How Much Will a New Central Air Conditioning System Cost in 2019?

In the spring of 2019, a lot of people will begin wondering, “how much does a new central air conditioning system cost?”

Every January a nice letter crosses my desk from the manufacturers of all the HVAC systems we use.  They let me know the cost of their equipment will be rising again in 2019.  The cost of systems has been rising by a few hundred dollars every year.  This is a reliable fact and there is no chance of those prices going down for obvious reasons.

When it comes to replacing your air conditioning system, people seem to be driven by one of three things:  low prices, good value, or top-of-the-line gear.  When it comes to the overall price range for a new air conditioning system you should factor in a few things.

It’s a lot like buying a new car.  Some people will get the most basic thing that will get them to work, or they’ll seek out the nicer but middle-of-the-road car they’re proud to own, and it’s very reliable.  Others will look for the latest and newest smart car on the market.  In much the same way, the price for a new central air conditioning system in 2019 will run anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000.  When you bought your new car, you probably got some upgrades.  The seat warmers and self-park feature were a must!  You can get a similar variety of upgrades when choosing your new air conditioning system too, and it doesn’t have to be anything overly lavish, either.

Efficiency Ratings

In 2019, your first consideration when purchasing a new HVAC system should be the efficiency rating.   Finding a company that will give you three or four options, not just one, for your new air conditioner, is important.  You’re limiting yourself if you don’t.

In 2019 you should be seeing options from 14 SEER all the way up to 25 SEER. This SEER rating is like miles per gallon on your car.  That’s a great way to think about it, actually.  The higher the SEER rating, the better and more efficient the equipment will be.  If you chose the 14 SEER or the 25 SEER, you can expect either system to last about 15-25 years.  “Anything after 20 years,” I tell people, “and you’re on borrowed time.”  And that’s fine too because 20 years from now, you’ll probably want that next generation of central air conditioning systems for your home.

A 14 SEER system is going to cost you anywhere between $5,000 and $16,000 in California, depending on where you live and which contractor you choose.  But a lot of that has to do with the type of installation you choose for your new central air conditioning system.  Some people are DIY’ers who thrive on the challenge of replacing their home appliances themselves.  Changing an HVAC system is hard work, but it can be done.

Upgrades

The most popular upgrades after choosing your efficiency are:

  • Dividing your home into two or more “zones”
  • Smart thermostats
  • Wireless thermostats
  • Contactor containment (SureSwitch contactors)
  • Compressor start assist kits
  • Condensate flood switches
  • Air quality products
  • Virtual assistants / smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa)
  • Insulation blown into attics
  • Whole house fans
  • Surge protectors for furnaces or air conditioners
  • Thicker air filters
  • Ductless mini-splits
  • Compressor sound blankets
  • New higher insulated ductwork

If you ask most people why they get upgrades on their newly purchased vehicle, they’ll say it’s about getting what they want the first time, so they don’t have any regrets down the road.  There’s a lot to be said for that when the time comes to buy a new central air conditioning system.

I suggest finding a contractor that not only offers you the new air conditioning system but many of these upgrades as well.  It’s not uncommon for a company to actually throw in the upgrades in their price.

An upgrade like a compressor start kit will add years of life to your system without you even knowing it.  This device cuts down the start-up time of a compressor, which increases the lifespan of your AC system by years! Wouldn’t you rather just have that on your system from the start rather than having a technician sell you that part later on down the road?  Of course, some upgrades are too costly to be “thrown in for free,” but little things like that add a lot of value to the cost of a new air conditioning system.

DIY

Some people thrive on the chance to replace their own appliances.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  Installing HVAC is not rocket science, but there are some licenses and certifications required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to safely handle the refrigerant that goes into a new HVAC system.  Some people will buy their system online for as low as $2,000 – $12,000.  Apparently, you can now buy systems and have them delivered to your door.  The purchaser installs the system according to the installation manual, and when it comes to the refrigerant lines, they’ll have a technician come in do the rest.   One word of warning:  manufacturers do not like to warranty their products when an unlicensed technician installs them.

Price-Only Shoppers – The Most Basic Systems

Some people who can’t or don’t want to install their own system will reach out to a contractor, or some guy on JohnsList where they’ll pay someone to install the system.  I know of HVAC contractors and other handymen in California who can get a basic 14 SEER system into your house for as low as $7,000, maybe even lower.  Have you ever heard that another company with more employees and a bigger shop will sell a similar system for $16,000?  In 2019 that can happen.

Value-Driven Customers Usually Pick in the Middle

When you have three or four options, the middle options will be where most buyers make their purchase.  They’re looking for something good for their home, but maybe not the absolute best on the market technology-wise.  These “middle options” were the top options years ago.  The technology has been perfected and mainstreamed into quality homes everywhere.  You will find these air conditioning systems in the price range of $10,000 to $20,000, depending on which contractor you choose.

Best of the Best

Elite customers are looking for the latest in technology and will tolerate the bumps in the road that can come with such technology.  They prefer systems that are whisper quiet and run at ultra-low amps, making their electric bills much lower!  The technology in 2019 that continues to make a splash is the inverter technology of compressors offered in new air conditioners.  Someday these will be mainstream, but for now, they come at the premium price of $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the contractor.

Depending on Your Contractor

Will they be there when it counts, down the road?  That’s a big question when it comes to the warranties on your new air conditioning system.  Those warranties won’t matter if they aren’t around to make it right for you.  These companies charge too little to keep a legitimate company going for long.

It’s a game we as contractors are always having to play to earn your business.  If we price too high you won’t take us seriously; if we price too low it only entices the price shoppers.  When you hear me say a 16 SEER system could be between $10,000 and $20,000, it’s best to find a contractor whose price lands in the middle of those two.  Your best value will land in this range.  That’s why it’s important to get different quotes when you get your new air conditioning system.  You’ll learn that the price for the same 16 SEER system will be somewhere between that 10 and 20-thousand-dollar mark.

Good luck with your upcoming purchase decision.  There are some really great products you can add to your system to enhance its value for many years.  Choose your contractor wisely; someone who is going to be there down the road; someone who has good reviews online.  It really is all about customer service.  HVAC companies should be trying to take care of you not only for the day of the install but after the install.  Maintenance and preventive cleanings are very important.

Thanks so much and we’ll see you on the next blog!

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