Cost To Install Central Air And Other Cooling Options

Central air conditioning is a system in which air is cooled from a central location and distributed to and from rooms by one or more fans and ducts. It is all done via a compressor located outside of the home. 

How Much Does It Cost To Install Central Air?

Cost To Install Central Air View in gallery

The biggest question regarding central air is “how much does it cost?” After all, it seems like a dream to be able to cool your entire house from one unit. It must cost a fortune, right? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to take a look at.

The average cost of installing central air is between $3000 and $7000. But where does this number come from and how can you cut costs? 

Evaluation – Under $500

It may be tempting to skip out on an evaluation, but it will actually save you money in the end. You want to get the right central air unit for you. You don’t want to overpay for something that you don’t need. 

Type Of Central Air Unit – $1,400 to $4000

The type of central air unit matters. However, most contractors or HVAC installers will help you decide what’s right for you. Heat pumps are expensive but they can also heat your house. Whereas split air systems are cheaper but only work one way.

The size of the unit you choose also matters. It cost more to buy a unit that heats a 3000-sqft home than a 1000-sqft home. The last thing that affects the cost of the unit is brand. A brand like Lennox will be twice as much as one like Coleman. 

Labor – $400 to $2000

The cost of labor primarily depends on whether you need ducts installed or not. If you don’t, you can pay as little as a few hundred dollars. If you do, you may pay up to $2000. This means about a third to half of what you pay will be labor.

Some people try to install central air themselves, but this will cost more money in the end. Repairs can add a lot to your cost. With half of all central air units being installed incorrectly, you can reduce the efficiency by 30% or more. 

Pros And Cons Of Central AirView in gallery

Pros And Cons Of Central Air

In the end, it all comes down to the pros and cons. 


  • No Maintenance – if installed by a professional, expect to leave the central air for decades without having to touch it or call someone. The only thing to watch for is mold and mildew in the ductwork. 
  • Very Effective – central air is probably the most effective way to cool a house. This is why it is so popular and why so many people want to learn more about it. 
  • Nearly Silent – central air units are usually quite silent. Some furnaces can be heard but most central air units are only heard when kicking on and off. 
  • Programmable – most modern central air units can be programmed to shut off and on at certain times. They can also be programmed to shut the air off to certain rooms that you’re not using at the time. 
  • Natural Filter – central air units naturally clean and filter air. So dust and harmful particles are removed from the air without the need for another air filter. 


  • Expensive – central air is quite expensive and there’s not much you can do to make them less expensive. You will pay at least a couple of thousand dollars, which is much more than you’d pay for any other system. 
  • Energy Hog – central air uses a lot of energy and can raise your electric bill significantly. It’s not the most energy-efficient or eco-friendly way to cool your house. 
  • Can’t DIY Effectively – whether it’s repaired, cleaning, or installing, a professional will be needed if you have central air. This adds a lot to the cost of cooling your home as labor is expensive. 
  • Overshared Air – a lot of central air units will ensure that the entire house is at the same temperature. However, this means that everyone has to agree on a temperature and this can be quite difficult. 

Other Cooling OptionsView in gallery

Other Cooling Options

Central air isn’t the only option for cooling your house. The other option doesn’t have to be a basic fan either. Those can work for cool climates, but most homes need something stronger. These days, there are dozens of ways to cool a home! 

Window AC Units

Window air conditioning units are one of the cheapest ways to cool a room. Just like central air, window ac units come with a list of pros and cons.


  • Cheap – this is just about the cheapest way you can efficiently cool a house. Window AC units are affordable and they work well for the room they are installed in. 
  • Easy to install – most people can install a window AC, however, it’s better to have someone who is experienced show you how to the first time. Safety should be the number one priority. 
  • Easy to replace – if something happens to your window unit, then you can have it replaced easily. Throw the old one out and put a new one in. that’s what’s great about cheap equipment!
  • Perfect for picky roommates – if your household can’t agree on a temperature, then get window units. This way, you can each control your own room without relying on someone who feels cooler or warmer than you. 
  • Can change window – window ACs can be moved around to different windows if handled carefully. You can move them to the bedroom and back again. However, it will need to be reinsulated each time. 


  • Only cools one room – window ACs aren’t made for entire houses. You can add one to each room but then this makes the cost that much more. They are better for smaller houses that only need one or two. 
  • Can be hard to insulate around – because window units need the window to be open, this can cause other problems. Insulation made for ACs is needed. This doesn’t add a lot of cost, but it can be a hassle. 
  • Needs a strong window frame – some frames can’t support a window AC unit. These windows won’t even work if a frame is built. For homes without a good window, a different type of unit may be necessary. 
  • Unsafe if not installed properly – window AC units have been known to fall out of windows. So it’s best if someone who knows what they are doing installs it for you. A frame may need to build for extra security. 
  • Security risk  – because window units can be removed easily, it can pose a security risk. Install a home security system if you have a window unit. Make sure that it covers windows as well as doors.

