Image credits: Estes Services
Heating and cooling systems for both residential and commercial buildings rely on different equipment types, efficiencies, installations, and your specific custom requirements. Depending on factors like your building size and regional climates, your general heating and cooling costs per square foot can vary to accommodate your expectations for the given space. These costs also depend on whether you are investing in a new installation project or simply aiming for a replacement or an upgrade. Here is a glimpse into some key residential and commercial heating and cooling costs to give you a good starting point.
Heating and cooling costs per square foot
For residential buildings
Heating systems typically include oil, Natural Gas, propane, geothermal heat pump, and electricity as the primary heat sources. For a quick comparison, here is an annual heating cost breakdown for an 1800-square-feet home by North Western Electric:
Image credits: North Western Electric
These costs vary significantly based on your choice of heating units and installation complexities. For an average-sized home, a typical HVAC system can cost you between $3 – $6 per square foot in terms of complete installation, and the costs are usually more reasonable for new construction homes where there is no need to first tear down outdated infrastructures – which naturally takes additional expenses, manual labor, and time.
Image credits: HowMuch
Regarding residential cooling, if you are installing a new central air conditioning system, you can expect to pay around $2 – $6 per square foot. This also depends on factors like your chosen cooling system size, ductwork requirements, and the general regional climate you live in. Cooling costs per square foot tend to be lower if a residential building already has the major ductwork installed, so all you need to do is install the cooling units only. If your house requires considerable retrofits before any cooling system can be in place, the additional remodeling and ductwork upgrades will increase your budget. On average, central air conditioning costs around $5,000 in total for basic cooling systems, and the cost can go up to $15,000 to accommodate more detailed customizations.
Here is a quick cost breakdown of residential cooling systems in terms of both split and packaged units by Fixr.
Image credits: Fixr
For commercial buildings
Commercial heating and cooling costs range between $15 – $60 per square foot in terms of HVAC installations. The range is much higher than residential costs because commercial buildings have more heavy-duty requirements for their heating and cooling systems, which is why businesses incur higher unit and installation costs for the same square footage. These costs also depend on the type of commercial activity you run, including your building’s automation scope, which can easily push your budget to the higher end. The following illustration by IOTA Communications is a good example of how energy costs are distributed per square foot for different commercial buildings.
Image credits: IOTA Communications
Heating and cooling cost calculators
The numbers discussed so far are all average figures. If you want to work with more accurate values, it will help to use an online calculator to obtain custom estimates for your specific project. Here are some of the best online cost calculators or estimator tools that work out your heating and cooling costs per square foot based on factors like location/zip code, building size, fuel rates, and your custom HVAC details.
- HowMuch HVAC installation cost estimator
- Fixr central air conditioning cost estimator
- HomeGuide HVAC cost estimator
- North Western Electric heating comparison calculator
- Remodeling Calculator for heating costs
Heating and cooling cost considerations
Before hiring an HVAC contractor, make sure you understand your building’s current status and compatibility requirements so that you do not end up overestimating or underestimating your budget. Here are some key cost considerations to keep in mind to ensure the efficiency and durability of your heating and cooling systems:
- Installing an oversized HVAC system will cost you higher per square foot and compromise your building’s overall efficiency. This is because the system will consume significantly more power to heat or cool your space, which is not very energy efficient when your building clearly does not need to run on this much excessive power. Similarly, installing an undersized HVAC system will cost you higher in the long run, even if the initial installation costs are lower. An undersized system will have to work that much harder and run continuously to reach the optimum temperatures, which is also a major energy efficiency red flag. Therefore, get in touch with heating and cooling experts depending on your residential or commercial needs to figure out the perfect HVAC size for your building.
- Zoning allows both homeowners and businesses to optimize their heating and cooling setups by creating isolated, separately controlled zones within their buildings. This can help you connect the air traffic with the actual foot traffic in a room, which is very energy efficient and a great way to save on utilities down the road. Both zoning and automation can be used to manage your heating and cooling costs per square foot by making sure that your units work only when needed – and the heavily occupied zones receive all the HVAC attention they need compared to those with not as much occupancy.
- Heating and cooling costs also rely on your choice of brand. Popular brands like Lennox and Carrier can be quite expensive because they offer high-quality options. In addition, the installation costs – regardless of the brand – will be higher per square foot depending on location complexities that make it difficult to access the target spaces.
- Heating and cooling permits can also drive your total costs up the scale, especially if you have an old building that is in a dire need of infrastructural and technical upgrades. Since HVAC systems need to be compatible with your building type, it is important to first procure all the applicable permits to ensure safety and reliability aspects. Otherwise, you might end up with an incompatible and potentially dangerous setup that will need to be torn down immediately – which unleashes a whole new round of additional costs. For this reason, make sure that you ask your HVAC contractors for a comprehensive estimate that also includes the permit fees.
That was the end of our advice on heating and cooling costs per square foot. New construction projects typically have lower costs compared to renovation projects that involve extensive upgrades to the existing infrastructure. Greater project complexities call for greater budgets, so it is important to find reliable contractors and leave your project in good hands. HVAC technicians and mechanical experts can provide the best advice for your building’s specific heating and cooling scope, which will help you invest the right amount of money into the right resources your home or business requires. So, look for contractors who are generous with their quote details, consultation advice, as well as future maintenance programs that will help your heating and cooling systems last longer. In this way, you can maximize your building’s energy efficiency per square foot and plan an investment that really pays for itself down the road.