This guide will walk you through everything you need to about air conditioning costs including the air conditioner itself, installation costs and air conditioning system maintenance costs.

Air Conditioner Costs

When you're researching the cost of an air conditioner, there are three important factors that will determine the price:

  1. Brand of the air conditioner
  2. Size of the air conditioner
  3. Efficiency of the air conditioner

Prices of different air conditioning brands

Prices can vary a lot by brand, as much as $2000 between the cheapest and most expensive air conditioners. We compared 2.5-ton models (more on that later) and the cheapest air conditioner we found was the Payne at $1400. The most expensive air conditioner in our research was the Lennox at $3410.

The question is how important are the brand names? Most experts would say that a mid-range air conditioner like the Gibson at $2265 is more than sufficient for most people.

Beyond that, the more expensive air conditioners like the Lennox or the American Standard at $3195 offer nice-to-have, but unnecessary features like quieter running speeds and more accurate climate control. The more expensive brands tend to also have better efficiency, but we'll talk more about that later. For now, you can use the following to decide which air conditioning brand is right for you.

Size matters for air conditioning prices

Air conditioner size can greatly affect price and is directly related to its cooling ability. Cooling is described in either tons or BTUs. A ton, believe it or not, refers to the amount of ice melted in a day. So a 1.5 ton air conditioning system is the equivalent of melting 1.5 tons of ice for a day. BTUs (or British Thermal Unit) is a measure for cooling that's more common to use nowadays. If you ever get confused, just remember that 1 ton of cooling is equivalent to 12000 BTU/hour of cooling.

Window air conditioners are usually less one ton; a smaller air conditioner is roughly 2 tons and largest are up to 5 tons. The best size for you depends on the square footage of the space you're trying to keep cool, the insulation of your home and even the number of occupants.

Of course, you can opt to get a lower or higher BTU depending on your preference. Here are the rough prices for different air conditioner sizes, including installation:

  • 1.5 tons and 18,000 BTU ? $1,500
  • 2 tons and 24,000 BTU ? $2,000
  • 2.5 tons and 30,000 BTU ? $2,400
  • 3 tons and 36,000 BTU ? $2,600
  • 3.5 tons and 42,000 BTU ? $2,800
  • 4 tons and 48,000 BTU ? $3,000
  • 5 tons and 60,000 BTU ? $3,200

Efficiency of the air conditioner

The last factor that you need to consider for your air conditioner is efficiency. Air conditioning efficiency is measured in SEER or the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. SEER measures how much energy (from your home's electricity) is converted into cool air.

More expensive brands tend to have higher SEER ratings, so while you might spend more upfront, you could end up saving money in 5 years from your energy bill. Here's the cost of different air conditioners by SEER rating:

Efficiency Ratings AC & Coil
13-14 SEER (Standard Efficiency) $1,215
15-16 SEER (High Efficiency) $1,640
17-18 SEER (High Efficiency) $1,960
19-21 SEER (Super High Efficiency) $2,490
22-24 SEER (Highest Available Efficiency) $2,980

How much can your SEER rating affect your energy bill? It depends a lot on your local electricity costs (dollars per kW/h) and how often you'll use it. If you're using your A/C unit on a daily basis and all throughout the year, then you'll likely want a SEER rating above 20. But if you're only using your air condition system for a couple months, then we'd suggest getting 15-18 SEER.

This is the general breakdown for choosing a SEER rating:

  • 16-23 SEER: high efficiency, high prices, low month-to-month costs.
  • 14-17 SEER: moderate efficiency.
  • 13 SEER: low efficiency, good for rentals, economical buy.

Note: once your air conditioner is installed, a great way to keep your bill down is to lighten the load. Keeping blinds down, shading windows, shutting off appliances and improving insulation can help reduce the amount of air conditioning you need. When doing home renovations, you can also use more high-efficiency products. For example, if you're replacing your roof, a cool roof can save half a ton of cooling over the year.

Air Conditioner Installation Prices

The best step is to get several HVAC contractors to provide you with quotes for your installation, but the range should be between $500 & $1000, assuming you don't need any major ductwork done.

Ductwork can increase the installation cost by 1000s of dollars. You might think to skip this step, but duct leakage can reduce cooling by your air conditioner by 20-40%. So you might save duct work costs upfront, but you'll end up spending more on your monthly energy bill to keep your home cool. You might be able to seal some duct leakage yourself using mastic, but most likely you'll need a professional.

Air Conditioner Maintenance Costs

Maintenance costs are a bit difficult to predict and can vary a lot depending on usage and the quality of the brand you choose, but we can give you a rough idea of what to expect.

To save money on maintenance costs, the best thing you can do is regular self-maintenance: keep the coils clean, replace dirty filters air flow is never blocked by leaves or any other matter that could affect air flow.

That said, from time-to-time, you'll need a professional to service your air condition system.