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Central Heating and Cooling Prices 2018 – HVAC Installation Costs

The cost of a new heating and air conditioning system varies widely. This guide covers all the details including Low, High and Average costs, plus important details about installation and accessories.

For an installed central heating and cooling system, you can expect to pay about $3,400 on the low end and more than $14,000 for premium equipment and installation.

That said, most homeowners spend between $6,500 and $8,700 for a standard system that includes either a central air conditioner and furnace combination or a heat pump and air handler.

Let’s dig into the numbers. The first table covers complete systems. Tables below provide more cost detail and comparison to other heating and air conditioning options.

Standard Split Heating and Air Conditioning System Installation Costs:
Low end Average
High end
$3,400 to $5,300 $6,500 to $8,700 $10,300 to $14,600
The above costs include system components, refrigerant line set and refrigerant, plenum, if needed, new thermostat and miscellaneous installation supplies.

The cost of equipment, liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance and travel, contractor’s overhead expenses, plus fair profit are included.

Central heating and cooling cost table

Equipment Types and Costs

There are four basic central heating and air conditioning systems.

Central AC and Furnace: This is the still most common split system type. It is also the most affordable when equipment of comparable quality and efficiency is compared.

Most furnaces use natural gas (NG). In rural areas without NG lines, liquid propane (LP) is used. In the Northeast, oil furnaces are still common.

Operating costs for AC and furnace systems are higher than for heat pumps and dual fuel systems.

Heat Pump and Air Handler: Heat pumps get their name by using refrigerant to capture heat in one location and move it to another where it is dispersed.

Put simply, they are air conditioners with reversing technology. In summer, they move heat from inside to outside. They do the opposite in winter.

Heat pumps are mostly used in warm and moderate climates, but some premium-efficiency models are cold climate heat pumps – they can capture enough heat in freezing weather to warm a home.

Did you know? Operating costs for heat pumps are lower than for gas and oil furnaces.

Dual Fuel Systems: These higher-cost systems include a furnace and a heat pump. These are mostly installed in cold climates.

The system switches from heating with the heat pump to the furnace when outside temperatures fall to a pre-programmed point usually in the mid-30s. It returns to heat pump heating when the temperature warms. Equipment costs are higher, but operating costs are lower.

Package Systems: These get their name from all components being in a single large cabinet. They’re installed outside, on the ground or on the roof, and connected to the home or building ductwork. Most include a furnace and AC, but heat pump package units are available.

Central Heating and Air Conditioning system

Package heating and air conditioning systems are used where basements are not common and in commercial applications. Efficiency and performance are not as high, and the systems wear out sooner because all components are outdoors. They cost more to operate than other systems.

HVAC Systems Cost Comparison

A standard split or package system is not your only option for heating and air conditioning your home or office space.

Both mini split systems and geothermal systems are growing in popularity due to their higher efficiencies.

Mini split systems: These are also called ductless systems. There is one outdoor unit, a condensing unit/heat pump that is smaller than a standard split system unit.

The outdoor unit cycles refrigerant directly to one or more indoor units through refrigerant lines. No ducts are used. The indoor units are positioned to serve a single room or large zone.

The benefit of mini split systems is their higher potential efficiency ratings. Many are also able to heat in extreme cold. The cons include higher equipment cost and potential higher installation costs when multiple indoor units are installed.

Geothermal systems: Standard heat pumps are called air source heat pumps since they collect and dump heat in the air. Geothermal units are called ground source heat pumps because they collect and dump heat in water cycled through underground pipes or wells.

Geothermal heat pump advantages are higher efficiencies. Disadvantages are much higher equipment, installation and repair costs.

System Type

SEER Rating

Avg. Installed Cost Avg. Annual Operating Cost*
Split System 13-26 $6,500-$8,700 $900-$1,200
Mini Split 16-38 $8,200 to $10,550 $730-$840
Geothermal 19-42 $15,600 to $18,500 $615-$755
*Based on a 2,500 square foot home.
Compare HVAC costs of different systems side by side

The Cost of Ducts

Existing ductwork isn’t replaced when replacing an HVAC system except in rare instances where the original ductwork was improperly sized.

There are two types of ductwork, supply and return. The supply ducts carry heated and air conditioned air (treated air) from the furnace or air handler to each room or zone within a room of your home. Return ducts carry “spent” air back to the furnace or air handler.

