Why Is Air Conditioning So Expensive?

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re just planning on getting an AC or if you have had such a unit for quite a while already. There is one question that will always unite these two groups of people – ‘why is air conditioning so expensive?’.

The cost of the actual unit is based on its size, features, efficiency, and the cost of installation. The repair costs are constantly getting higher because older refrigerants are being phased out, the cost of raw materials is getting higher, and the manufacturers are raising their prices. 

Why are all these things happening and is an air conditioning system still worth investing in?

We’ll help you make your mind up.

How Much Does an Air Conditioner Cost?

Let’s first figure out how much it will cost you to buy and install an air conditioning unit.

TypeUnit Cost
Central AC$1.200 – $4.500
Ductless Mini-Split System$1.000 – $5.500
Window AC Unit$150 – $750
Geothermal$3.000 – $6.000

The cost of a unit alone is, in the absolute majority of cases, an investment.

But this is only the beginning. Get ready to pay for the installation of your brand-new system.

Up to this day, central air conditioners remain the most popular option among millions of homeowners. Depending on the size of the unit and a few other factors, the professionals are going to ask you to pay between $3.000 and $9.000 for the installation of such a system.

Window air cons are considered to be a bad purchase as they have plenty of disadvantages, but they are the cheapest option on the market and the units can be installed by the homeowner. 

Ductless mini-split systems are incredibly efficient, but their installation costs $2.000-$14.500.

Finally, geothermal heat pumps. These units offer both air conditioning and heating but require considerable labor for installation (that will cost you between $10.000 and $30.000).

Last but not least, the repair and maintenance costs.

It will ‘only’ cost you a few hundred bucks to replace your filters and the thermostat. But be prepared to pay up to $1.300 to fix a leak and up to $1.200, if you ever need to replace a compressor.

The average cost of having your ducts cleaned by a professional is $375.

What Is the Cost of an Air Conditioner Based On?

1.    Efficiency

The SEER rating is a number that indicates the energy efficiency of the unit. It ranges from 13 to 22.

The higher the rating, the more energy-efficient the system and the higher its cost.

However, do bear in mind that the models with a higher SEER will help you save a lot in the long run.

For example, a 20 SEER AC system will provide twice the efficiency of a 10 SEER system, which means that the cost of operating such a unit is 50% lower.

2.    Size

In the AC industry, when talking about the ‘size’ of the unit, the experts actually mean the system’s tonnage value. It, basically, indicates how quickly the system is able to cool the place.

This is where you don’t have to go all out because getting an air conditioner with the highest cooling capacity is not always the right choice.

If the unit is too big for the room, it will end up cooling the space too quickly and shutting down. Such ‘short cycles’ will make your energy bills skyrocket and they are also bad for the unit’s mechanisms. 

3.    Features

If you want your HVAC unit to have:

  • A smart thermostat (such a device is going to adjust the whole system to your daily schedule)
  • Extra noise reduction
  • A notification system that will tell you when your filters need to be changed, for example
  • Multiple fan-speed settings
  • An air purifier
  • And any other bonus feature

Then be prepared to pay more.

4.    Installation

Installation might sometimes cost as much (or even more) than the actual air conditioner. 

The cost would depend on the HVAC system that you decide to go for and, of course, the rate of the contractor.

A professional with years of experience, a good reputation, and labor warranties can’t be cheap. However, paying a higher price to a great expert is definitely worth it as the efficiency of the whole unit is going to depend on the quality of the installation.

Why Air Conditioning Repair Costs Are Getting So Expensive?

You can’t underestimate the importance of proper maintenance because various AC repairs can cost you a small fortune.

But what exactly makes these bills so high?

·         Freon Is Being Phased Out

Freon or R-22 is a refrigerant that is used in the air conditioning industry. If you have a central AC system that is at least a few years old or more, then the chances are high that your unit runs on R-22.

The problem with freon is that it starts to destroy our planet’s ozone layer, as soon as it reaches the atmosphere. Because of that, R-22 is being phased out.

In 2020, the production and import of freon were banned. But since there are still some ACs that need this substance, it is now sold at around $500 per jug (a decade ago it was $100 for a 30-gallon jug).

Of course, the prices are going to increase even more as the supplies of the refrigerant dwindle. 

In a nutshell, it would be much more beneficial for your wallet, if you switch to a 410a system that is EPA-approved. 

·         The Cost of Raw Materials Is Getting Higher

Sometimes, you would have to buy a brand-new AC part, in order to fix the unit.

Unfortunately, the prices for the raw materials that are used to manufacture these parts have skyrocketed throughout the last few years. 

Let’s take steel as an example. The majority of the parts in the system (drain pans, ducts, motor casings, coils, etc.) are made out of steel.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics constantly monitors the prices of goods made in the United States. The cost of steel has seen a 15% increase at the beginning of 2021.

Some other materials that are used in AC production include copper (piping and wiring), lumber (experts deliver units on wooden pallets), and aluminum (the condensing unit and the fins in the evaporator coil).

·         The Manufacturers Are Raising the Prices

Such manufacturers as Carrier, Lennox, Trane, and many others are constantly raising their prices.

This has to do not only with the cost of raw materials but also with the fact that there were labor shortages and plenty of delays during the pandemic

Here is the latest list of price increases made by ABR Wholesalers, Inc.

Why Does Your AC Cost So Much to Run?

You can’t really affect the prices set by the manufacturers or how much the raw materials cost. But fortunately, there are a few things that you can fix to make your air conditioner a little less expensive to run.

Enormous energy bills might have to do with…

Air Leaks

On average, a fourth of the air gets lost in the system because of leaks (in case you have a ducted cooling system). 

The cooled air simply doesn’t make it to the room, and the AC ends up working at its full capacity all the time.

Moreover, gaps around the windows and doors can be affecting your energy bills as well. The cool air simply escapes your house through the window frames or under the door.

A Misused Thermostat

Firstly, you have to make sure that your thermostat is working properly.

Secondly, you should know how to use the device. 

The majority of people will feel amazing if the temperature in their house is about 78 degrees. But a lot of homeowners like to set their thermostat a lot lower because they are convinced that the unit is going to cool the space much faster if they do that.

Such manipulations will make your air conditioner struggle, especially, if you live in a hot area.

Tip: ACs are most effective in cooling to a temperature that is about 20 degrees lower than the outside temperature.

Out-of-Date Equipment

The older the unit, the more it will cost you to run.

So, if your system is over 10-15 years old, consider investing in a newer, more energy-efficient model.

A Dirty Filter

A clogged air filter will make the system work a lot harder, in order to get the same amount of airflow through the system.

Keep the filters clean and the unit is going to perform much better for a less amount of money.

To Sum Up

Yes, air conditioning is relatively expensive and the costs are, most likely, going to be getting only higher.

But the great news is that that are a few tips that you can follow to make sure that you don’t pay more than you have to.

Moreover, the newest models have extremely high levels of energy efficiency which makes such units an investment that might end up lowering your energy bills.