Do I Need A Permit To Replace Air Conditioner

Jed Smith Profile image

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Updated September 22, 2022

If you’re doing major home improvements that include upgrading appliances, you may ask, “Do I need a permit to replace an air conditioner?” It’s true that building permits can be a big part of such projects. For general maintenance, such as cleaning a central air conditioner or finding out why the air conditioner thermostat isn’t working, you don’t necessarily need a permit. But you may be looking for a new unit, especially if you’re having issues with ducted air conditioning not working in one room or dual-zone air conditioning issues. Before you decide on what’s the best air conditioner to replace your old one with, you should know what, if any, are your legal obligations.


  • A building permit is required for the installation of any major air conditioning system, usually meaning an HVAC system.
  • Building permits are required for HVAC systems and other major home improvements to protect the safety of homeowners and workers.
  • Part of the process of obtaining a permit for HVAC installation is an inspection of the home and HVAC system involved.

If you’re concerned about energy usage and costs and are looking for an alternative to the standard air conditioner, look into how air coolers work. If you want to lower your energy bills, consider researching how AC misters work, since misting can potentially help you save money.

Insider Tip

A high SEER rating for an HVAC system is an important number to look at when shopping for an HVAC model because it indicates it’s considered to be as energy-efficient as possible.

HVAC Building Permits

Anyone who’s done major home improvements can tell you that one of the biggest hurdles you often face is figuring out what, if any, permits you need to do a job and where you need to get them from. While many projects don’t require any clearance or paperwork from your state or city government, some do, and not getting the right one for the job can lead to huge fines and legal fees.

Replacing any major air conditioning system is a big project, and you need to understand everything involved before going ahead.

Do I Need A Permit?

The short answer is yes. For any major upgrade or replacement of an HVAC or home air conditioning system, you’ll need an official permit from your city, municipality, or subdivision.

Though the exact conditions may vary slightly based on state or city zoning ordinances, generally speaking, you’ll need a standard building permit for any home improvement project that alters a building’s structure or use, or that could create dangerous working conditions.

Why is a Permit Required to Replace an HVAC/Air Conditioning System

Building permits primarily exist to help keep professionals and homeowners alike safe during major construction projects. Though most people probably think of large-scale building projects in this regard, for both liability and standardization reasons, any project that presents possible hazardous working conditions is included in the legal distinctions described in building permits.

When it comes to air conditioning systems, there’s a second major reason building permits are required: they ensure any equipment being installed meets the government’s energy efficiency standards.

SEER Ratings

An air conditioning system’s SEER (Seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating is, simply put, a rating given to it by the federal government that measures its energy efficiency. The SEER system was first conceived of and written into law by the AHRI (Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute) in 2008.

SEER ratings are calculated by measuring a unit’s cooling output during an average “cooling season” divided by the total electric energy input during the same period. The higher a unit’s SEER rating, the more efficient it is, and therefore, the more environmentally sound.


If your contractor is reluctant or refuses to pull the necessary building permit themselves, it’s a red flag that they may not do the most professional work.


What happens if I install a new air conditioning system without a permit?

Since it’s illegal to install an HVAC or other major AC system into a private residence without a permit, you’ll face very steep (the actual number varies somewhat from state to state) fees and penalties. It will also make a home much more difficult to sell if a code violation isn’t discovered until the owner attempts the sale.

Who should deal with getting the building permit?

If you’re using a contractor — and for both legal and safety reasons you should be — the contractor will generally deal with contacting the appropriate government offices and doing all the permit paperwork.

Why are permits necessary for installing an HVAC unit?

The government requires a building permit for HVAC installation for two reasons. First, it ensures the work being done is as safe and up to code as possible. Second, a building permit ensures that the equipment being installed is both energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

STAT: It’s estimated that only about 10% of all HVAC installations in the U.S. are done properly by professional standards. (source)

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