Standing AC Units

Also known as a portable AC unit, these are by far the easiest air conditioner to install. After all, you plug it in and you’re good to go. 


  • No installation needed – all you need to do is take it home and plug it in. Some require a tiny bit of setup but it’s all very easy and can be done by anyone that can read a manual. 
  • Fairly cheap – this is one of the cheapest AC options available. You can get a really nice one for less than central air or a small one for the same price as a heater. 
  • Portable – of course, the portability is great! You can move it to another room with ease or even take it with you to different houses, in the car, or relatives’ houses. 
  • Can be hidden – thankfully, it is safe to put these units behind furniture or a curtain. So you can hide them quite well and they can still cool a room just as well. 


  • Loud – portable AC units can be quite loud. While quiet options are available, most of them are noisy and can be annoying if you don’t like a lot of white noise. 
  • No outdoor heat release – because standing AC units don’t allow heat to escape outside, it can actually be counterproductive inside. The heat can’t escape and makes it harder to cool the room.
  • May require maintenance – because there is no outdoor condensation release, most portable ACs have a drain tank. These will need to be cleaned out regularly if you don’t want an overflow and a wet floor. 
  • For small areas – like window AC units, portable air conditioners are only for small areas. You can find one to cool any room, but that air isn’t likely to travel far outside the room. You’ll need one for each room you want to cool.

Evaporative Coolers

An evaporative cooler, or a swamp cooler, is primarily used outside. It turns water into cool air. This is an eco-friendly, though a less effective way to cool. 


  • Energy-efficient – evaporative coolers use water and cool with humidity. So they save money and reduce any bills you may have associated with cooling your home. this can’t be said for most ACs. 
  • Eco-friendly – because they recycle water, evaporative coolers are amazingly eco-friendly. If you’re going off-the-grid, or want a more natural lifestyle, they might be a good option for you.
  • Great for mild climates – if the temperature never gets above 90 degrees where you live, then evaporative coolers may cool your home quite well.


  • Not for hot climates – if your climate gets over 95 degrees, then evaporative coolers won’t work. If it stays pretty mild, then great. But it can’t make a room much more than 20 degrees cooler than it is outside. 
  • Not for humid climates – these systems use humidity to cool a room, so using them in humid climates will only make the room hotter.
  • Other systems more effective – evaporative coolers are one of the least effective methods for most climates. In the future, they may be the number one type of cooling unit, but right now, they just don’t work in most cases. 
  • May leak – because they use water, they also may leak. This is a safety hazard for many reasons. It can rot wood, leave puddles that people can slip on and cause issues if the water touches something electrical. 
  • Consumes a lot of water – if you are under water restrictions, you may not want an evaporative cooler. They consume a lot of water. If this is a plentiful resource for you, then that’s great.
  • Installed in the roof – this may not be a con to you, but to most people, having a unit installed on the roof isn’t great. It makes a hole in the roof, so if you ever want to remove it, you’ll have to fill the hole. 

Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Mini-Split Air ConditionersView in gallery

Mini-split units both heat and cool, which is why they are becoming increasingly popular. But just like other cooling options, they have both pros and cons. 


  • Small – mini-split ACs are small and don’t take up a lot of room. They are noticeable but they aren’t as large as other AC units yet they cool the area just as good, perhaps even better than standard AC units. 
  • Heats and cools – this is definitely a huge plus. Mini-splits heat and cool a home. So you won’t have to pay the cost of a heating system and only have one system to wrry about as far as maintenance is concerned. 
  • Separate systems – many mini-splits have multiple units connected to an outdoor unit. They can each be controlled separately, so you can only turn them on when you need them. 
  • Easy installation – though installing a multi-split isn’t as easy as using a portable AC, it’s much easier than installing central air. You don’t need to use any ducts and only a small conduit.
  • Multiple ways to mount – mini-splits can be mounted on the wall, hung from the ceiling, or set in a window. There are many ways to install them so you can set them up to match your room.
  • Secure – because they only need a small hole, they are more secure than other mounted units or window units. So no one is crawling in even if they do manage to get the unit out. 


  • Medium-priced – though they don’t cost as much as central air most of the time, they do cost more than most other cooling systems. 
  • Not invisible – they can’t be hidden like other units or central air. So if you don’t like the look of them, you’re out of luck. You can try to hide them, but in the end, they will always be visible. 
  • Requires a pro – you shouldn’t attempt to install mini-splits alone. Since they are relatively new and always updating, it’s best to get a professional. If you don’t, you risk your own safety and losing money to repair any mistakes you make.