If you’re purchasing from a big-box store, you can expect to pay approximately $120-$1,000 for a window unit. Window units are appealing for their quick setup and relatively low cost, but they can use more energy over time than central air and only cool the room in which they’re installed. The price will vary depending on the type of air conditioner you buy and its cooling capacity. Window units, which require minimal installation, are one of the most affordable options on the market. Portable air conditioners don’t have the cooling power of a window unit, but they do have the perk of being transportable from room to room. Expect to pay between $225 and $800 for a portable air conditioner, on average. The cost of an air conditioning system with coils, condenser and line (not including installation or ductwork) can range from approximately $2,000 to $4,000 or more. If you don’t have (and don’t want to put in) ducts, a ductless mini-split air conditioner is a good option, although pricey up front. Pricing can range from $650 to $4,250 per unit on average; you’ll need one unit for each room in which you want temperature control.

A Full Installation is the most common type of HVAC installation for a reputable contractor. The ductwork adds two days of labor and about $2,000 to $3,000 to the price, but realize that this is a very important part of your HVAC system. Although it might sound like a good idea to reduce HVAC installation cost and get a quick change-out, realize that there is dirt and debris collecting in your ducts, and the ducts themselves develop holes and full breaks over the lifetime of your unit, all of which may be hidden from sight by insulation. Remember, many contractors will push a quick change-out on you because it is easy and good money for them – you need to be involved and ask questions.


Air conditioning and refrigeration are provided through the removal of heat. Heat can be removed through radiation, convection, or conduction. Refrigeration conduction media such as water, air, ice, and chemicals are referred to as refrigerants. A refrigerant is employed either in a heat pump system in which a compressor is used to drive thermodynamic refrigeration cycle, or in a free cooling system which uses pumps to circulate a cool refrigerant (typically water or a glycol mix).
In the case of heated water or steam, piping is used to transport the heat to the rooms. Most modern hot water boiler heating systems have a circulator, which is a pump, to move hot water through the distribution system (as opposed to older gravity-fed systems). The heat can be transferred to the surrounding air using radiators, hot water coils (hydro-air), or other heat exchangers. The radiators may be mounted on walls or installed within the floor to produce floor heat.
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
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