Ducts cost $9.50 to $12.00 per linear foot in new construction, before drywall has been installed. Cost depends on duct size, the amount and type of insulation used and the number of dampers that are installed.

Manual dampers allow you to close off ducts to independent zones that aren’t being used. This allows you to reduce energy use and cost. The average 2,500 square foot home has 200-225 feet of duct at a total cost of $1,900 to $2,700.

Electronically controlled dampers for a zoned system cost $175 to $325 per zone.

The cost of ducts should be considered as you compare the total cost of ducted vs. ductless systems. Summary:

Ductwork: $9.50-12.00 per linear foot

Electronic zone dampers: $175-$325 per zone (optional)

Itemized Heating and Air Conditioning Component Costs

We recommend replacing the entire system together because components are manufactured to work together in what the industry calls “matched systems”.

For example, if you’re replacing a single-stage heat pump with a two-stage or variable-capacity model, you’ll get the best efficiency and climate control from the new heat pump if it is paired with an air handler with a variable-speed blower.

There are times when one component fails prematurely, and must be replaced. If the other component is in good condition, it might be left in place. With that in mind, here are low, high and average installed costs for individual components:

Common HVAC system components and their costs installed

HVAC System Cost Factors

There are significant cost differences between the cheapest and most expensive systems. The range is related to the cost of equipment, installation factors and where you live. Let’s explore these factors to give you a better idea how much a system costs for your home.

Size of the system: Your heating and AC technician should do a load calculation such as a Manual J study to determine the capacity of the system you need. Furnaces start at about 40,000 BTUs and range to more than 140,000 BTU.

Heat pumps and air conditioners range from 18,000 to 60,000 BTU, also termed 1.5 to 5.0 tons. The indoor AC/heat pump coil and the capacity of the blower in the furnace or air handler must be sized to support the outdoor unit.

Size needed for your home is determined by many factors including your home’s size, your climate, amount of insulation in your home, number and type of windows and doors and others.

Efficiency: HVAC components have ratings that are like gas mileage. They reflect how much heating or air conditioning they produce for the fuel used.

Furnaces start at 80% AFUE (Annualized fuel utilization efficiency) and range to more than 98% AFUE. ACs range from 13-26 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Heat pumps range from 13 to about 23 SEER.

Furnaces must be at least 90% efficient in the North; 80% is sufficient elsewhere. The minimum SEER rating is 13 in the North and 14 everywhere else.

SEER Regional efficiency requirements
Regional Air Conditioning SEER map
Regional Furnace map

Performance: Furnaces and heat pumps are built with single-stage, two-stage and variable-capacity heating and/or air conditioning. Furnaces and air handlers are produced with single-speed, multispeed or variable-speed blowers.

Units with enhanced performance produce temperatures that fluctuate less. Other advantages include better humidity control and quieter operation. Cost goes up with performance.

Installation materials: When an existing refrigeration line set, furnace vent or ductwork plenum where the unit connects to ductwork can be used, costs are lower. Costs rise when one or more of these accessories must be replaced.

A new thermostat: If your old thermostat won’t support the new system, it must be replaced. For example, some older thermostats only support single-stage heating and air conditioning.

If you purchase a two-stage HVAC system, you’ll need a new thermostat. Variable-capacity systems usually require a new thermostat. If you choose the premium feature known as communicating technology, then you’ll need a communicating thermostat.

Thermostats start at less than $20 for non-programmable models. The top-selling programmable units cost $35-$75.

If you choose one of the popular Nest, ecobee, Geo or Honeywell Lyric thermostats, expect to pay $135 to $250.

Communicating thermostats are proprietary for each manufacturer. Most have color touchscreens and are WiFi enabled. They start at about $400.

Installation complexity: Components are harder to install in crawlspaces, attics, under decks and on rooftops, so cost goes up.

Where you live: Equipment and installation costs are highest on the East and West Coasts and in major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Miami.

Lowest costs are found in the rural South and Midwest. The rest of the country is in the average range. Local cost of living affects prices by up to 30%.

We recommend getting written estimates from at least three local installers. Interview each about the experience of the crew that will install your system. Beware of cost estimates that are significantly lower than the others.

The installers might cut corners, and your system won’t have the performance or durability it should.

The right combination of price and quality installation is usually about in the middle of the cost range when you get estimates from contractors that know they are competing for the work.

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