How Much Does an AC Compressor Cost to Replace?
A compressor is the heart of an AC unit, and replacing one typically ranges from $800 to $2,800, with an average of $1,200. Discover all the factors that make up these prices.
- Typical Range: $800 to $2,800
- National Average: $1,200
Few things are as frustrating as discovering your home’s air conditioning is acting up on a sweltering summer day. While there’s a chance the fix is a simple repair, the air conditioner’s compressor may be going bad. The compressor is the main component that drives the cooling of the air, so it must work well. If it’s determined that the compressor is shot, the first thing most homeowners want to know is how much will the AC compressor cost to replace?
Replacing an AC compressor isn’t a cheap fix; it typically ranges from about $800 to $2,800, although the national average cost for compressor replacement is about $1,200. While that’s pricey, it’s still less than replacing an entire HVAC system, so unless the system is more than 15 years old, it’s probably a good idea to have the compressor replaced by a qualified professional.
What Is an AC Compressor?
The compressor in an air conditioner pumps liquid refrigerant through the appliance’s coils and condenser unit, keeping the refrigerant under pressure while forcing it through the coils. This results in the refrigerant drawing heat out of warm air, which cools the air. A fan blows the now-cool air through the home’s vents.
Numerous things can negatively affect an AC compressor, including faulty electrical components, insufficient liquid refrigerant, leaking refrigerant, or the compressor’s motor failure. If the compressor can’t be repaired, it will have to be replaced, and only an HVAC professional can make that call.
Factors in Calculating AC Compressor Replacement Cost
The cost to replace the compressor in an HVAC system generally runs a national average of $1,200. However, the final cost will depend on the size of the system, the type and brand, and the going rate of labor in the community.
Compressor Size and Speed
BTU and tonnage determine an AC compressor’s size. The larger the compressor, the higher the initial replacement cost. However, that cost varies by size. A 1.5-ton compressor may cost $500 to $950 per ton to replace, while a 5-ton compressor would cost $300 to $550 per ton. So, while the larger compressor has a higher overall replacement cost, it costs less per ton than the smaller compressor.
A compressor’s BTU rating denotes how much energy the AC unit uses to cool the home within 1 hour. The larger the unit, the less (per BTU) the new compressor will cost. For example, the cost to replace a compressor in a 1.5-ton AC unit ranges from $0.04 to $0.08 per BTU. In a larger 5-ton unit, the cost to replace the compressor is closer to $0.03 to $0.05 per BTU. A 3-ton AC compressor would run somewhere in between.
The type of compressor in the AC unit will also impact replacement cost.
- Window unit: A small compressor in a window unit could cost as little as $100 to replace.
- Small central AC: Replacing a compressor in a small central AC, like one that may be found in an apartment, could run as little as $400.
- Mini-split: Homeowners can expect to pay around $800 or more to replace the compressor in a mini-split AC unit.
- Central HVAC: This is the average type of AC unit found in many HVAC systems for small to medium-size homes, and the cost to replace a compressor for this type of unit is right around the national average of about $1,200.
- Larger units: Bigger homes and high-end AC units feature pricier compressors that could run as much as $2,800 to replace.
A new replacement compressor may come pre-charged with liquid refrigerant, but if the HVAC professional needs to add refrigerant to the unit or fill it from an empty state, expect to pay an additional $100 to $350.
In many cases, the replacement compressor does not have to be brand-specific. If the technician suggested using a generic replacement, you could save up to $200. Some of the best air conditioner brands accept generic compressors. If the AC unit is still under warranty, a brand-specific compressor will likely be installed.
Labor charges vary from community to community, but in general, expect labor to make up half the cost of the final bill. Complete AC compressor replacement cost ranges from around $800 to $2,800, so the labor portion of that bill would be between $400 to $1,600. The exception is for compressor replacement in a window unit, which averages $100 to $200. Typical labor costs run from $50 to $150 per hour.
Additional Costs and Considerations
While most air conditioning compressor repair costs are straightforward, a few additional cost factors are also worth considering, depending on the unit’s brand and size. Here are some more considerations when searching online for “air compressor repair near me.”
