Types of HVAC Systems in Los Angeles
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Los Angeles HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning)

Air Conditioning Installation

For a residential new AC installation, you need a professional HVAC specialist to help you. If you are looking for a Los Angeles HVAC contractor(s) to get a bid – you can check out my list of the Best LA Heating and Air conditioning companies here:

Los Angeles Air Conditioning Companies

You have several options as a buyer to consider when installing a new air conditioning system in Los Angeles. Your decision will depend on your needs and budget.  Installing Ducting is a big variable in the installation cost. If your home doesn’t have any ducts, adding new ducting will double the budget- it can cost $5,000 to $6,000 to add ducting (Ducting works best in Attic because heat rises, but is also effective from the crawl space if there is no attic) so if you already have that you can minus that from installation cost. Another Variable is the home’s size. The larger the house the bigger the AC unit you will need to cool it, or in two-story homes, you may consider having dual zones, which means installing two sets of HVAC equipment.  The general rule of thumb is about 1 ton for every 300 to 400 sqft of living space. Another variable is the brand. Carrier is the first air conditioning company and they are considered the industry gold standard, but they also have a 20% premium on the price as compared to other brands and require installers to get special certification which is why some AC companies do not have their product.

Sometimes it can be tough to find a good place to put the condenser (that is the unit on the outside of the house) because building code requires at least a 3-foot setbacks from the structure on the ground- the AC is not allowed to be in the side yard setback, or if you are putting on the roof you may need roof reinforcement if the weight of the unit exceeds 400 lbs which means getting a structural engineer involved.

I would caution Flat Roof homes from putting HVAC on the roof- it can be done and often is, but the ducts usually heat up in the sun which lowers the system’s efficiency, and also it makes a lot of roof penetrations which will require resealing every 5 years and greatly increases the chance of leaks. For flat roofs, a lot of owners put in the Split system on the sidewalls. This may be an adequate solution if the home isn’t very large, but like wall furnaces, ductless split systems reach is limited to 15 to 20 feet. This means you usually need to install at least 2 if not 3 ductless AC units (one in the living room, one in the master bedroom typically) to get adequate coverage. 

Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

Central Heat and Air w/ Gas Furnace (uses Electric & Gas w/ Ducts)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor) $10,000 – $15,000

Heat Pump (uses Electric/w Ducts)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor) $9,000 – $12,000Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor)

$10,000 – $15,000

Mini Split System or “Ductless” (uses Electric)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor)  $3,000 – $4,000 per Unit

Wall AC (uses Electric)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor) $500 – $1,000

Swamp Cooler (Cool Only – what does it use?)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor) $1,500

Wall Heater (Gas – Heat Only)

Installation Cost Estimate (Parts + Labor) $1,500

Air Conditioning Repair

As your Heating and Air conditioning system ages, it will begin to need routine maintenance. Depending on how often you run the system and how well you take care of it will determine how long it lasts. The typical air temperature drop from outside to inside is 20 degrees (the insulation of the home plays a part in this). As the system gets older the temperature drop may decrease to 10 degrees or even 5 degrees! One reason for this is the coils in the system might be leaking its refrigerant. One of the most common routine maintenance that I see performed is a recharge of the coolant. AC guys usually charge about $100/hr for service calls.

As the machine gets older, it will become noisy and vibrate. Sometimes, it is better to do a full replacement than to try to keep extending the life of an old unit if it both: no longer cools well and doesn’t hold coolant.  

-Freon Recharging Checking of refrigerant level (HVAC technician)
-Rebuild or replace Blower (HVAC technician)
-Clean Coils 
-Broken Compressor (HVAC technician)
-Duct Cleaning (Specialized service- Duct cleaning companies)
-Thermostat Replacement (DIY or Handyman, but you can call a professional company too)
-Air Condition Filter Replacement (DIY, or Handyman)

HVAC Energy Efficiency and the Green Building Code (Title 24)

Heating and cooling is expensive! HVAC accounts for nearly half the home’s total energy bill. Live in a warm area, or own a large house and the price can get really high. Installing a programmable thermostat if you dont’ have one is a great way to save energy so you don’t have the HVAC running all day when you are not at home. 

Have you ever seen this yellow tag on new HVAC condensers? It is a SEERS (Seasonal Energy Efficiency ratio) energy rating that allows you to comparison shop for the most efficient AC unit. Think of the SEERS rating like the miles per gallon of the AC. For an existing system 10 years or older, you probably have a SEER of 8-10.  The government requires new AC systems to have a minimum SEER rating of 13- but you can get a SEER as high as 21 to 23 SEER. Expect to pay more for more efficient HVACs with the higher SEER ratings.


What is the useful life of an HVAC System?

Air Conditioners have a useful life of 15 to 20 years. Older Machines from the 1990s and 1980s that were manufactured in the US with steel components were making it 30 to 35 years, but the newer HVAC units have sacrificed durability for energy efficiency. The industry standard is a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and a 1-2 year warranty from the installer on Labor. As equipment gets older, its efficiency decreases. Some signs that your AC is wearing out, is if it is noisy or vibrates excessively, and needs to be recharged one or more times each year. 

The performance of a Heating or Air Conditioning system depends greatly on proper installation. HVAC systems are assembled onsite by independent HVAC contractors and designed specifically for your home. Not every Heating and Air guy out there knows what they are doing. If they put too small or too large of an AC unit, improperly insulate refrigerant lines, put the wrong amount of refrigerant charge, do the ducting wrong, or a whole host of other common mistakes- you could end up having problems. Be careful and choose a professional.

How many Tons do I need?

The general rule of thumb is about 1 ton for every 300 to 400 sqft of living space. So for a 1,200 sqft home that would be 3 tons. You can always increase the size to make the unit cool faster, but it won’t have any other real effect on performance except it will cost more. For each 1 ton of HVAC, the dedicated electric circuit requires 10 amps. So for a 3-ton unit the breaker should be 30 amps. 

Do I need a permit to replace my HVAC?

The building department requires a building permit for a new HVAC installation. The permit costs a couple of hundred dollars. Some owners skip it but do so at your own risk. I have found buyers not to be too sensitive about not being able to find a building permit for the HVAC if it demonstrates a good temperature drop during the inspection and the inspector doesn’t point out any red flags with the installation.  


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