Central Air Conditioner Installation

For the great majority of homes, central air conditioning installation is too complicated and fraught with danger to try without expert assistance. This is owing to the expertise necessary, the bureaucratic wrangling of permissions and licensing requirements, and the risk of voiding warranties if the components are installed wrongly.

What do Central Air Conditioners do?

A central air conditioner cools air in one spot before distributing it throughout the residence using the furnace’s air handling capabilities. This sets it apart from window or wall air conditioners or mini-split systems, which all chill relatively tiny areas and require many units to cool the entire house.

Most single-family houses in the United States with central air use a split system. This implies that the device is divided into two parts: an evaporator coil within the house and a compressor outside.

Working With Professional Central Air Conditioner Installers

When speaking with contractors, inquire about their approach to the job. Also, pay attention to the questions they ask! An installer should ask clarifying questions so that your preferences and decisions are represented in their estimate and the end result.

Central Air Installation Planning

Installing central air conditioning is a large undertaking that requires considerable preparation ahead of time. Request that your contractor check their procedure and confirm that they will handle any needed permits or other important documentation.

Discuss with your contractor how much you value energy efficiency above initial expense. This is also an excellent moment to discuss the position of the condenser unit and the type of thermostat you choose.

Sizing for your Central Air Conditioner

Your contractor will assist you in determining the appropriate size central air conditioner for your home. A unit that is too small will run practically continually, whereas a unit that is too large will chill the home too quickly and shut off before completing a full cycle.

The fast on/off in the latter circumstance is taxing on the system. It can cause the evaporator coil to freeze, and a frozen coil prevents air from flowing. As a result, a big air conditioner may be less effective at cooling than a smaller unit.

Your Air Conditioner installation will do a calculation known as a “Manual-J” to identify the best unit for your home. This will take into account all of the parameters we’ve mentioned and more, resulting in the most precise size possible.

However, we understand that many homeowners like to have a general notion of what size they require ahead of time. So, here’s a rough estimation of central air conditioner size: To get the Btu necessary, multiply the square footage of your home’s conditioned area by 25, then divide by 12,000 to obtain the tonnage.

But keep in mind that this is merely a basic estimate, and there are several factors. If your home’s first floor has 12-foot ceilings, the air conditioner will have more air to chill. Also – don’t forget that southern-exposure windows will have more sun and natural heat. So if you have many of those windows, you may need more cooling.

Getting an Estimate for a Central Air Conditioner

The contractor should offer you an estimate once you’ve gone over the basic plan and discussed model possibilities. As always, obtain written estimates from various providers. The only exception would be if you’re installing air conditioning in a new home, since the builder will most likely manage it.

Don’t be hesitant to seek clarifying details or request expense breakdowns when working with a builder or independent HVAC contractor. Even if the contractor is unable to detail everything, they should be ready to communicate sufficiently to help you feel more at ease with the procedure.

The Central Air Installation Process

It should take around a day to complete the installation. The major steps are summarized here.

  • Duct work installation or modification
    • Any duct work should be limited in homes with existing furnaces or air conditioning, generally no more than an extra return line.
    • If ducts must be placed, work with your contractor to disguise them in closets or soffits to minimize expensive drywall repairs.
    • Duct work should be done before drywall is put in new construction.
  • Interior unit
    • The evaporator coil is installed within the furnace plenum.
      • The plenum is the part of the furnace on each side of the air handler where air enters and exits the home.
      • The evaporator coil will enter the supply plenum, which serves as the furnace’s “outflow.”
  • Exterior unit
    • Several considerations influence the positioning of the outside unit, including:
      • The distance between the inside unit and the electrical service panel;
      • The levelness of the ground;
      • The proximity of the loud external unit to windows or doors;
      • Distances needed by code from gas or water meters (refer to your local building department for specifics).
  • Connect the line set
    • A pair of copper pipes connects the two parts of a split system, forming the direction the refrigerant will take.
    • The most direct route from the evaporator to the condenser will primarily decide the course of the line set.
      • If you have any issues regarding the route, communicate them to the contractor as soon as possible.
      • To avoid water infiltration, the penetration to the external should be sealed.
  • Connect the Electrical Supply
    • An outside cutoff will be required for the condenser unit.
    • The electrical line will connect the condenser to the shutdown, then to the electrical service panel.
    • If your circuit panel is already overloaded, you may need to update it to withstand the extra demand of the air conditioner.
      • If the project was planned properly, any work on the panel should already be included in the project estimate.
    • There will also be a low-voltage wire connecting the condensing unit to the furnace so it can be controlled by the thermostat.
  • Condensate Drain Line
    • All air conditioners generate condensation, much like the sides of a glass of ice water. That condensation needs to be drained.
    • Units located in a basement typically run to a floor drain.
    • Units located in attics may pipe water outside, or may use a drain pan that allows water to evaporate — the same way refrigerators allow condensation to evaporate.
  • Thermostat
    • When installing central air conditioning in a new home, you must select a thermostat.
    • If you’re retrofitting central air conditioning into an older home, you may need to replace the thermostat with one that can also manage cooling.
    • This is one phase in the process that is ideal for a little do-it-yourself effort.
      • Some homeowners buy a basic thermostat for the installation and subsequently upgrade to a programmable or smart thermostat on their own.

How Much Does Central Air Installation Cost?

Prices vary based on the local market and the task details, as with any significant project. For labor and supplies, a typical split system central air installation using an existing furnace should cost between $3,000 and $7,000 or more. On average, that cost will be split around 60/40, with labor accounting for the majority of it.

It is feasible to purchase the AC system on your own and have it installed by an HVAC professional. However, bear in mind that you will most likely be paying full retail rather than receiving a commercial discount, so the entire cost of the project may not be cheaper than the contractor’s estimate. You’ll also have to perform your own sizing, and you’ll be held accountable if there are any problems with the equipment.

Expect an extra price to remove and dispose of the old system and refrigerant if you’re replacing an existing central air conditioning system. When building a furnace and air conditioning system, the cost of each component is frequently lowered, while the overall cost of the work is greater.

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