How much would it cost to add air conditioning?

Conventional thinking in San Francisco says that there are only 10 ‘hot’ days here a year and that air conditioning isn’t something you’d really need (or want). We think climate change has made that adage into hot air (pardon the pun). We checked climate data to make sure we weren’t blowing hot air either and we’re not: since 2000, San Francisco has averaged about 30 days a year where the officially recorded high temperature (in downtown, not at SFO) was 75 degrees or more. 

Very few houses in San Francisco have central air conditioning. Yes, there are newer, bigger remodeled houses that do and many (but not all) of the larger mid-rise condominium buildings will have air conditioning, but suppose you’re buying a house and wanted to add air conditioning? From our clients’ experiences and from our own talks with HVAC people here the options you may have to beat the heat.

Cross-breezes were why transoms, lightwells and tall ceilings were installed in many Victorian houses and buildings we see in the City. Many have been painted shut but folks who’ve restored them to their original use will notice a nice breeze when their windows outside are open. But this is only as good as the breeze that comes in. Houses with west-facing windows will tend to make the most of the marine layer/fog when it rolls in (that is if there is a marine layer, which is less common from September to about November each year). Cost: Painter/Carpenter to scrape away point (beware of potential lead paint): $500; glass replacement/re-glazing: $500-$1,000 per window

Ceiling fans are oft over-looked solutions that tall ceilings heights could easily accommodate. The tougher part for most folks is that many of the Victorian/Edwardian parlor rooms may lack the in-ceiling power source needed to run a good ceiling fan. Installing a power source and switch may be tough going because cutting holes through lath and plaster ceilings and walls will make the task more difficult as does wood framing underneath. Cost: $200-$1000/ceiling fan; $500-$2500 labor for electrician, plasterer/painter

Like in Hawaii except for in Potrero….

Those wall-mounted AC units you’ll see in Hawaii or Mexico that are oftentimes made by Mitsubishi, Panasonic or Fujitsu with the remote controls and oscillating fins that are usually mounted towards the ceiling are relatively uncommon in San Francisco but we do see them every so often.  If you find them you’d be likely to find them in hotter places like the Inner Mission with coverage being limited to a larger living room or master bedroom. The equipment will cost anywhere from $3000-$5000 with installation costs depending on your given circumstance as it’s not just the wall unit but the external compressor that has to be installed too.


This is the outside condenser but the main cooling component goes inside by the furnace.

The big upgrade — full-on AC. One set our of clients did a big redo of their sunset-style house in Noe Valley. You know, the 2 bedrooms up with a bath, kitchen and dining/living with a ground floor garage and developed space or undeveloped space. Our clients went the distance and turned a charming house into an updated, crafted and chic modern home with the Ann Sacks tile, broad plank wood floors and AC. Because the existing furnace was outdated the owners decided to add air conditioning and found out that the old duct work wasn’t compatible with what modern air conditioning requires. I’m sure there is some flow-dynamics involved but adding a new circuit for the AC unit, external condenser and integrating new ducting where the old once was is not cheap. The short and long of it is that adding AC to a property that was already opened up for the main renovation added about $2,500 to the bill to what would already have been about $9,000-$12,000 for a furnace replacement. 


Related Articles