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How much should labor be on replacing a condenser?

14 years ago

My five year old, 5 ton AC unit died a couple days ago. It was determined the condenser unit (the big box with a fan on the top that puts out hot air and sits on a concrete pad outside the house) was bad and needed to be replaced. We figured out the thing was still under warranty, but the AC company (Waggoner's Heating and Air in Norman OK) charged $947 for the labor to replace the unit. One person came out for about 4 hours (including a 1 hour lunch).

My gut feeling is I got robbed, but I'll ask the community. How much should I expect to pay on labor for replacing a condenser?

Comments (47)

  • 14 years ago

    Asking about the cost after the work is done isn't the best idea, obviously.

    If it was just labor, even if there was a truck charge, you are paying around $300 an hour.

    My guess is that you paid for various materials also.

    It's important to note that warranties on HVAC products don't include labor, which can be substantial.

    You need to bring it up with the repair company.

  • 14 years ago

    What was changed? Just the compressor (inside the outdoor unit) or the unit itself?

    First he has to recover the refrigerant from the unit. Many charge for use of machine plus cost of disposing of the refrigerant. Then the compressor or outdoor unit is changed. Compressor changes are more work, harder to do. A filter-drier should be installed or replaced. Nitrogen is applied to check for leaks. Then he runs a vacuum pump, which could have been running while he was dining. Our guys often go to lunch while the pump is on. Then new refrigerant is put in and that costs. Also many distributors charge a handling fee for warranty compressor or unit. So $947 for a 5 ton is very typical around here.

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  • 14 years ago

    Baldloonie, sounds like you are comfortable defending a business model that includes a lot of sitting around waiting for some one to come by with $947 to spare. If fewer customers were willing to empty their pockets so readily fewer guys would try to run a business like that. Just my opinion, of course, and I realize it makes me a prime target here.

    Your arguments are silly - that someone could charge their hourly labor rate because their pump was running is ludicrous. Or that a mid-level tech is worth $300 an hour, or that a filter-drier costs more than $30. Or that the guy has to charge for refrigerant disposal - used R22, at least, has a positive market value and costs around $3 a pound to replace. And the recovery machine costs $400 to buy; how much to rent to the customer for fifteen minutes? How about the laundry bill for the guy's jeans?

  • 14 years ago


    I agree with you in general. I know that it takes more than meets the eye to run a business and that nobody should be expected to sell materials at cost. That said, when businesses become complacent about gouging the consumer, they put themselves in a position to get their butts kicked in the market.

    A mid-level tech should be $100-120 an hour including plenty of markup. Oh, and for that, you should actually get someone who knows what they are doing-which isn't the case a lot of times! A truck charge is also reasonable to cover fuel, vehicle, etc. as is a reasonable markup on supplies and consumables. In my book, the cost of getting the part to the shop - including the shop time -- should be paid by the manufacturer.

    At any rate, I'm having a hard time reasonably getting above $700 with plenty of markup for overhead and profit.

  • 14 years ago

    price is not so out of line IMO..

    I wouldn't feel ripped off OP, unless there is a problem
    with the install down the road.
    hope your new condenser lasts shouldn't be replacing it within 5 years unless something else is wrong.
    did you tech offer any ideas as to why unit had failed so soon?

    that someone could charge their hourly labor rate because their pump was running is ludicrous.
    as stated - vacume pump is usually set to evacuate the system prior to takes a while to evacuate the sytem...time better spent eating lunch that twiddling your thumbs waiting on the pump.
    would you rather pay the guy to sit there and watch the pump?? seems a good use of time to evacuate while taking lunch.

    Or that a mid-level tech is worth $300 an hour, or that a filter-drier costs more than $30.
    tech would be worth about half of that. no mention of cost of filter dryer, ..this is included in
    material costs. the cost to install filter dryer is added to price plus cost of business...truck costs, insurances, taxes, permits.
    lots of costs to factor in that hourly amount.

