Hi, I am a Building Science student, working on a residential HVAC research project. Specifically, I am comparing the following types of systems in terms of energy usage, initial cost, maintenance cost, and lifespan, to determine the payback due to energy savings in several climates:

Furnace & A/C split system (high, medium and low eff)

Heat Pump


Geothermal Heat Pump

Radiant heating and cooling

Evaporative cooling

I have modeled these systems in a sample production home in an energy modeling software. I need some help estimating the upfront cost. Of course, I am not looking for itemized hard quotes, just a rough estimate of the parts plus labor. The systems are not going to be installed, I am only using the data in a model. I have already sized the equipment and have a estimate on the ducts (where applicable). I have been looking at Lennox and Carrier for the split systems, but I can use another brand if it is more convenient to price.

If anyone is able to help me with this, I would be very grateful. I would be happy to share the results as well. I can send the specific model numbers on this thread or via email. my email is burketthw@appstate.edu.


Tags: GSHP, evaporative, heat, help, mini-split, pump, radiant, residential

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I have found over the years that pricing is regional. Cost for labor can have significant differences from state to state and from city to city within that state.

There are many variables such as local permit pricing, codes etc

You will want local bids from three different contractors all in including permits inspection etc per a specific zipcode. Let them know up front this is for a project and that you are a college student and there will be no moving forward on the purchase. Offer them the research as well. I suspect you will find some who agree to do it and some that will not. Ask for ballpark as it does not need to be a firm bid which requires site evaluation and more work.

If it were me I would categorize by the same equipment and models as true comparison requires apples to apples. Lenox Dealers and Carrier Dealers should have access to the same equipment.

Good luck

To add some thoughts to the regional pricing, I've been in your boat before (a nonprofit with zero budget for bids).

For example, I was curious about how much it would cost to run a gas line to swap out an electric dryer for a gas one. I called a local plumbing/heating/cooling contractor and he said probably $80, in a call that lasted about 30 seconds.

This might not be a perfect comparison, but I've found that many contractors are happy to take five minutes or less out of their schedule and give a ballpark estimate of what a typical install would cost to those who are just seeking information for altruistic purposes--assuming a ballpark is all you're really looking for.

That's a HUGE project!

You might be well advised to narrow it down some

Install costs vary widely between regions. NYC probably 3x my AO

Operating costs depend on whether climate is heating or cooling dominant, unit energy costs, availability of natural gas

Mini splits don't compare well with ducted systems unless floorplan is fairly open

Geo systems cost about as much as premium air source systems, but the water side can double or triple project cost

Evaporative cooling is suitable only for arid climates and unit water cost looms large. I imagine water quality is an issue as well.


If you haven't found it already, try here: http://www.nrel.gov/ap/retrofits/about.cfm While this should be a big help, note that NREL is still taking comments on these new data, so if you notice something screwy, let them know.

As a cross check, you might also try an old standard reference like "RS Means Contractor Pricing Guide" (Reed Elsevier). Sweets (McGraw-Hill) is another source. Both have "location factors" to adjust for the regional differences others described. For example, the old 2011 edition of Means that I have here on the shelf (yes, an actual paper book!) claims that it costs $1,214 to demo/install a 50MBH forced air gas furnace ($910 material, including a 10% markup, +$304 labor). In New York City, the adjustment factor is 1.38; in Fayetteville, AR it is 0.70. Try your library for a more recent edition of one of these references, or just apply an inflation escalation factor to whatever you do find.

Remember, retail price is always more than cost because there is also overhead and profit (already included in the NREL data I believe), and in some markets this can be pretty significant.

Good luck,


PS - Good luck getting reasonable mini-split estimates. They're definitely cheaper, but because they cannibalize the more lucrative market for central systems, few contractors seem to be terribly enthusiastic about them (present company excluded). If I'm wrong about this, I'm sure someone will let me know.

Lena ,

   As far as building Science is concerned I believe your most efficient way to condition this house would be with radiant heating / cooling with an ERV capable of removing Latent . I would utilize an air to water heat pump for this application or nat. gas absorption heat pump , of course the latter would really boost first cost . Let me know if I can answer any questions for you or even help you with design if this is an option .


      Regards ,


I would suggest also visiting the NAHB  (National Association of Home Builders) website.  They have some studies done on common features that new home buyers (and retrofiters) specify - and based on  surveys of buyers, real estate agents.  They also have done some life expectancy studies and/or links to other research studies for the expected useful life of HVAC.

If any of the NAHB prior work is useful - that may help narrow down your focus.

Then look at the Canadian NRC website - I believe they published papers this last August where they compared cost of ground source / air source HVAC for various cities in Canada - and how to make residential homes ready for netzero with solar.  The studies by NRC (and many others) point out that climate zones,  temp and dry/wet are VERY important.   

I can't imagine that direct evaporative cooling of a residence would be effective in a hot Louisiana summer -- nor would an air source heat pump be very effective in Fairbanks Alaska.

RS Means has this information, and have regional differences.


It is your best bet for an inbiased cost comparison.


My university had scopies in the library.


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