How much does split system air conditioning installation cost?

AMANDA HORSWILL
Digital Editor · 2 September 2021
When the heat is on, or the temperature drops, homeowners might start to think about installing a split-system air conditioner. We look at which air con you might need and how much they cost to install.

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Australia is a country of weather extremes, especially when it comes to temperature, and it only seems to be getting worse. The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s State of the Climate 2020 report states that Australia’s climate has warmed on average by 1.4 degrees Celsius since records began in 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events. So perhaps it is no surprise that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost three-quarters of Australian homes now have some form of air conditioning. The cold fact, however, is that air conditioning can be expensive to install – and to run. The International Energy Agency says air conditioning accounts for around 10% of global electricity consumption. So, it’s worth choosing your air con with care.

According to the Federal Government’s Department of Industry, cooling and heating costs account for around 40% of household energy use. It recommends choosing the most efficient model of the correct size for your needs.

In terms of efficiency, many air conditioners are now required to display a Zoned Energy Rating Label (ZERL). This goes a step further than the old Energy Rating stickers by showing a seasonal efficiency rating for three distinct climate zones — hot, average, and cold. This can help you select an air conditioner that’s suitable for your climate zone. For example, the government’s energyrating.gov.au website states that Brisbane and Darwin are considered to be in the hot zone, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney in the average zone and Hobart, Melbourne and Canberra in the cold zone.

Ratings are up to a maximum of 10 stars for both heating and cooling. Also included in the new labelling is a noise indicator to show the volume in decibels of the internal and external units. Labels on ducted systems are voluntary, so not all products will have one.

How much does it cost to install a split-system air conditioner?

Installing a split-system air conditioner in Australia can typically cost from $600 to $5,400, according to trade services website hipages.com.au, and must be performed by a licensed technician. The installation cost is on top of the purchase price of the unit. Hipages notes that technicians usually charge $60-$110 plus GST per hour for installation, and you could be looking at $600 for a 2.5kw system through to $750 for a large 9kw system.

The final figure you will pay depends on many factors, such as the type and size of unit being installed (see below); how much ducting, piping, cabling and other items are required; the site of installation, such as access, in which part of the house it will be placed and how the units are to be drained; and the electrical infrastructure of the home, which in some cases may require an upgrade to the main power board and the installation of safety switches. It is a good idea to collect a few quotes for installation before making any decisions.

Hipages states that “a number of different tradies” such as plumbers, electricians and specialist air conditioner installers could perform the work, providing they are licensed to handle refrigerants as well as their regular qualifications.

What are the options to finance installing a split-system air conditioner?

How the purchase of a unit and its installation is financed may depend on how much it costs. There are several options available to consider, including:

Personal savings: If you have savings tucked away, it can make sense to dip into your spare cash to pay for a split system. It’s an interest-free option, and there is always the possibility that a retailer may offer a cash discount.

Personal loan: Depending on your personal circumstances and the cost of the job, you may be able to consider using a personal loan to fund the work. This could be a secured loan, or an unsecured loan. It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that interest rates are generally higher for personal loans than for home loans, and it’s a good idea to read the lender’s terms and conditions first.

Green loan: A number of lenders offer ‘green loans’ – a type of personal loan designed to help home owners purchase eligible energy-efficient appliances including, in some cases, air conditioners. As a general rule, the air conditioner will need to meet minimum energy efficiency requirements, but if you’re eligible, green loans can come with very competitive interest rates.

Credit card: It may also be possible, depending on the cost and your ability to repay the debt quickly, to pay for the job on a credit card. There could be some fringe benefits for doing so, such as extra insurance cover in some cases (read the card’s Product Disclosure Statement to find out the conditions of the cover). Keep in mind that credit card interest rates are typically much higher than home or personal loans, and interest can quickly accumulate on large balances, so it is a good idea to weigh up your options and consider them carefully. If you don’t think you’ll be able to pay off the card’s balance in full each month, it may be worth seriously re-considering whether a credit card is the right option for you

What type of air conditioning units are available?

