• If you find yourself in a position where you have to install a new air conditioning unit for the first time, it can be difficult to know exactly what you're paying for. In order to not be taken advantage of, there are a few basic things to be aware of. Also, there are ways to save lots of money with a more energy efficient system.

    Let's face it: there are many areas of the country where during the summer months a home or business without an air conditioning unit is basically inhabitable. Fortunately, air conditioning technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few years, and these days A/C units are far less noisy (you have to listen closely and know what to listen for to know that the unit is on) and far more energy efficient than ever before. So you don't have to worry about a noisy unit that's going to drive your energy bills skyward each month. Still, those who live in extra hot and humid regions and need extra cooling power will have to pay a little extra too.

    So what factors determine the cost of an air conditioning unit? If you are considering installing a new A/C unit but are worried about being taken advantage of and paying more than you ought to, we've broken it all down right here in this article.

    The Basics

    First and foremost, you need to figure out the size of the air conditioner. There is no point in buying a unit that's too small to cool your space, and by the same reasoning an air conditioner that's too big can make a home or business uncomfortably cold.
    Air Conditioning units are measured in tons. No, this doesn't mean that a 4 ton A/C unit weighs 4 tons. The number of tons refers to the volume of heat that the air conditioner can remove from a space in an hour's time. For each ton, 1,200 BTUs (British Thermal Unit) are removed in an hour, so a 4 ton unit pushes out 48,000 BTUs per hour. To give you even more perspective, one BTU is approximately equal to the heat produced by one match lit and let to burn down. As a rule of thumb, for a 1,600 square foot house a two and a half ton air conditioner does the trick.

    There are other factors aside from the size of a space that need to be taken into consideration. For instance, a basement is substantially cooler than the house or building's top floors. The different building materials also influence temperature, as do the number of partitions and other aspect of the layout. The square footage is a good place to start, but to really know what ton air conditioner you need it always is a good idea to consult with a qualified contractor. This brings us to our next main point.

    Finding The Right A/C Contractor

    Of course it's possible to buy an air conditioning unit from a wholesaler and try your hand at installing it yourself. However, installing an air conditioning unit is not the same as hooking up a fridge or a dishwasher. A/C installation is complicated and requires a lot of knowledge and skill. It may also be necessary to modify the unit with metal work in order to make it fit into a space. If a home has never had a central air conditioning system before it will also be necessary to put new breakers in your electric panel. It can also be potentially dangerous to install an A/C unit, and besides, you need to be properly certified by the Environmental Protection Agency in order to be able to handle refrigerant.

    Simply put, DIY air conditioning is not a realistic possibility. So you are going to want to hire a reputable A/C contractor. Also, being able to get a free quote is standard in the air conditioning industry. For the most basic two ton unit you can expect to pay around $3,000. For a mid range unit prices tend to hover around the $5,000 mark, and the best A/C systems can run over $10,000. In 2014 the average price paid for an A/C plus the installation was $5,230.

    Tax Breaks For Energy Efficient A/C Units

    So purchasing an installing a new air conditioning is a significant investment. However, it may be possible to offset the cost if you are willing to research the tax rebates offered by state and federal agencies to those homeowners and property managers who have Energy Star rated or other highly energy efficient systems. The only problem here is that these rebates are often limited in their duration and subject to change. Still, if you are willing to ask around and do the research, you could potentially end up saving a bundle of money over the long term.

    Make Sure It's R-22 Free!

    Make sure that you are not having a new air conditioner installed that still contains the HCFC (hyrdochlorofluorocarbon) called R-22. The use of this environmentally pernicious greenhouse gas has been prohibited, and air conditioner manufacturers are no longer allowed to produce new units with R-22 (although they are still allowed to produce some replacement parts for existing units). Basically, R-22 is to air conditioning what asbestos is to insulation, so you don't want to be in a position where you are legally liable for having a controlled toxic substance in your home or building. Thus, make sure that your new A/C does not contain any R-22; the R-22 ban is still new, and there are still some unscrupulous sellers who will try to sell off their pre-ban units.

    Why Are Some A/C Options So Expensive?

    One factor that can increase the price of an air conditioning unit is something called SEER, or the seasonal energy efficiency ratio. This ratio is the complete cooling output in BTUs divided by the total electrical energy over the course of a season. A higher SEER number means a more energy efficient unit. The majority of air conditioner units sold have a SEER that exceeds 13, but there are some that are rated at 27 SEER, and these can cost significantly more.

    Once again, however, a more expensive unit with a higher SEER rating can pay for itself thanks to lower energy bills. You have to ask yourself how long your hot and humid season lasts, and whether or not the high price of a unit with a high SEER rating is worth it.