Staying cool during the sweltering heat of summer takes power. A fan helps, but doesn’t quite cut it. Portable air conditioners and window units are decent for single room use.
For a whole home, you’ll want a central system that can maintain steady temperatures in multiple rooms. Central AC delivers on power, yet there are many units to select from in the current market. Our buyer’s guide will walk you though the primary considerations such as appropriate models, installation costs, and other relevant factors to help you make to make the most informed decision.
In the current market, you can plan to spend between $3,500 and $7,500 for full installation of a central air conditioning system. The national average cost for a basic installation is just under $5,500.
These numbers translate to a licensed HVAC contractor installing the most feasible unit for your home. Installers’ expertise draws upon many factors, not the least of which is evaluating your current ductwork strengths and weaknesses, along with how well your home is insulated and will therefore retain the cool energy in your home.
Did you know? When added to an existing forced-air heating system with the existing ductwork in place, a new central air unit for a typical 2,000 sq. ft. home will cost between $3,500 and $5,500 to install. However, if your home needs new ducts fabricated and put in place, then your total installation cost will range between $5,500 to $11,000 depending on the extent of work required to lay out the appropriate ductwork for the new central air conditioning system.
The ROI Factor
Part of what you pay for with most HVAC contractors are warranties. Modern units will typically run well for 7 to 15 years before needing replacement. Great units that are well maintained can operate for up to 18 years.
Generally, the return on investment, or ROI Factor, for central systems is a bit low. Contemporary home buyers have come to expect central air in their new home. At best, you’ll recoup 50% of the value you put into the central system at the time you sell your home. Compared with other home upgrades and improvements, such as updating insulation or installing a new roof, this is low.
With that said, the reliability of the system and how well it is maintained are arguably the most important factors for returning on the initial investment you make. Which is why warranty info matters. A contractor’s warranty will spell out how repairs are handled, in terms of cost, during the warranty period. Additionally, the manufacturer’s warranty covers the hardware and system parts that will be replaced should the need arise.
While extended warranties are tempting, they can add several thousands to the cost. Their value is debatable, as repairs may be actually less outside of these extended versions.
Plus, if you realize 10+ years is actually a good value for your system, a full replacement probably makes more sense than say $2,500 on repairs at that time. Ideally, the manufacturer of the unit includes a lifetime warranty on the original product.
Selecting The System – AKA Familiarizing Yourself With The Technical Nuances
While there are many features in the modern central AC units, some of that is bells and whistles, while others are the basics. The basics include:
- BTU – this will determine size of the unit
- EER – standard value noting energy efficiency, more obscure notation for central systems, less obscure for those in hotter climates
- SEER – popular variable for noting energy efficiency in seasonal climates
- Single-stage vs. two-stage – single-stage is the historic norm, two-stage offers power saving and noise reduction
Size and energy efficiency are generally the two main factors that govern most consumers when it comes to purchasing a new central AC system. With both BTU and SEER, the higher the number, the better the unit. However, and this can’t be emphasized enough, bigger isn’t always the most appropriate for every home.
Square footage of the rooms to be cooled in a home, will relate to the BTU calculation. So, say there is 1,000 sq. ft. of space to be cooled, then the general rule is that it will require a unit that powers at roughly 20,000 BTU’s per hour. If it were instead 2,000 sq. ft. of space, the number of BTU’s requried would be about 34,000 BTU’s per hour.
Did you know? If you were to take a central AC unit that has a capacity of 34,000 BTU’s, and install it for a smaller, 1,000 sq. ft. space, it would be detrimental and counter-productive to your overall energy efficiency. In fact, the AC unit would cycle on and off frequently, which would ultimately require greater energy than continuous operation, as well as lead to an increased operational wear-and-tear.
SEER is the variable that will drive decision between models as much as BTU’s. In fact, some model names among the top brands are based solely on the SEER factor, such as Goodman’s GSX13 (with up to a 13 SEER capacity).
In today’s world, the SEER range on the market is from 13 to 26 typically. A decade ago and earlier, finding models under SEER 13 was common, but U.S. standards in 2006 have lead the industry to adopt a minimum of 13 SEER for all manufactured products going forward.
Did you know? The bigger the SEER number, the more cost savings you’ll likely see on your energy bills over the course of a year. 😉