Replacement vs. Repair
If the problem is minor, repairing the compressor is often less expensive than replacing it. While replacing a standard AC compressor runs $1,200 nationally, repairing a compressor could run between $100 and $250. Only a professional HVAC technician can determine whether it’s better to try to fix the compressor rather than replace it based on the cause and extent of the damage.
If the AC or HVAC compressor is still under warranty, the manufacturer may pay most or all of the cost to replace the compressor—depending on why it went on the fritz. Typical warranties run from 5 to 10 years, but they don’t always cover all costs, so read the fine print to see if you can benefit from the compressor still being under warranty.
When an AC compressor starts having trouble, it may be around the end of the AC unit’s useful life, which averages 15 to 20 years. If so, this may be the time to change to a more efficient unit, such as a heat pump or a mini-split. However, these systems may not be suitable for everyone’s homes, so some homeowners will want to upgrade their standard HVAC system. A new central AC unit costs about $4,000 to $7,500, and replacing a complete HVAC system can cost between $1,000 and $10,000.
Unfortunately, most AC problems happen in the heat of summer, when professional HVAC technicians are the busiest. If you can wait until fall or winter to replace the compressor, you may pay a lower price.
AC Compressor Types
Beyond brand and size, AC units feature different types of compressors. While the actual type doesn’t affect the replacement cost as much as the above factors, it’s good to know what the HVAC technician means if he mentions one of the following compressors.
Many compressors require lubrication to operate smoothly, but a scroll compressor does not. Scroll compressors feature spirals that do not come into contact, so no friction is created, and no lubrication is necessary. This compressor has its limits and is typically found in small spaces (such as apartments). Expect to pay $400 to $800 for compressor replacement in one of these small scroll units.
Also known as a piston compressor, a reciprocating compressor compresses air via one or more moving pistons. A reciprocating compressor is generally limited to commercial AC units and employed in large buildings. These units can be pretty loud when they’re running.
A roller inside a cylinder rotates to compress the liquid refrigerant in a rotary compressor. This is a relatively efficient way to cool the air, and replacing this compressor runs about the same as other types, typically between $800 and $2,800, depending on the above factors.
A screw compressor is a rotary compressor that features a spiral screw action that helps keep the cooling process quieter, making this type of compressor more desirable in many home settings. Depending on the size and quality of the unit, expect to pay the national average of around $1,200 to have it replaced.
This type of compressor uses high-speed impellers to pressurize and cool air. They’re also known as multi-stage units because the air runs through additional cycles before exiting the compressor. This type of compressor can be costly to replace, but it’s not found in many homes—it’s typically reserved for commercial use.
Do I Need a New AC Compressor?
Many things can go wrong in an AC unit or HVAC system, and the only way to know whether you’ll need a new compressor is to have the unit checked by a pro. If you don’t know much about your AC’s compressor, you’ll want to learn at least some of the signs that indicate a problem.
When the AC shuts off, only to kick back on again within a few minutes, it’s a sign the system isn’t running as it should be. The problem could be several things, including a leak in the ducting system letting in warm air, an open window, or a compressor on its last leg.
When an AC compressor isn’t running up to par, it can result in temperature inconsistencies in different parts of the home. The rooms farthest away from the AC unit will likely be the warmest. This occurs because the compressor is no longer forceful enough to make sufficiently cool air to reach the farthest rooms.
Some residential air compressors can be heard when they’re running, and they usually make a low humming sound. The loudness is related to where the unit is located—an attic unit will often make more noise than an outdoor unit. But when you start hearing different sounds, such as knocking or rattling when the AC is running, it could signify problems with the compressor.
Diminished Air Flow
As the compressor struggles to produce cool air to send through the ducts, the airflow it expels is often weak. This will exacerbate both inconsistent temperatures throughout the house and the AC unit cycling. If the compressor is functioning at a deficient level, it may not shut off for hours.
Refrigerant can leak and create several problems, including lack of cool air, insufficient airflow, frequent cycling, and even a hissing sound if it’s leaking quickly enough. The problem may be something relatively simple to repair, after which the technician can recharge the refrigerant in the system. However, if the cause is a compressor that’s worn out, it will likely need to be replaced.
