How To Fix It

Why Are HVAC Installs So Expensive?

When it comes time to install a new heating and cooling unit in your home, you could be in for some major sticker shock. The size and age of your home can be significant factors affecting the bottom line price.

Often, when you ask for a quote, the HVAC company can only give you a ballpark estimate. What makes having a heating and cooling unit installed so expensive?

The significant factors that determine what makes a heating and cooling unit so expensive are:

  • Cost of the Unit
  • Hours Paid to the Contractor
  • Amount of Ductwork
  • Location of the Unit
  • Type of Unit

There are just so many things that can go wrong with a new central unit that having money saved for unforeseen expenditures is part of the process. This can be hard on a family that is on a fixed income or has mountains of debt to overcome.

There will always be problems, but you can’t let them stop you. Read on and learn why HVAC is so expensive.

What Makes an HVAC Unit Cost So Much?

It should be stated in the beginning that this could be more work than your average handyman can take on. Hiring a heating and cooling professionals is essential.

They know things about airflow and coverage that will make the new unit work better than the previous unit. But you will have to pay for their expertise. Pay them what they need to make the job work correctly. 

HVAC technician installing HVAC

The items that make installing an HVAC unit so expensive are:

The Unit Cost is Very Important to Total Price

One of the most expensive parts of any heating and cooling unit installation will be the central unit.

This main unit will be the large metal container placed in your yard or basement that houses the main fan and all the electronics. The mechanics inside one of these machines are highly sophisticated.

HVAC central unit

The Type of Unit is Another Big Ticket Item

Adding to the unit cost will be all the extras you choose for your home.

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Heating and cooling don’t always come from electricity. If you decide to use geothermal or gas heat, extra fees are added to the unit’s total cost. 

Labor Cost Can Cripple Any HVAC Project

The highest hidden cost of your new unit is going to be labor. Hiring a professional who is knowledgeable in the vast area of heating and cooling will be expensive.

The estimate for labor is always nebulous so that the contractor can factor in unseen costs and working hours spent on the project.

Ductwork Cost Can Be Expensive in Larger Projects

Just when you thought that the HVAC folks couldn’t stick their hands any further into your pocket, they start in with ductwork talk.

Having the proper type of duct positioned in the correct area can mean a world of difference. This piggybacks on the experience cost as new contractors will not know where to place these ducts.

  • Quality of the Home – Another critical factor in the cost debate is the sturdiness of the home the unit is going into. If your home is older and has substandard flooring or walls, it could end up being a nightmare for all involved. If the contractor is required to bring other parts of the home up to standard, it could be expensive.
  • How Hard is the Job? – A larger home with ample hallways and attic and basement space is the perfect type of house for a new HVAC job. If you have a home that doesn’t have much room to move around in, expect to pay for this extra labor that will be involved.
HVAC technician installing HVAC ventilation

Living in an area that has extreme temperatures makes having an HVAC system essential. Shell the money out for a good-sized unit that will do the job of heating and cooling the residence.

Don’t skimp on something that could keep your home safe and comfortable for years to come. Pay what you need to pay for the best workers and equipment.

The Steps to Installing an HVAC Unit in Your Home

One of the best ways to explain why HVAC costs so much is to break down the process and show where the money is going.

Having an idea of what to expect at each stage of the build will provide a bit of comfort, but you must understand that things could arise that will wreck the budget. Take each step with a grain of salt and pray that there are no significant problems.

The steps to install an HVAC in your home are:

How Big a Unit is Needed?

The first question that should be asked at the start of this job is how big the unit should be.

Buying a machine that will heat and cool each room in opposing parts of the year is essential. Calculate the square footage of each room and add them all together to determine the coverage area.

Where Will the Fan Go?

Having a large cleared out area that will house the fan is another big part of this job.

There will have to be leveling and concrete poured into making the foundation for the fan box. It will need to be even, and if it isn’t, it could fail an inspection and force a restart of this step.

Prepare the Holes for Ductwork

The fan box will have to be attached to the house. A hole will need to be cut to allow air from the box to enter via the ductwork.

HVAC Ductwork

Holes will need to be drilled to enable all the ductwork to enter the rooms from the vents. Make sure that each hole has no leaks and doesn’t ruin the existing floor or wall structure.

Connect the Drains to the Unit

When the HVAC unit is working, it will produce condensation that could pool and be dangerous to the home. Water is a killer of homes and will ruin wood in just a few short days. Ensure that all the HVAC lines are plumbed and go into waiting drains.

Each of these steps is a major invasive job on your home. They are critical to installing the HVAC and could have several hidden problems that will alter the budget.

Pay close attention to the rate that is charged for plumbing the unit. Running those lines could turn into a cat and mouse game to find leaks if not done correctly.

Remember that doing due diligence on the job will save you money in the long run.

Cost of the Standard HVAC Installation

What sticks out most about the cost of an HVAC installation is how many small pieces can cost lots of money.

For instance, if you have a zoning system on your unit, you can expect to pay around $3500 to $4000 more than average. These systems force the HVAC unit to function as needed instead of running when the rooms aren’t occupied.

Not to be outdone, there is some model of heating and cooling unit that have high tech fans that are highly customizable.

These fans can cost between $400 to $800, depending on which type of unit you have. That is why such a large box is set around the fan to keep the significant item from needing constant repairs.

Some other costs to consider when replacing an HVAC system are:

  • Price per square footage – An excellent place to start when calculating the size of the HVAC unit you need is to get the square footage of your home. When you have this number, multiply it by 1.75 or 2.00 to get a dollar amount per room, this lets you know what it is going to cost to heat and cool the home.
  • How many heating pipes are there – There are a series of pipes that move the hot air to and from each of the rooms. This could be an expensive part of the job as running the lines could cost between $15 and $20 per foot to run the pipes. If you have a large house, this pipe amount begins to add up.
  • Efficiency Costs – Having an efficient HVAC unit will save you tons of money in the long run. Getting this efficiency from initial installation will be a major pain that will require tons of extra hours to track down leaks and plug them before moving on to the next location. Once again, work hours dominate the day. 


When it comes down to it, the most expensive parts of any HVAC unit installation will be the machine and the labor.

The device is so expensive because it is filled with complicated electrical gadgets that measure airflow and temperature. Once you add in the concrete pad and electrical work for the HVAC unit, the dollars begin to pile up.

The hardest part of the job to estimate is how many hours it will take to do the job.

Contractors know their games, and they understand that some things just cannot be controlled. They leave the labor an estimate until they know exactly what needs to be charged and how long it will take them to complete the job.