Home renovations made simple
You’ve made the decision to install an air conditioner. How do you choose an AC that fits your needs as well as your budget?
First of all, can you install your own air conditioner and save on costs? Without an HVAC technician’s licence, performing your own central air installation may damage your home and violate permit laws in your city. When it comes to a portable air conditioner unit, DIY installation is a definite possibility.
Explore your options to ensure you choose the right cooling system for your home. Read on for the pros of cons of central air and the alternatives.
Central air conditioning
Central air conditioning can be expensive, but many homeowners find the cost well worth the benefits of being able to cool down the entire house uniformly and invisibly. This is an excellent choice for homes with an existing furnace system. Note that installation of a central system will increase the resale value of your home, bringing you a greater return on investment than a portable unit.
Get your vents and ducts inspected
To avoid hidden costs, have your ductwork inspected and show the results to your contractor before requesting a quote for the cost of your new AC unit installation. You or your contractor should also speak to your local construction authority about whether installing an AC system will require a permit.
Can you add air conditioning to an existing furnace?
If you already heat your home with a furnace, you may be able to use your ductwork to install a central AC. The cost of adding air conditioning to an existing furnace is lower than that of installing a new ventilation system. Heating and cooling are two sides of the same coin—the professionals who install your AC will always deal with both aspects of indoor climate control systems.
What impacts the cost of central AC?
Installing a new central air conditioning system in a smaller family home will typically cost $2,800 to $6,800. For a 2,000 square-foot home, the cost can run even higher, closer to $8,000. The total cost includes factors beyond the price of materials and the labour involved in AC installation. Energy efficiency and additional features also play a role.
Developing a realistic budget for your central air conditioner installation is essential. Consider the three pricing factors below when setting aside funds for your new cooling system:
Seasonal Energy-Efficiency Rating (SEER)
The SEER measures how much heat your air conditioner will remove for every watt of electricity consumed. A higher SEER means more heat is removed with less electricity. The higher the SEER, the lower your electricity bill can be. The cost of a new AC unit goes up with a higher SEER: at 13 SEER, a new AC unit might cost $2,800, while a 24-SEER unit might carry a price tag of $6,800. If it fits within your budget, go with a higher SEER now to decrease your energy bills in the future.
Cooling down a larger home will require a bigger central air conditioning system. The size of your system will be expressed in BTU (a unit of heat) per hour. 12,000 BTU per hour is one ton, which cools 400 square feet in your home. To find the BTU requirements of your home, divide your square footage by 400 and multiply by 12,000.
For a 2,000 square foot house the calculation would look like this:
2,000 square feet ÷ 400 square feet x 12,000 BTU/hour = 60, 000 BTU per hour.
Air conditioner brands vary in cost due to additional features like noise reduction or higher SEER. A Coleman air conditioner can cost ten times as much as a system from a premium brand like York or Magic Pak.
Alternative air conditioning options
Installing central air conditioning requires that your home already be fitted with vents and ducts. Overhauling your ventilation system can be more expensive than simply choosing an air conditioner option more suited to your home, like ductless mini-splits or attic fans. We’ll cover these below.
The price of a portable air conditioner varies between $150 and $500, making them the least expensive of your AC options. The downside is that a portable unit will cool down a much smaller area than a central system while taking up more room in your home.
Portable air conditioners come in three main varieties: hose systems, evaporative cooling units, and window-mounted split systems.
Hose systems require window space for an exhaust hose. They are efficient in cooling down a single room as long as the area around the exhaust hose is sealed correctly. Otherwise, hot air will leak in through the open window.
Evaporative cooling units can be used in garages or on enclosed porches, working most efficiently in partially open spaces. Note that both hose and evaporative cooling systems will require use of a water reservoir.
Split systems are portable air conditioning units as they are traditionally understood: boxes mounted in an open window that cool down a small area of the house. A window air conditioner installation will look bulky and can detract from a home’s curb appeal.
Some central air conditioners are also described as split systems because the evaporative and condensing components are installed as separate structures on your property. However, these are not the same as a window air conditioner installation.
Ideal for homes without the ductwork for a central system, the ductless mini-split AC system requires installation of one exterior unit and a series of air handlers. The exterior unit is much smaller, sleeker, and quieter than that of a traditional window air conditioner.
The cost of a ductless mini-split, at $2,000 to $8,000, is comparable to central air conditioner installation for a home with an existing furnace.
Hot air rises and collects in your home’s attic. Without adequate ventilation, a heat pocket becomes trapped above your home. By installing a fan, you will cool down the rest of your home while expanding the possibilities of your attic—who knew that the hottest, stuffiest room in your house could become your new remote work office? At a price between $400 and $900, the cost is comparable to that of a portable air conditioner, with the effects felt throughout your home rather than in only one room.
Attic fans are also a great complement to existing AC systems. By venting the hottest air in the house, they decrease the cost of operating a central air conditioner.
Should I repair my old system or install a new one?
Have your air conditioning system inspected by a certified HVAC technician before you make that call. Replacing a central AC can cost between $2,375 and $7,500 due to the labour involved in removing and disposing of the old system. If your central AC is less than ten years old, a repair will be much cheaper than a replacement.
However, central air conditioning systems have a lifespan of 10-20 years. If you have an older AC and are noticing decreased efficiency, it is probably time to replace instead of repair. The Government of Canada recommends replacing air conditioners that are over 10 years old for upwards of 30% in savings on your electricity bills.
Is central AC the right choice for your home?
Before you make your final decision, it’s helpful to understand the reasons behind air conditioning costs and the alternatives to central AC. You may find that spending more money upfront saves cash in the long run by reducing your energy bills.
Remember that central air conditioning is not your only option for cooling your home. The cost to add air conditioning to an existing furnace is much lower than the price of installing new ductwork and vents. A portable air conditioner, ductless mini-split, or attic fan may be the best fit for your home.
If you do choose to go with central air conditioning, finding a qualified contractor will be necessary for a successful installation.
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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.