The larger the capacity, within a given model, the more it will cost.  Here’s an example to show how size affects cost:

2 ton Carrier Infinity 24ANA1 Air Conditioner: $2,599

3 ton Carrier Infinity 24ANA1 Air Conditioner: $2,849

4 ton Carrier Infinity 24ANA1 Air Conditioner: $3,239

5 ton Carrier Infinity 24ANA1 Air Conditioner: $3,579

2. Efficiency: This is the measurement of how effectively the air conditioner uses electricity to produce cool air.  The more efficient an air conditioner is, all else being equal, the more it will cost. It is measured in SEER, or the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, and the higher the SEER is, the more efficient it is.  Currently, the EPA mandates that central air conditioners must be at least 13 SEER. The most efficient residential central air conditioners are models over 20 SEER.  Using Carrier again, here’s a look at how SEER impacts cost.  These are all 3 ton central air conditioners.

21 SEER Carrier Infinity 24ANA1 Air Conditioner: $2,849

18 SEER Carrier Performance 24APA7 Air Conditioner: $2,679

16.5 SEER Carrier Performance 24APA5 Air Conditioner: $2,499

15 SEER 3 ton Carrier Comfort Series 24ACB3 Air Conditioner: $2,249

13 SEER Carrier Base Series 24ABB3 Air Conditioner: $1,559

3. Performance: Central air conditioners are single-stage, 2-stage or modulating models.  These terms refer to the compressor.  A single-stage compressor offers on/off performance.  A 2-stage model has low capacity, which is about 65%, and 100% high capacity.  A modulating compressor will run at a capacity between 25% and 100%.  Two-stage and modulating models run on lower capacity most of the time, producing longer cycles.  These create more balanced cooling throughout your home.  They reduce temperature fluctuation and also do a better job of removing humidity from your home.  Two-stage models typically use a 2-stage compressor, but some like the American Standard Platinum ZM central air conditioner, use 2 separate compressors. They are more expensive than single-stage models.  Modulating central air conditioners like the Maytag M1200 Series iQ Drive 24.5 SEER AC, and a few others with a modulating compressor, are the most expensive.

If your goal is to reduce equipment costs, you can do that by choosing a single-stage air conditioner if available. In addition, if you live in a cooler climate and don’t use the AC heavily, go with a less efficient model in order to reduce costs.  In warmer climates, a less efficient air conditioner will lead to higher utility bills.  However, if you plan to move in the next few years, installing a less efficient heat pump can lead to good short-term cost savings.

While central air conditioners vary in size, efficiency and performance, the “average” unit would be a 3 ton, 16 SEER, 2-stage model.  And the average cost of such a model would be $2,600.  Smaller, less efficient models and many single-stage air conditioners will cost less.  More efficient models, especially larger ones, will cost more.  Modulating models are significantly more expensive.

Central Air Conditioner Extras

Your new central air conditioner may also require a new evaporator coil.  Also known as the indoor coil, it is installed in the furnace and is an essential part of the system. Indoor coils range in cost from $350 to $750, with the average cost being about $600.  In addition, if the system needs a lineset – copper lines that carry refrigerant – the average cost is about $200.  A thermostat, if needed, can cost as little as $75 or as much as $500, with $125 being an average price.

Central Air Conditioner Total Equipment Costs

Depending on the total equipment package you choose, your costs will range from approximately $1,500 to over $6,700. Adding up the average figures, you can see that the average equipment costs for a new central air conditioning system is about $3,500.

Central Air Conditioner Installation Costs

Installation charges can account for 50% or more of your total costs.  There are also factors that affect installation rates.

1. Complexity of the Installation: The more difficult the installation is, the more it will cost.  Sometimes the foundation has to be bored through or construction makes it challenging to run the copper lineset or install the evaporator coils.  These issues will all rise the cost of installation.

2. Contractor Availability: When contractors are the busiest, their prices are the highest.  Depending on the climate where you live, they will likely be busiest in mid-summer and also the worst part of winter, since most do furnace and heat pump work too.  When they are less busy, they will often offer discounts on installation in order to keep work flowing in.

Easy jobs at discounted rates might cost as little as $1,000 for installation while difficult jobs in the busy season can cost more than $4,000.  The average installation cost for a central air conditioner is about $2,500.

All of this means that having a new central air conditioner installed might cost as little as $2,000 or more than $10,000.  Adding up the numbers, the average installed central air conditioner will cost about $6,000.


What is the average cost of a new central air conditioner installed in 2012?  This guide will help you budget for the event.  To get the lowest costs, request written estimates from at least 3 different air conditioner companies.  Keep in mind that a properly installed central air conditioner will run more efficiently and will be less inclined to break down.  That’s why it’s important to have a qualified contractor handle the installation even if you have to pay a bit extra.  When you do this, you’ll get the maximum performance and durability from your investment.

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