AC prices are an important factor when you’re considering the right central air conditioner to purchase for your home. We take pride in giving you the most current and accurate prices available.
How do the major brands determine AC prices? What makes a Carrier Infinity air conditioner more expensive than an entry-level Payne? Do you pay more for a Trane because of the brand’s reputation? Are 2-stage models a lot more expensive than single-stage ACs?
These are the kinds of things discussed in this central air conditioner buying guide. We list and explain the primary factors that determine central air conditioner prices. It may go without saying that within any air conditioner series, the larger the capacity, the more the unit will cost. ACs for residential installation range from 1.5 ton to 5.0 ton capacity.
Brand Reputation and Service Record
Yes, you will pay a premium if you purchase top of the line models from Carrier, Trane, American Standard, Maytag or possibly a few other brands such as Heil or Rheem. This premium may be as little as 5% or as much as 15-20%. Critics accuse the big-name brands of charging more so they can pay for their big advertising budget. There is probably some truth in that criticism.
However, it must also be said that these brands consistently outperform value brands like Ducane, Payne, Coleman and York in durability and reliability. The more expensive brands have better service records than cheaper brands. What is true in every other industry is true in the HVAC industry. There is a range of models that vary in quality.
Quality of the Components
This is closely related to the last topic, but it bears discussing in order to provide some examples. Here is one: The undisputed best compressors in the industry are made by Copeland, with the UltraTech being the top scroll compressor available. The Amana Model ASXC18 18 SEER, the Ruud UARL-JEZ Series and the the Heil QuietComfort DXT+ are among the handful of central air conditioners that use this compressor.
These AC prices will reflect this fact by being slightly higher. The trade-off is superior performance and durability. Several Goodman models use this compressor too, but Goodman’s reputation in the industry has been earned partly through low pricing so they keep costs down. Goodman is a good value brand.
Maytag uses a stainless steel cabinet on their top models as opposed to a galvanized steel cabinet. It looks better longer – and causes the price to be higher. Other upgraded components include filter dryers, high- and low-pressure switches and enhanced coil protection. These make the unit better and the prices higher.
Price Structure of the Brand Series
Most brands that make a wide lineup of central air conditioners offers several series. The Lennox Signature, Elite and Merit Series is one example. Carrier makes the Infinity, Performance, Comfort and Base Series.
The purpose is to have AC prices that appeal to all segments of the market. The same practice is found in the auto industry, the clothing industry and most others, as you know. Sometimes the quality differences are notable, as they are with Lennox. Lennox Signature Series models are somewhat better than 2nd-tier Lennox Elite models and better than entry-level Lennox Merit models. On the other hand, the entry-level Carrier Base models, despite the name, are excellent in quality. Carrier’s confidence in the Base Series is shown by the fact that Base models have the same 10-year warranty that top-tier Carrier Infinity models carry.
When you read our air conditioner prices posts, look for clues to the quality of the series. The features we list and the length of the warranty are helpful in determining just how good the unit is.
Central Air Conditioner Efficiency
The more efficient the unit is, the more it will cost. Currently, central ACs must have an efficiency of at least 13 SEER and 14.5 SEER models qualify as Energy Star. Expect both of those numbers to go up in the next few years as the need and demand for efficient HVAC components increases. Today’s most efficient central air conditioners have SEER ratings in the high teens to low 20s.
There are 3 levels of compressor performance. Standard models have a single-stage compressor. It is either on or off and runs at 100% capacity. Sometimes these are called single-speed compressors. A step up is the two-stage compressor. It has a low capacity mode which is usually 65%-70% capacity. The unit will run on low most of the time, using high only to boost cooling when it’s called for at the thermostat or when the outside temperature rises quickly. Running at low capacity produces better temperature balance and removes more humidity from the air circulating through the system. It is also quieter, as you would expect.
There are now several central ACs available with modulating compressors. They adjust upward or downward during a cooling cycle by increments from .5% to 1%. Modulating compressors can run as low as 25% capacity. These models offer the most precise indoor climate control of any ACs, as you would expect. They are also the most efficient because their modulating performance prevents them from overcooling the house.
Brands making modulating ACs include American Standard, Coleman, Lennox, Maytag, Rheem, Trane and York. The Maytag M1200 Series iQ Drive 24.5 SEER AC is currently the most efficient modulating air conditioner on the market.
Communicating technology allows the air conditioner to share performance data with the gas furnace. The control board of the furnace can then optimize the length of cooling cycles, the speed of a variable-speed blower and the modulating compressor if it has one. The result is better efficiency and comfort. Communicating technology adds 10%-15% to HVAC prices for air conditioners, heat pumps and gas furnaces.
Models with communicating technology include the Trane XL20i, the Carrier Infinity, American Standard Platinum ZM, Amana ASXC18 and the Goodman 18 SEER DSXC18.
Cost of Living in Your Area
The cost of living is significantly less in Indianapolis, St. Louis and Tulsa than it is in New York City, suburban Washington D.C. and Boston. Prices will vary by as much as 20%, possibly more. When we give HVAC prices on this site, we use an average. You may find the price we give to be right on the money or, depending on prices in your area, a bit high or low. If you live in an expensive area, you’re well aware of this factor.
The major brands make 3 series of heat pumps in ascending order. For example, Lennox makes the entry-level Merit Series, the mid-level Elite Series and the top-level Signature Series. For American Standard it’s Silver, Gold and Platinum. This is related to the price structure described above. Here are the price ranges you’ll find for popular sizes in these 3 levels.
Entry-Level ACs: 2-ton, $800-$1,200; 3.5-ton, $1,000-$1,500; 5-ton, $1,800-$2,200
Mid-Level ACs: 2-ton, $1,000-$1,500; 3.5 ton, $1,400-$2,300; 5-ton, $2,000-$3,000
Top-Level ACs: 2-ton, $1,500-$2,300; 3.5-ton, $2,100-$3,000; 5-ton, $2,800-$4,500
As you are considering AC prices, focus on what you’re getting for the money in terms of the quality of the unit and the performance it provides. In one sense, those are the only things you can control. Keep in mind too, that estimates don’t have to be final. Get 3 estimates or more, and don’t be afraid to attempt to negotiate a lower price with the contractor who has the unit you want. That’s part of the business for them, and they are often willing to meet a competitor’s price for comparable models or lower their price to seal the deal.