AC Compressor Replacement: DIY vs. Hiring a Professional
Homeowners knowledgeable in installing and servicing HVAC units stand to save up to half of the cost of having a compressor professionally replaced. Still, even then, it might not be the best idea. If the compressor itself (plus any needed materials and supplies) runs $1,200, the DIYer will ostensibly save the additional $1,200 that a professional technician would have charged to replace the compressor. However, if a problem occurs after installation, the manufacturer’s warranty may not cover the costs because the compressor was not installed by a licensed professional.
In general, it’s usually best to have a licensed pro do the replacement work so you have some sort of guarantee. Additionally, if you try to replace the compressor and run into a problem, you’ll still have to pay full price to have a pro come out and finish the job.
It’s also important to consider that if any refrigerant leaked and needs to be recharged, you’ll need to hire a licensed professional to do this job. The EPA has restrictions in place on who can handle refrigerants.
How to Save Money on AC Compressor Cost
Since DIY installation won’t be a consideration for most homeowners, it’s good to look elsewhere to save some money on AC compressor replacement costs. While there’s no guarantee the following tips will make the project less expensive—an air conditioner is an expensive appliance, after all—they’re worth considering.
- Call the technician before the warranty expires. This makes a massive difference in cost since once the warranty is no longer valid, you’ll likely have to pay for the entire replacement yourself.
- Ask the technician about a variable speed compressor. Although this compressor may cost slightly more up front, it’s much more efficient than a single-speed compressor and will save money on long-term cooling costs.
- Consider having the compressor repaired if you’re not ready to pay to replace it. Having it fixed could keep it working for one or two more seasons, giving you time to save up money to replace it in a couple of years.
Questions to Ask About AC Compressor Cost
Very few homeowners are knowledgeable about air conditioners and compressors, so it can be simple for a fly-by-night company to take advantage of them. By asking the following questions, you’ll have a better idea about whether you’re hiring a professional company that has your best interests at heart.
- Is the company licensed? First, call your local building authority and find out the licensing requirements in your community and cross-check these requirements with the company’s documentation.
- How long has the company been in business? It’s not that new companies aren’t reliable, but if you don’t know about air compressor prices, it might be a good idea to hire a company with 5 or more years of reputable service under its belt.
- What type of guarantee is available? Many companies will offer a 6-month to 1-year guarantee on labor and a 1-year warranty on materials. If the warranty is 3 months or shorter, it should send up a red flag.
- How long will the job take to complete?
- Are you insured?
- Do you have any referrals?
- Do you offer a service plan?
- Will you complete any warranty or rebate paperwork?
No one wants to think about paying expensive compressor repair costs, but the alternative may be to live in a hot, muggy home. If you’re concerned that your AC’s compressor isn’t functioning as it should be, you’ll likely have some questions.
Q. How much does it cost to fix or replace a compressor in an air conditioner?
If the problem is minor, you could pay $100 to $200 for simple repairs. If the compressor needs to be replaced, expect to pay somewhere between $800 and $2,800.
Q. What does an AC compressor do?
The AC compressor circulates refrigerant in the lines and supplies cooled air for distribution through the ducts.
Q. How long do home air conditioner compressors last?
Depending on how much they’re used and how well they’re maintained, expect an air conditioner compressor to last approximately 15 to 20 years.
Q. What are the symptoms of a bad AC compressor?
Unusual noises, AC cycling on and off, temperature variations, or reduced airflow could be signs of a bad AC compressor. Or the air conditioner might not come on at all.
Q. Can an AC compressor be repaired?
Yes, in some cases, but only an experienced HVAC technician can determine whether it can be repaired or should be replaced.
Q. How can I save money on my AC compressor costs?
It’s best to have the HVAC unit serviced annually to catch any problems while they’re minor. Consider having repair (or replacement) work done before your warranty expires, even if you’re not experiencing any issues yet. Additionally, if you have a policy from one of the best home warranty companies, it may pay for some of the replacement cost, depending on the age of the unit and why it broke.