Wall-Mounted Air Conditioner Costs (Podcast)

In this podcast, Mike Cappuccio from NETR Inc, talks with John Maher about the cost of wall-mounted ACs. He explains their basic cost as well as the cost of adding supplemental or hyper heat. Then, he covers installation challenges that can affect the total price.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, founder of NETR Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts with a focus on Mitsubishi ductless heating and cooling products. Today we’re talking about wall-mounted air conditioning costs. Welcome, Mike.

Mike Cappuccio: How are you doing, John?

How Much Does a Basic Wall-Mounted AC Cost?

John: Good. Thanks. So Mike, what’s the basic cost of say a ductless wall-mounted air conditioner, which does AC only and not heat?

Mike: Okay. So John, that’s a loaded question. Very, very good, very good question, but a very loaded question, because the costs can vary based on two things, is what I’m going to say. First off is the size of the system. What I mean by that is the BTU size, starting at about 9,000 BTUs up to 36,000 BTUs, is available in air conditioning only.

Second would be the complexity of the job, which is basically how long are the refrigerant lines and the drains and the electrical going from the indoor unit to the outdoor unit, and how hard would the electrical part of the job be? But with that being said, a basic 9,000 BTU air conditioning only system, down and dirty system, pretty simple electrical work that’s done with maybe 15 feet of refrigerant pipe, starts at around $4,500 to $5,000, depending right now on what’s going on and what type of equipment is available. This same installation was probably around $3,500 a year ago or two years ago. It’s really gone up. It’s gone up 20 to 30%.

Going up into the bigger units, into the 24,000 to 36,000, I’m seeing those upwards of $7,500 to $8,000 at times, depending on again, complexity of the job, what type of electrical needs to be done on it. But an average cost is around $5,000 to $6,000 in that area from say a nine- to 18,000 BTU system at that point.

Installation Challenges That Increase the Cost of AC

John: Right. Like you said, if this is going in the second floor of a house and you have to run the pipe all the way up, or you have to go through the basement and through a wall inside or something like that, that adds to that complexity.

Mike: Exactly. Yeah. Do we need to get a 40-foot ladder out on the job site? Is it two men a day? Is it three men a day? What’s involved in the labor side of it? Then again, I’ve seen jobs as easy as the unit’s going on the first floor, I can stand on my step ladder. I can drill the hole. One guy can do it. He can go outside, hook up the pipes to the condenser. It’s 15 feet away and bingo, that’s probably a $4,500 installation.

How Does Adding Heat Affect the Cost of a Wall-Mounted AC?

John: Right. Okay. So if you were to add supplemental heating to that system, just a basic heating capability, how much does that add to that overall cost? Do you need different equipment for that, or is that just something that you sort of flip a switch and turn on?

Mike: No, no, that’s not flipping a switch, John. You definitely need a different outdoor condensing unit at that time, that would be a heat pump. The other ones would just be an air conditioner. The air conditioner would not have the reversing valve in it that would be able to switch the system over to heat at that time. So you do need a different outdoor unit definitely if you want heat in addition to cooling.

You’d be surprised because the additional cost for just supplemental heating is really not a lot of money. Most of the time, it’s usually around anywhere from $200 to $300, maybe $400. It’s not as much as you’d really think it would be for just basic supplemental heat, a heat pump that will give you full heating capability, maybe down to say 35 degrees outdoor ambient temperature, more of maybe something you’d use in a three- or four-season room that you’re only going to go out there maybe when it’s that type of outdoor temperature. That heat pump is not going to heat when it’s extremely cold out, it’s just not going to work.

John: Right. So not the dead of winter, but it would certainly work for fall and spring, that sort of thing,

Mike: A basic heat pump without, what we call a low-ambient heat pump or a hyper heating system will only really give you full heat down about 35 degrees. At 10 to 15 degrees, 17 degrees is really where they rate it. It’s probably about 50% of the heating capacity of what the outdoor design unit BTUs are. So for example, if you have a 12,000 BTU heating and cooling heat pump at 10 degrees, it’s probably only going to give you 6,000 BTUs of heat, which sometimes just is not enough heat for those areas.

John: Right. But that’s good to know that you could get the supplemental heat added for not a whole lot more money, and then you would be able to use it, again, at least in the fall and spring. You’d be able to use it for some supplemental heating and that could well be worth it to spend those extra a few hundred dollars to get that.

