How much does it cost to install AC after you buy a home?

green plant and tree

And how to save on installation

As summers get hotter, air conditioning is becoming a must for households nationwide. But what happens if you’ve found your dream home and it comes with one big catch—there’s no AC?

You can always install an air conditioning unit later and you might save big in the process if you do your research and find local incentives. In this guide to adding an AC unit after you buy, we’ll discuss the types of units available, what you can expect to pay, and how you can save. If you need more advice on what to look for and how to find the right homes for you, start a Flyhomes account. Our agents can help you at every step of your homebuying journey.

Key takeaways

  • The cost of an AC unit, installation, and maintenance depends on what kind of unit you want
  • Factors like energy-efficiency rating, brand, size, and square footage affect price
  • You can save on installation if you shop around for contractors, instal in the off-season, and research what rebates are available

Cost by type of air conditioning units

Not all air conditioning units are the same. Some function as individual units, while others operate as central systems. The type of AC you choose will have a big impact on costs.
Four of the most common types of AC units include:

Portable unit

A portable unit doesn’t require any installation, which means it’s one of the cheaper options. You can also put them anywhere in the home. They pump hot air out the window through a hose and work best in more temperate climates. If you only plan to use air conditioning a few weeks out of the year, a portable unit is a simple, cost-effective solution. Portable units cost around $150 – $900, but you won’t spend a dime on installation.

Window unit

As you can guess by its name, a window unit is mounted onto a window. It’s around the same cost as a portable unit and has a more limited range than central AC, but will require installation. The exact cost will vary depending on the brand, efficiency, and unit size, but you can expect to pay around $150 – $900 before installation costs.

Ductless split

cozy living room with sofas and tv set
Ductless split air conditioners don’t use ducts and cool individual rooms

Ductless split air conditioning systems use a few different parts to run: an outdoor condenser and compressor unit, as well as an indoor piece called an air handler that uses an evaporator coil to cool the air. The beauty of a ductless split system is that it’s easy to install and you won’t have to worry about maintaining ductwork. You’ll spend around $2,000 – $10,000 or more, depending on factors like square footage, brand, and the number of indoor air handlers required.

Packaged central AC

A packaged central air system is most common in commercial settings, but can also be used in a residential property as well. This system contains all the same elements as a ductless split but puts them in a single outdoor unit, usually placed on a roof or the side of a home. Packaged central AC is also the most expensive option on this list and will likely cost you around $4,000 – $8,000. Of course, the final price depends on certain factors like whether or not you need ductwork done. Plus, you could make up the cost later when you go to sell your home since central air can raise your home’s value by as much as 10%.

Central air requires the most work to install, as well. If you have an older home, you’ll still be able to add it but you may need to also pay to have ductwork redone or installed. This means that installation could take as little as 1 day or up to a few weeks if you need to add ducts.

What factors impact the cost of AC units, installation, and maintenance?

Before you rush to buy a unit to start your home remodel, keep in mind how installation and maintenance costs affect the total price. These are the factors that could effect cost down the road.

Type of system

The cost of your AC installation depends on size, brand, and the results of your load calculation. Your HVAC contractor will perform a load calculation to determine what kind of unit you need to properly cool your home. As we detailed above, different types of AC systems can vary in unit price and installation cost.

Square footage

Because most homeowners want their AC unit to cover their whole house, square footage is a key factor when it comes to cost. Read our guide on how to visualize square footage.

It’ll cost less to pump air conditioning through a smaller home than a larger home. If your home is big enough—say, over 3,000 square feet—you may even need two condenser units.

New system vs. replacement system

Replacing an existing AC system is generally cheaper than orchestrating a first-time install. If you need ductwork or vents installed, for instance, your installation cost will be much higher than average.

SEER ratings

Air conditioner efficiency is measured in Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEERs), which are rated on a scale of 13 to 26. The higher the SEER rating, the higher the unit cost. However, high-efficiency units also mean your energy bills will be much more manageable in the long term and you could qualify for rebates and incentives.

Ducts vs. ductless

Once you have a load calculation worked out, your HVAC technician will take a look at your home’s existing ductwork, if there is any. Many older ductwork systems aren’t equipped to handle the requirements of modern central AC units. It’s also possible your home needs upgrades to accommodate an up-to-date system, which could raise installation costs but save money on your utility bills.

Labor

Of course, labor is likely to add a chunk to the installation cost, too. Labor is likely to cost you between $500 to $2,500, depending on how complex the job is. You’re free to shop around for bargains, but it’s also important you select a trusted contractor who will get the job done right the first time. Read online reviews and ask about professional certifications to choose the most reliable, cost-effective option for your budget.

white thermostat at 62
Install a smart thermostat to help regulate your heating and cooling needs to keep bills low once you’ve installed your new AC

How to save on AC costs

You’ve made the decision to install an AC unit, but what now? Here are a few simple tips that can help you save on AC costs.

Wait for the off-season

When demand is high, costs are high. And generally, HVAC companies are most in demand during the winter and summer months. That’s when people notice their broken or malfunctioning systems. Plan ahead for installation in the off-season months (spring and fall), to save on installation costs. Your job may even get done quicker thanks to lower demand.

Look for incentives

Everyone from local governments to equipment manufacturers offer financial incentives that encourage homeowners to install efficient air conditioning units. Your utility company itself may even offer customer assistance programs, discounts, or flexible payment plans that help you save money. Because these incentives depend on where you are, you’ll need to do your research before committing to any air conditioning system.

Make your house more efficient

The more energy-efficient your home is, the less cooling power you need from your AC unit. Planting shady trees around the perimeter of your house is one way of minimizing the amount of energy your AC unit gives out. Draw your shades when you’re not home, install a smart thermostat, and scheduling regular unit maintenance are to lower the ongoing cost of your air conditioning unit.

Examine your requirements

How much cooling does your home need? Central air is great, but ductless mini-splits can be just as effective while being easier on the wallet. Shop around for cheaper name brands and figuring out where you can compromise to save big on AC units, installation, and maintenance costs.

What to know when you want to install AC after you buy a home

Heating and AC help keep you comfortable in your home, no matter the outside weather. An efficient AC system may even be one of the first things you look for when touring a home. But if you’ve come across a property with an old or nonexistent AC unit, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. All it takes is a little research and planning to add AC after you buy. Find out how much cool air you really need for the size of your home, then shop around for the four main types of AC units to see which ones are best for your needs. Look at local incentives for installing energy-efficient units and make sure you hire a well-reviewed HVAC technician to install.

About the author By day, Celita Summa is a Florida-based freelance writer specializing in real estate, technology, sustainability, and a plethora of other topics. By night, Celita can be found developing her talents, which include her black belt in karate, her fluent Italian, and her knack for vegan cooking.

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