    Or that the guy has to charge for refrigerant disposal - used R22, at least, has a positive market value and costs around $3 a pound to replace.
    of course refrigerant disposal has a cost..come on..
    just as a tech has to be certified to handle refrigerants
    it takes time to reclaim and recycle refrigerants. costs
    of R-22 are rising, this is due to the fact that this refrigerant will not be produced and all R-22 will eventually come from recycled refrigerant.
    you don't just tie freon up and leave it at the curb like
    newspapers. some one has to be trained to reclaim, do the physical steps prior to recycled freon being taken to recycling area..even that trip to drop off recycled freon is money spent by the company.

    And the recovery machine costs $400 to buy; how much to rent to the customer for fifteen minutes?
    ok so go to the pawn shop and buy one for 100. will john q public know what to do with it? certified to use it?
    and if you can do all these things in 15 minutes...
    you would be much in demand in my area of the world.

    no offense..but you really don't know what is involved
    in running a hvac business. its not about being the lowest price for the owners..(not always..there are always
    bottom feeders)

    when you hire a hvac company
    in addition to paying for parts
    you are also paying salry
    and overhead to operate the business.
    also for the experience and education of the installer.

  • 14 years ago

    Is is always amusing to see someone who has never run a business, or had to invest thousands of dollars in training, licensing, equipment, and parts complain about what work costs.

    You forget the cost of brazing equipment and gas, replacing vacuum pump oil (and the filter I keep on my pump to prevent trash from your damaged system from wrecking my pump), or the filter on the recovery set that is used for the same reason, or hauling the used refrigerant to the recycler, and all the little expenses that go into making sure I have all the parts to do the job in a single trip.

    Unlike the typical home project that can take you a couple tries to the store for parts and pieces, I need it all there NOW to get the job done.

    A lot of money is tied up and there is a return on it in the cost of work performed.

  • PRO
    14 years ago

    A compressor change out for a 5 ton rapm060 holds 16 lbs of refrigerant plus line a 1x 1/8 lin set 150 ft gonna hold much more. 18 lbs @ 30 = 500 plus for refrigerant.
    nitro @30 brazing @ 30 reclaiming bad refrigerant @ 50,filter dryer @ 30.did we have a burn out??? so we now have to clean out and or flush out the lines. flush out kit plus suction lne filter@ 100 or more. plus labor of 4 hours $ 400.
    these numbers can go over $1000 depending on the probem and the size and seer of the system. If the compressor just simply locked up and you can reuse the refrgerant then the price will be MUCH lower. lots of variables to consider

  • 14 years ago

    I dont think a tooth filling is worth over $100 why do Dentists charge $400?? I was only there less than an hour?

    $75 for 1/2 an hour for dentist, $3 for the receptionist, $10 for the assistant, and $25 for the filling material seems fair to me.

  • 14 years ago

    Um, ZL, dude, I get your point... but if you are paying $400 for a filling, the OP has an HVAC contractor he needs to introduce you to.

    In addition, dentists have 8 years of college in a very competitive environment and pass a state medical exam. As has been demonstrated on this board, too many HVAC techs don't have a basic comprehension of what they are doing. You can talk about training and tools all you want, but we both know that the professionalism and knowledge of HVAC techs varies considerably - something I think is a serious problem.

    Coolmen: So, I figured 3 hours at $100, 18# R22 marked up 100% is $216, $50 for a filter dryer, $85 for a truck charge and another $50 for recovery = $700 +tax. You can certainly itemize every little supply... but then it doesn't follow that you have a 100% markup on freon and 270% markup on labor.

    A tech that makes $50k a year is costing about $36 an hour after benefits.

    It's admittedly been a while since I was doing this... but I think that there is a lot of markup and line-iteming going on... $500 for 18# of freon, are you joking? The cost is $180 for a 30# can delivered in small quantities (less than 10 cans). At $30 a pound, you are talking a 500% markup.

  • 14 years ago

    You may accept metal fillings but mine are composite and don't show. Of course most is covered by insurance. But a HVAC tech doesn't deserve enough pay to covers his families insurance, after all, we only count the hours on job, divided by the amount charged, and that must be his pay right?

