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The True Cost to Replace Your AC in 2024

Published April 21, 2023
Written by Eric Smith
The True Cost to Replace Your AC in 2024

The Wisconsin Master Tradesman’s Guide to choosing a replacement AC system based on your personal wants, needs, and budget.

If you’re in Southeast Wisconsin and considering a replacement cooling system for your home, chances are it’s been a while since the last time you checked on air conditioner replacement costs. Or maybe you weren’t considering a replacement at all, but a sudden AC breakdown has taken you by surprise. It happens to the best of us!

So the big question is: How much does a replacement air conditioner cost these days? Here we aim to give a comprehensive answer, one that details all the contributing factors to the final, real price of a new furnace.

The cost to install a replacement AC system should be between  $4,200 at the low end and $13,000 at the high end based on 2024 Costs.

  • There are options for every price point in between. The size and complexity of your new AC system is ultimately up to you.

  • What you pay for replacement partially depends on your current AC system. Some components of your current system may be incompatible with certain types of ACs. A dramatic upgrade may require changes that can add to labor costs.

  • There may be a fee to help cover the cost of an installation permit, if applicable. Not all HVAC companies play by the rules, but we like to do things right. That means we’re acquiring permission from the city before installing a new system-and getting their seal of approval after inspection, so that you know we did a great job.

  • Your final quote may be higher than the initial estimate based on these and other variables.

Now that you’re thinking like a pro, let’s get into a little more detail.

The “Big Six” of AC Replacement: 6 Factors Affecting the True Total Cost of a Replacement AC System

Four major factors will ultimately impact the price you pay to replace your air conditioner. The first two are largely out of your control, but it’s still good for you to be aware of them. The last four are where you will find the most power to choose what you’re looking for.

1. Your Home

In particular, the size of your house can have a proportionate effect on what you’ll need to budget for. The age of your home, especially if you still have the same AC as you did when you bought the house, can also have an impact, since installing a more modern system can require a little more work. That leads us to…

2. Installation Requirements

Before we install your new AC, we may need to modify things like your existing ductwork or refrigerant lines. It’s not uncommon for customers to need code upgrades or electrical work, as well.

3. Chosen equipment

The first part of our job is to help you make an informed decision between the different AC options available to you. This is a super broad topic, but it basically comes down to two simple concepts: efficiency and comfort.

4. Efficiency

This metric is represented by a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), which describes the relationship between an AC’s energy consumption and its actual cooling ability. The higher the SEER rating, the more energy-efficient your AC system is—and the more expensive. For the average customer, a high-SEER system provides diminishing returns on investment. However, some still appreciate its modernity and environmentally-friendly appeal.

5. Comfort

Comfort is especially affected by the type of AC system you use. There are single-stage air conditioners, which are the most common for homeowners; then, you have two-stage air conditioners, which allow for more control over the temperatures in your home. After that comes the variable-speed air conditioner, which tends to have the highest of SEER ratings. Keep in mind that these brand-new types of AC must often be matched with an equally modern furnace or air-handling system in order to run as intended (not to mention the need for an adequate electrical system, ductwork, and refrigerant lines).

6. Desired Accessories

These are the “nice-to-have” features that are totally optional, but you might find that one or more of them are worth the additional cost.

Think indoor air quality: filters, dehumidification, and the increasingly-popular smart thermostat.

If any of these add-ons have a very positive effect on your quality of life at home, you should generally go ahead and bundle it in with the purchase of your new AC. Putting off the decision is likely to cost you more money down the line.

Estimated Ranges for Each Price Point

Once you’ve narrowed down the options to those you’re really interested in, take a look at these pricing tiers to get a more concrete sense of what you can expect to budget. (More detail below.)

Price points for installing different air conditioning systems

Entry level air conditioner replacements: $4,200 to $6,500.

Though you won’t find anything fancy here, it wouldn’t be fair to call this range of products “low-end”. On the contrary, it’s a great choice for families who want a reliable, responsive air conditioning unit that isn’t going to break the bank. If you prefer simplicity and place high emphasis on financial peace of mind, it makes sense to go with a system that has withstood the test of time and proven its efficacy even in the modern world.

  • Efficiency- Under 16 Seer2
  • Stages- Single
  • Compressor- Standard
  • Replacement difficulty- Easy as 20204’s entry level AC systems are typically easy to retrofit into most modern HVAC systems.   

Mid-range air conditioner replacements: $5,500 to $9,000.