Mike: Oh yeah. I don’t know why some would even really buy an air conditioning only system, to be honest with you. I mean even if you have the supplemental heat, God forbid, something does go wrong with the heating system in the wintertime, you have at least some type of heating. Because when you really think about it, there aren’t a lot of days that are really below 30 degrees once the sun comes out in the wintertime. We might have maybe a handful, it’s a handful of hours, really, maybe 100 hours or so when you start thinking about that.

Cost of Adding Hyper Heat to Wall-Mounted AC

John: So if you wanted to step up to what’s called hyper heat, which gives full heating capacity down to minus five degrees, how much does that add to the systems cost?

Mike: Now this is going to really increase the cost of the system. You’re going to see these on the single zone units. This is going to probably increase it anywhere from say $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the one-to-one systems. When you get into the multi-zone systems into the bigger systems, this is where the cost really starts to go up because those condensers cost more money than the regular standard condensers because you are going to need what’s called the branch box that’s going to go with that.

So you’re going to need to have some additional piping, some additional components for that, but that unit is going to give you the full heating capacity at the lower temperatures. So let’s say that’s a 48,000 BTU system, the condenser that’s going to sit outside, and actually that condenser gives you more heat than it does cool. That’s going to give you around 54,000 BTUs at five degrees so I mean that’s almost the same amount of heat that your furnace gives you at that point. But that is definitely going to raise the cost by anywhere from $3000 to $4,000 sometimes.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Air Conditioners

John: Then what are some of the other factors that are involved in the overall cost of installing a wall-mounted air conditioner in your home? You mentioned already some of the complexity of the installation, whether you have to make long runs with the pipes and things like that. What are some of the other factors?

Mike: There’s a lot of other factors that are involved in those costs. Again, how long are the pipe runs? How many pipe runs are going to be out there? What does the electrical look like in your home? Do you need an electrical panel upgrade? Can we use the existing panel? Is the panel in an unfinished basement where you can just run wires across the ceiling and tack them up to the ceiling and drill a hole and get the wiring outside or is your ceiling finished in your basement? You have to snake that ceiling. Now you can’t just run wires. You’re going to have to drill little holes, snake the piping over. Things like that.

A lot of it is even too, where do you live? People think that, “I live in downtown Boston. I live in a brownstone and just because I live in a brownstone, everything I do costs more money.” It is somewhat true. But when you explain to people why it does cost more money because it actually costs us as a contractor more money to go there and perform the work. Something that usually takes a day, most times in the city takes two days, just because if you live on the third floor or the fourth floor or the fifth floor and we’re having to go out onto the roof and every time you go to get something or you need something, you’re going up and down a flight of stairs three and four times and that’s takes time.

John: Right. You have to bring all that equipment all the way up those flights of stairs as well.

Mike: Yeah. You’re taking a heat pump, you have to bring it up a flight of stairs, bring it out on a roof deck or whatever you’re doing to do these things. It’s not like pulling up in the suburbs and just backing my truck up into someone’s driveway and ramping down the condenser, putting it on the two-wheeler and wheeling it around the back of the house. It takes 15 minutes.

This is now going to take an hour and 15 minutes. It’s not that you want to charge the people more money, it’s the additional labor that’s involved in performing the function of the job. Most places in the city, you’re going to be getting parking tickets during the day if you’re not a resident and you have to park there. These parking tickets sometimes are $100 a piece.

John: Yeah, and you might have to get special permits or something like that.

Mike: Special permitting and everything like that. It’s not that we want to charge people more money. We don’t want to do that, but we have to, because like I said, anything that usually takes a day, takes two days in the city. Just look at the time it takes you to get into the city now. Everyone’s back to work now. If you haven’t been on 128 or on 93 in the morning, well, go take a look again. It’s all back. It’s all there. All the people are back to work.

I sat on 128 the other day for an hour. It’s just like it used to be. I come from Beverly to Boston sometimes and it’s backed up to Peabody to Woburn just like it always is. Then you know, you get a little break in Woburn, It could take you two hours to get to the city sometimes. So, I mean, these are all factors that slow down the progress of the ability to have a contractor to install things, so it all affects the cost.

Contact NETR to Talk About Wall-Mounted Air Conditioners

John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Mike: Thanks, John.John: And for more information, you can visit the NETR website at netrinc.com or call (781) 933-NETR. That’s (781) 933-6387.