    Besides all that it was a funny poke with humor, man open your mind.

    It is interesting Jake, if you did once do it for a living, wished you made more? Had a better life?

    If someone is going to question price afterward, shouldnt you have asked for a quote first.

    Who buys a couch and finds out how much after it's delivered??

  • 14 years ago

    Dude, the first thing I said was that the OP should have checked on price first, before the work was done.

    When I was doing it for a living I wasn't making $50k a year. Sure, when I was doing that I wish I made more and had a better life - and if I'd gone into commercial work that could have happened. But, depending on the region (I'm midwest), $50k a year for a mid-level residential HVAC tech isn't bad - particularly without a college education. As a tech, you don't make more money by gouging the consumer, you make it by becoming a more valuable employee.

    Look, I'm all for people making a living. I believe good tradesmen in general don't get the money or credit they deserve. That said, there are a lot of guys doing bad HVAC work and the company they work for are charging too much for it even if it wasn't bad. If the industry doesn't get its act together, we will see a repeat of what happened to the big 3 auto makers. I don't know how it will happen, but someone will come in and knock the crap out of the industry and the consumer, after having the experience of paying $500 for 18# of freon, won't feel bad about it at all.

  • 14 years ago

    So, here's the killer concept:

    The AC is engineered and built with all of the major parts being almost tool-less. The condenser unit, line set and evaporator all connect with 1/4 turn, self-sealing quick couplings. Everything is pre-charged. The wiring, including the outdoor whip is all snap together. The evaporator slides out.

    The unit includes basic diagnostics that would indicate a refrigerant related problem. The major components include an RFID tag that would would ID itself to the system.

    So, the customer calls with AC complaint (or perhaps the unit sends a text msg.) The service company can ID the components, that it's a refrigerant related problem and the age of the system from the error code on the thermostat. No house visit is required to diagnose the problem.

    They can give a firm price based on the age of the system and replace the entire unit (condenser, line set and evaporator coil) with a reman unit. The swap-out is done by a kid making $15 an hour and it takes perhaps an hour or so to do. No tools, no recovery, almost no training. The customer gets a factory tested unit, properly charged, perfect install, cheap and very quick turn around.

    The old unit goes back in the reusable shipping containers, and is returned to a regional reman facility (possibly even in Mexico)where assembly line workers are happy to make $12 an hour rebuilding the things in a very fast, efficient and controlled way. Every bit of waste is squeezed out - refrigerant is cleaned and recycled on-site. Parts that are out of spec are recycled, everything is reclaimed.

    Gone are all of the truck charges, tools, trained (or not) techs, $30 a pound refrigerant, $100 an hour workers, recovery fees, etc. Also gone are decent paying jobs.

    None of this would be hard to do right now.

  • PRO
    14 years ago

    Jake your concept on equipment replacment is farthest from the truth.A kidd making 15 a hour swapping out a unit with no tools needed. no wonder you left the have NO CLUEWith the internet in just about everyones home, I would expect the homeowner to get at least 3 bids to replace the comressor and or search for lower priced R-22. I will say that here in north jersey my price seems to be in line with
    others out there. I charge what I charge And have very hapy homeowners.(I must have had the lower price bid). with 25 years in the trade I have never left a house thinking I ripped someone off nor will I change.

  • 14 years ago


    Of course it's furthest from the truth currently. And it may never happen at all. But the point is that it's doable. Anytime an industry gets complacent and uncompetitive, someone comes in and changes the game. Look at the automakers, look at what Walmart did to retailing. Look at how roof trusses, floor trusses and wall fabrication has reduced the need for skilled carpenters.

    As far as your customers getting three bids... perhaps. But the industry is really set up to make it impossible to shop price. The average non-tech consumer doesn't have the wherewithal to dissect the quotes - you see that on this board also. If they were ever to really shop price, you wouldn't be able to get a 500% markup on anything.

  • 14 years ago

    And there are still people paying sticker price for cars, it will always remain that way.

