If you’re looking at having a new air conditioner installed, you may want to know approximately how much you can expect to pay. The cost of AC installation can vary quite dramatically as there are many factors that can affect it. For a 2,000-square-foot home, you could pay anywhere from $5,000 to over $20,000 to purchase a new unit and have it installed depending on the size of the new unit, how energy efficient it is, and which HVAC contractor you use. To help you understand why the price can vary so much, here are the various factors that can have an impact.

How Climate Zone and Square Footage Determine AC Size

The total square footage of your home is one of the biggest factors that determines what size of AC unit you need. The general rule is that you need at least 20 BTUs of cooling for every square foot. However, this rule doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere as the local climate is also a major factor in how much cooling is needed. People living in the far northern US typically wouldn’t need as large of an AC unit as you would in California where the weather is normally quite a bit hotter.

Since Southern California can get quite hot, you may instead need 30 or even 40-45 BTUs per square foot. This means that you could need anywhere from 40,000 to 90,000 BTUs to efficiently cool a 2,000-square-foot home.

Central AC units are measured in terms of tons and are available in half-ton increments from 1 to 5 tons. Every AC ton is equal to 12,000 BTUs. For a 2,000-square-foot home, you could need anywhere from 3.5 to 7.5 AC tons. If the calculations determine you need more than 5 tons, you will need to have two units installed as residential units don’t come any bigger than 5 tons.

Exactly how many BTUs you actually need depends in large part on how well insulated your home is as this will directly impact how quickly it heats up. If your walls or especially your attic floor aren’t well insulated, we would always recommend having them insulation before you install your new AC unit. If not, you will end up needing a larger unit than you would otherwise and your energy bills will also be quite a bit higher.

Using Load Calculations to Determine AC Size

The only real way to accurately know what size of AC unit you need is to have an HVAC technician perform a load calculation to determine exactly how many BTUs are needed to effectively cool your home. Most technicians perform load calculations using something known as a Manual J formula. This calculation takes into account the things we’ve already mentioned—total square footage, climate zone, and level of insulation—as well as numerous other important factors.

The total number of windows and doors in the home is one factor. For every window and door, you will usually need to add 1,000 BTUs. However, the size and location of all of your windows are also important since windows can be one of the biggest sources of heat gain. This is especially true if you have multiple large windows that face west or south since these will receive the most direct sunlight during the hotter parts of the day; this indicates you will typically need a larger AC unit due to the heat gain from your windows.

The amount of sunlight or shade the building gets throughout a typical day also impacts the rate at which it will heat up. If your home is surrounded by large trees and mostly stays shady, you can usually get by with a slightly smaller AC unit than you would need if your home never received any shade.

The number of people who live in or regularly occupy the building is also important because people naturally give off a good amount of heat and humidity. For every additional person in the building, you will usually need to add at least 500 extra BTUs.

As you can see, there is quite a bit that goes into calculating what size of AC unit is needed. For this reason, it is always important that you hire a knowledgeable, experienced HVAC contractor to perform this calculation for you.

How SEER Rating and Compressor Speed Can Impact Cost

The size of your new AC unit isn’t the only factor that will affect its cost as the price can still vary quite a lot between AC units of the same size. One factor that will definitely affect the price is the unit’s Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER rating. SEER measures how much energy an AC unit uses compared to how many BTUs of cooling it produces. The higher the unit’s SEER rating is, the less energy it will use. A higher SEER unit will also cost at least a few thousand dollars more than a more basic unit that only meets the minimum required SEER rating, which is currently 15 SEER in California.

Another factor is whether you choose a single-stage, two-stage, or variable-speed AC unit. Single-stage units are always the cheapest option, but they are also the least energy efficient. This is because a single-stage unit always runs at full power, whereas a two-stage AC can run at both high and low power as needed.

Variable-speed ACs typically have five or more different power settings, which makes them even more energy efficient but also quite a bit more costly. If you’re upgrading from a single-stage or two-stage unit to a variable-speed AC, the total installation cost will be even more. This is because you will also need to have a new blower installed as well. The reason is that variable-speed ACs always have to be paired with a variable-speed blower, whereas single-stage and two-stage units typically only ever have a single-speed blower.

Other Factors That Can Add to the Cost of AC Installation

If you’re looking to install a full central AC system when building a new home, your cost will be much higher since you will also need to have the ductwork, air handler, refrigerant lines, and other components installed. Even if you’re simply replacing an old AC unit, you may still need to have additional work done depending on the condition of your existing system. For instance, it may be necessary to install a new evaporator coil or upgrade your blower if your new unit is larger than the old one. A new blower motor would typically cost at least $500 while a new evaporator coil could be $2,000 or more.

At Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning, our team can help ensure that you get the size and type of AC unit that is best for your home. We are a Lennox Premier Dealer, and we carry a wide selection of new AC units suitable for homes of any size and for any budget. We happily provide free estimates on all new HVAC installations, and financing is also available for new units on approved credit. Our team also installs furnaces, heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits, and we can help if you need any HVAC repairs or maintenance as well. For more information on our AC installation services, or if you need any other service in the San Marcos area, give us a call today.

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