Refrigerant systems

A common form of air conditioning unit in use in Australia are refrigerant systems. Working much like a refrigerator, a liquid refrigerant is piped through the system to cool air. Reverse-cycle systems – as the name suggests – can reverse this process to heat the air and are the most common form of unit sold in this country. All units require a condenser, which cools the refrigerant, a fan and a drainage system, as a by-product of this process is water. Below are some common forms of refrigerant air conditioners:

Portable

These units are typically only suited for small spaces and can usually be wheeled around so they can come with zero installation cost. They typically do not require installation, however many models do need access to a window or floor or sink drain, to allow air exchange as well as allowing the water the unit collects to be drained away. Compare portable air conditioners with Canstar Blue.

Window or wall units

These units – also known as ‘window’ air conditioners, are installed in a wall or take up part of a window opening, so that the face is inside the room you want to temperature control, while the exhaust fan and water drainage are outside. They usually require an inside power point. These units are typically only suited to small to medium spaces. Expert installation may be required, and Hipages says this cost can run from $60 to $110 per hour plus GST.

Reverse cycle split system

This type of air conditioner typically heats and cools small to large rooms, and – as the name suggests – is made up of two separate components linked by cables and hoses. The head unit is hung on the wall near the ceiling in the room you want to temperature control. The condenser unit is typically larger and is installed outside the home. This unit usually contains a motor and a fan. Split systems need access to drainage, so that the water they collect from the air can escape. Typically, you will need a licensed installer to add one to your home, due to the complex electrical, drainage and carpentry requirements. These units are also available as “multi-head” systems, which allow multiple rooms to be temperature controlled.

For energy efficiency, split systems with an ‘inverter’ could be worth a look. The Federal Government’s Department of Industry says the role of an inverter is to adjust the compressor speed according to outside temperatures. This can give these units 30% better operating efficiency than a conventional fixed speed system, the Department says.

When it comes to installation, Hipages says to allow for around $600 to $750 to install a split system, depending on its size as measured by kilowatts.

Ducted

These systems can usually heat or cool multiple rooms, or an entire home, depending on the size of the unit and the number of “zones” it allows. Typically, cool or warm air flows from vents installed into various rooms, travelling there via ducts (large insulated tubing) in the ceiling cavity, from an indoor air control unit and an outdoor condenser unit. These types of units can only be installed by an expert professional, and you could be looking at an installation cost of $5,400 for a 8.0kw ducted reverse cycle air conditioning unit installed to six points according to hipages.

→ Trouble deciding which type of unit? This story from Canstar Blue may help: Ducted vs Split System Air Con: Pros & Cons

Evaporative systems

Evaporative coolers use the heat exchange effect of evaporating water to cool the air, according to Sustainability Victoria, and work best in hot, dry weather but are not suited to humid conditions. An evaporation unit sits on top of the house, which draws in hot air over moist pads. The moist, cooled air is then blown into the home. This creates a breeze, too, and means that some doors or windows must be left open for it to work properly.


How large must the air conditioner be?

The size of the area that needs to be temperature-controlled determines the size of the air conditioner that you will need. Air conditioner size is determined by the wattage of the unit. Appliancesonline.com.au states that, generally speaking, you’ll need about 0.15 kilowatts per square metre, although that can be influenced by factors such as if the room is open to the rest of the house, or if it receives a lot of sun.

Small room Medium room Large room
Size 10-20 square metres 20-40 square metres 40-60 square metres
Minimum kilowatts required 2.8kW 4.2kW 5.6kW
Ideal types of air conditioner Portable, wall mounted, split system Wall mounted, split system Split system

Source: Appliancesonline.com.au

Finally, bear in mind that different states and territories may also have legal regulations around what air conditioners you can install, so it could be worth checking with your state or territory government to ensure your unit is compliant.

Compare home and contents insurance

If you’re comparing home and contents insurance policies, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for an Australian aged under 50, seeking cover in NSW or ACT for a cost to replace building and contents of below $550,000. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s home insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.

Main image source: e2dan/Shutterstock.com.


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