  • 14 years ago

    I was just given a quote with now breakdown for labor, no description of the make and model of the "1 ton unit".

    $2800. A basic one ton unit (base model) can be ordered for 750 to 1000 dollars. How does 1800 trans sound for labor.

    I have read about half a dozen threads on what things cost. I appreciate the cost of overhead. I run a business but I also see plenty of gouging in my business and recognize gouging in this business.

    For 3 or 4 hours of work, my quote works out to 450 dollars per hour. At that rate I can hire an AC tech, buy the freon, the vacum pump, the torch and do the job for less. Dont get me wrong it is a hassle to become the contractor but these are fat proft margins.

    If I ever should retire from my current profession, medicine, I am eyeing this AC career for its sheer profitability. The R410 conversion is one of the bigger boondoggles in the industry.

    "oh that new refrigerant is coming and you need to swap out these air handler too and while we are at it lets swap out all your units because they are old"

    You know how to tell when you are being gouged. When they are so profitable complacent and lazy that they dont even offer to consider a option to fix any part of your system.

    It is so tempting and profitable to just rip it all out but the problem is that AC repair requires careful well done installation so you really run the risk of going to hell in a handbasket with poor quality install.

    Is there anyone in the AC business, honest, conscientous and fair priced in the greater Orlando area?

  • 10 years ago

    Well, it should have never taken 4 hours....

    So you paid around $500 for refrigerant (5 ton unit just an ~), plus whatever to vacuum out the old stuff and dispose of it. So that's $447 for disposal and labor. Divide by 4 and you're at ~$112 an hour. That's not bad so I assume the fact they were there for 4 hours (for whatever stupid reason) they cut you a break on the number of billable hours.

    Refrigerant is stupid expensive and it's why people never want to replace only the condenser. Imagine paying $500 twice! Once to replace the condenser and again to replace the FAU.

  • 10 years ago

    Might as well have changed out to an all new R410A high efficiency system & saved the high $ R-22 costs...

    A/C may also need downsizing; use the Whole House Calculator & use .4 or .5 Air changes per Hour (ACH) * cu.ft volume of your home to get the CFM...put in the blank___CFM; when U think U have it right print it; U can't save it; unless U use 'Snipping Tool' to capture the screen image of it.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Whole House Calculator

  • 9 years ago

    Ok, it is gauging in my opinion, and on top of that companies are just trying to profit from 410A conversions, which interestingly enough was based on the patent expiration of r22 coming up. I am sure the Dr here can relate to similar scenarios with pharmaceuticals.

    Many of us are not ready nor interested in converting. I have rental property and to charge my unit the so called contractors are wanting to bilk me 100.00 / lb. when their cost for 30Lbs is On top of that, most contractors refuse to fix a broken R22 unit, and just push for new and leave. I have a broken unit. None of the 3 guys I had out offer to detect the leak.

    Yes, it may cost 800 to replace a compressor, but sure beats 5000 for a new system, specially in a rental property.

  • 9 years ago

    Certified? Just buy a 30 pound tank on eBay. Heck, tons of times you'll find a used tank because people keep buying them, filling once then reselling them.

  • 9 years ago

    I had occasion three days ago to call a rooter company to address a sewer line blockage.

    Guy shows up - $89 Flat Fee Service Visit... diagnoses blockage location. Quotes $579 to clear + $89 Fee.

    The diagnosis took about 25 minutes. My choices were accept the offer OR pay the $89 and call someone else and again pay a similar Service Fee.

    I paid the $579 and mentioned I got his name from Angie's List... that waived the Service Fee.

    Clearing the stoppage took less than 25 minutes.

    Do I think that was high? Yes. Do I think it was worth it to me? Yes... no realistic option.

    Was I satisfied? Yup. The guy was fastidious in his effort to keep the house clean, his demeanor was professional and confidant. Would I hire them again? Yes.

    Would I go DIY? Nope. I paid for a group of skill sets and equipment that I do not have.