For this price, you can typically get a two-stage air conditioner along with a fair SEER rating to boot. What you can expect from this range: a happy middle ground between minimally efficient and ultra-efficient technologies. It’s a highly practical investment for those who plan to continue living at their current home for years to come.

  • Efficiency- 16 SEER2
  • Stages- 2 stage cooling
  • Compressor- Standard
  • Replacement difficulty- Mid range AC systems sometimes require some minor or mid range duct mods.

The high end air conditioner replacements: $7,500 to $13,000.

The height of efficiency. The “green standard”. All bells and whistles included. Paying in this range makes sense for you if you’re particularly concerned about mitigating your environmental impact. It’s also an investment more appropriate for long-term use.

  • Efficiency- 17 SEER2+
  • Stages- Modulating in 2% increments 
  • Compressor- Inverter 
  • Replacement difficulty- Many modifications are required to insure new high end AC systems work properly in existing homes.

What A Typical Replacement AC System Installation Includes

All of the above ranges take into account typical AC installation such as: 

  • Delivery of the new air conditioner
  • Floor protection materials (drop cloths or other methods)
  • Flushing, cleaning or replacement of the refrigerant lines
  • Installation of a new air conditioner pad
  • Removal, haul-away, and disposal of AC system by a secondary support technician
  • Connecting the new ac coil to your existing supply ductwork
  • Connecting the new AC to your electrical system and/or replacing the electrical disconnect 
  • Installation of any AC accessories purchased
  • Completion of any necessary HVAC code updates
  • Client training and install overview
  • Warranty registration and post-installation follow-up

Replacement Air Conditioner Cost Breakdown

A frequent question we encounter from clients considering a replacement air conditioning (AC) system is about the cost distribution between material, equipment, and labor. Breaking down these costs can provide valuable insight and aid in budgeting effectively for your HVAC needs.

General Air Conditioner Replacement Cost Breakdown

For most AC replacements, a common rule of thumb is that the total cost is typically divided as follows:

  • 2/3 Equipment, Parts, and Materials
  • 1/3 Installation Labor

This cost distribution holds true for many standard AC replacements. For example, if the total cost of a replacement AC system is $9,000, you can expect around $6,000 to cover the equipment, parts, and materials, with the remaining $3,000 allocated to labor costs.

However, this ratio can vary depending on the complexity of the installation and the type of system being installed. Higher-end systems, especially those requiring extensive modifications, can easily exceed $15,000. In such cases, the cost breakdown may shift closer to a 50/50 split between installation labor and equipment and materials.

Here’s an example breakdown for a mid-range replacement AC system:

Total Cost: $10,000

Equipment, Parts, and Materials: $6,600

AC Unit: $4,500
Parts and Materials: $2,100
Installation Labor: $3,400
Permits and Inspections: $400

For a high-end AC system requiring more extensive modifications:

Total Cost: $16,000

Equipment, Parts, and Materials: $8,000

High-Efficiency AC Unit: $6,000
Parts and Materials: $2,000
Installation Labor: $8,000
Permits and Inspections: $500

Be ready to see replacement air conditioner costs rise exponentially in the next several years!

Considering how expensive gas furnaces, central air conditioning, ductless air conditioners and heat pumps have become just over the last few years, getting a new HVAC system may well cost as much as a brand-new car in the near future.

In the HVAC world, major changes are coming down the pipeline—not all of them affordable. The more stringent SEER2 rating standard is quickly becoming commonplace as governmental and oversight agencies push to electrify heating and cooling systems as much as possible. As billions of dollars are spent on developing nominally more efficient technology, HVAC equipment manufacturers have gained a foothold in the market. Make no mistake: they are already taking advantage of this new opportunity to increase the cost of their products, sometimes without offering any additional benefit at the consumer level.

Still need help choosing a new air conditioner?

Team Austin offers financing options to help make cool air affordable for Wisconsin families. If you’re tired of sweating the details, why not book a visit with us?

(Not sure about installing a brand-new AC? Take a look at our AC repair FAQ for more info. We’re more than happy to come out and help cool you down—and that includes answering any burning questions you might have along the way.)

About The Author: Eric Smith
Eric Smith is a 3rd generation State of Wisconsin Master Plumber, Water Well Pump Installer, Plumbing Contractor, Water Well Contractor, HVAC Contractor and Water Treatment Expert and the owner of Austin Plumbing, Heating & Air.