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

Digital Editor · 9 December 2019

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 aircon you might need and how much they cost to install.

Cost of Air Conditioner Installation | Canstar
Image: Fizkes (Shutterstock)

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 2018 report states that “Australia’s climate has warmed just over 1 degree (Celsius) since 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 airconditioning; with more than one million air conditioners sold every year. It is estimated that airconditioning uses about 10% of the world’s electricity, according to global digital business publication Quartz.

The Federal Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy states that, depending on the climate zone, cooling and heating costs account for between 20% and 50% of a power bill. It recommends that, no matter what type of electrical heating/cooling appliance you buy, make sure to “choose the most energy-efficient appliances or system that best suits your needs”. The Energy Rating sticker on the front of the unit is a great place to start, it says, and it might be a good idea to get expert advice from an airconditioning retailer or installer, particularly if the space you need to temperature control is large.

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

Installing a split-system air conditioner can typically cost from $600-$5400, according to trade services website, and must be performed by a licensed technician. This cost is on top of the purchase price of the unit. The final figure 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, 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” could perform the work, providing they are licensed to handle refrigerants as well as their regular qualifications, such as plumbers, electricians and specialist air conditioner installers.  

Cost of Split Air Conditioner Installation
Source: Guitar photographer (Shutterstock)

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 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. Compare personal loans with Canstar.

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 re-considering whether a credit card is the right option for you. Compare credit cards with Canstar.

What type of air conditioning units are available?

Refrigerant systems:

The most common form of air conditioning units in use in Australia are refrigerant systems, with more than one million sold each year, according to the Federal Government’s Energy Rating agency. 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 byproduct 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. 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 letting the water the unit collects to be drained away.  Compare portable air conditioners with Canstar Blue. 

Window/wall units – These units 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 is outside. They usually require an inside power point. These units are typically only suited to small to medium spaces. Expert installation may be required.  

Split system – This type of air conditioner, which include reverse-cycle units, 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 allows multiple rooms to be temperature controlled.

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 type of units can only be installed by an expert professional. 

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

Evaporative systems:

About 13% of homes in Australia which has cooling use these kinds of systems, according to the ABS. Evaporative coolers uses 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. states that, generally speaking, you’ll need about 0.15kW/sq m, 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. suggests this guide: 

  • Small Room of 10-20sqm:  2.8kW unit, best for portable, split system, window box
  • Medium Room of 20-40sqm: 4.2kW, best for window box, split system 
  • Large Room of 40-60sqm: 5.6kW, best for split system 

→ You may also be interested in, from Canstar Blue: What is your aircon temperature setting costing you?

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Adding a split system to you home may change your energy use, impacting your power bills. You can compare energy plans with our friends at Canstar Blue: 

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.


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