  • 9 years ago

    Stop thinking you paid for labor it was some body raking your leaves and you supplied the rake .I have been in the industry for over 40 years . I realize this an old post, but to be honest I can't answer that question... I can replace the unit for less ,but so what . I don't have pay for all the expenses of running an ac company. You and I have always cost our employers way more than that small pay check we get.You don't see the shop expenses, taxes, insurance.heating and cooling ,, utilities . truck with stock . equipment. etc this list goes on forever . Let me remind that an underpaid teacher earns close to 70 k on average or about 450 a day before benefits .That's ok too , because they have 120 students a day That is only for starts because we have to pay for the school and building cost . utilities etc.What I'm trying to say . You are paying for company that had maybe five hats involved with your new condenser .That same installer may be sent on a industrial service call and making repairs that require a great deal more knowledge than any diy job.I can tell you it would cost me about 300 dollars for materials and I would want at least 300 for labor and that's cash... 600 total and I have no expenses To be honest I don't want that job, BECAUSE YOUR AC WILL BE MY RESPONSIBILITY NO MATTER OF WHAT GOES WRONG FOREVER .

  • 9 years ago

    I can't help but look at whether the 5-Ton is way oversized; also look at the duct system & other factors when replacing a condenser.

    I never charged enough; always wanted them to get a quality job that saved them money firsthand & long-term.

    I always did all the work; wanted it done right.

  • 9 years ago

    I need to replace my 20 year old 3 ton 14 SEER condenser. I am having trouble with the two quotes I've received -- $5,200 and $5,600. Both firms refused to provide a breakout of the costs -- package price, take it or leave it, I was told. Ok. I go to the internet. I can quickly find that a Rheem or Am. Std. 3 ton unit retails for about $1600. I'm sure Contractors can get one for less. Let's say $1,200. 25 lb of R410 is $125. Ok, mark it up to $200. New TXV , $150.
    Labor: 4 hours, 2 guys, $100/hr = $800. Truck cost $100. Overhead: office, insurance, training, bookkeeping, supplies. A generous 30% overhead fee and I am at a total of $3,450, which ALREADY includes $400 profit on the condenser unit. ($1600-$1200 cost). Let's throw in $300 for warranty and ANOTHER $400 profit and I get a Grand Total of $4,150. That includes 20% profit. So, my question is: If a FAIR PRICE seems to be around $4,000, why am I being quoted $5,000 or more?????

  • 9 years ago

    Rachelpleze, you should have started your own thread, but here is my response.

    Those prices for HVAC on the Internet are bogus in that the manufacturer WILL NOT honor the warranty for equipment purchased online.

  • 9 years ago

    dove - setting aside the issue of 'honoring the warranty', my basic question of WHY is someone quoting $5,500 for a $4,000 -- or less! -- job? PS - I found a contractor, got a new unit, 10 year warranty, AND with R-22! (: for $3,200.

  • 9 years ago

    and the answer is why not?
    it takes all kinds, contractors & customers.

    contractor may have simply not wanted to
    do the change out for you.
    could have been a personality conflict,
    difficult area to work...

    customers who quote internet prices give
    contractors a hint as to what the job will
    be like. so they may over price the bid for
    the pita factor.

    seriously if you want to bash
    the contractor...start your own thread.

    best of luck.

  • 8 years ago

    moronic comments by all

  • 8 years ago

    the vast majority of the above comments underscore what a bunch of turds are in the hvac business. I find the industry full of morons, and they all way overcharge; particularly for parts. The game is part/equipment mark-up, not tech savvy. Soon the consolidation will wipe out 90% of these hacks, and plug/play technology will make it a commodity business. None too soon in may opinion. Complete heretofore rip off industry.

  • 8 years ago

    It's not that hard to change out a condenser unit. I have never brazed anything, but it doesn't look too hard. The electrical connections are already there, and vacuuming and recharging, I've done.

  • 8 years ago

    My king R22 compressor just went. I replaced the coil last year for $1300

    for $3300 cash they want to install a new Rheem 3 ton R-22 nitrogen with keeping my coil. I cannot switch to 410 without changing the whole system am I getting a good deal?

  • 8 years ago

    If you just replace your A coil, it may be good for R410A or R22. You can get a dry shipped condenser unit for around a grand, $2000 labor is a bit steep. Are you sure your compressor is dead?

  • 8 years ago

    They charged $1500 for unit

    $100 for truck

    400$ for frion$1300 labor

  • 8 years ago


    Why don't you start a new thread on your problem rather than adding on to this one? The folks on this board will help you, but don't like to read through the entire old thread to get to your problem.

  • 8 years ago

    Look up your A coil and see if it is rated for R410A. If you wait a couple of weeks, the cooler weather will drop the price as they will be sitting around with nothing to do.

  • 8 years ago

    My whole unit would need to be changed over to comply with R410a

  • 8 years ago

    They said that would cost 10k

  • 7 years ago

    I just got a quote on a 2 1/2 ton condenser and cased coil plus a 50ft line set, Goodman equipt. For $3700.00 I just checked online and found same same for $1290.00 yes I know they have to make a profit, but over 100% markup still seems high. When I was doing this same work I was. Charging around 60% I understand things are a little higher now but. Makes me want to come out of retirement and install my son's system myself and hire a couple of guys and pay them $25.00 per hour cash. I know it can be done in a half day. Including recovery of the freon.....

  • 7 years ago

    The typical HVAC contractor adds up the list prices of all the parts and doubles the price, no matter how long it takes to do the job. These guys have become more expensive than licensed professionals such as electricians and plumbers. I always look for the independent HVAC guy who does the work themselves...their prices are usually much better...I am not looking to enrich some HVAC company owner who sits around in an office all day.

  • 5 years ago

    AJ Perri is one of the largest HVAC Companies around and they charge $150.00 and hour. I just had a local guy swap out a 5 ton Goodman that was 9 years old for a new Goodman 5 ton unit for $250 it took him 2 and a half hours. 90% of the HVAC guys work out of their homes and have no overhead. The Dentist's in northern Jersey charge $150 for a filling and if you don't have insurance they will fill for $75.00. Were do you people come up with these numbers.

  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Well, you have to remember that your pay for the trip charge (~$100) and markup on any additional parts needed (100% +). I'm not trying to defend the outrageous charges that AC companies demand but $1000 to swap out a condeser (labor only) is about the going rate.

    Sure, you can get someone off craigslist to do it for a couple hundred but you have no idea if they are doing it correctly or if they'll show up if you have any problems.

  • 5 years ago

    I got a quote, I had a R22 system and new one is for a 5 Ton Day & Night 17 SEER condensing unit plus, New R410a Coils in the attic and a complete flush of R22 for conversion to R410a. Total cost is $4,500 installed. 3800 sq ft home. Thoughts on the price?

  • 5 years ago

    Sounds about right if they are switching out both the evaporator coil and condenser. Given the labor to uninstall the old coil and reinstall the new one, how much more would it be to replace the air handler/furnace too?

  • 5 years ago

    If you are looking to get more information then I suggest starting a new posting. Tagging onto a 10 year thread does not work well.

    It is hard to comment on an installation cost without knowing the location or the level of difficulty. This might be great price for the Bay area, but no so good for other areas of the US. Working in attics with difficult access requires more time and labor.

  • 3 years ago

    HAVAC, Plumbing, Electrician, when you guys charge 250 an hr for labor it is a ripoff.

    A machine company charges same for a $million dollar machine running a half million dollar part

    and I can buy everything in your truck with the cost of any number of tools in my tool box and some that fit on the machine, for instance a 90deg head on this gantry mill I run cost $40,000.

    Just one tool of one machine that is used every now and then. And REAL easy to crash.

    A decimal point in wrong place can cost $400,000. I worked for Lockeed, Rockwell automation, some oil companies 29 yrs..... But my brother owns an air conditioning company. My brother is a joke with a high price!

  • 3 years ago

    I graduated from college with a degree in computer science and I dont even make $900 plus in 4 hours. Thats it! How can i get a job in the hvac field? I wasted all these years in school smh....