It’s time to change out your aging AC, but what should you replace it with? The good news is most any new cooling system will be significantly more efficient than your current clunker. That’s because most models today have higher SEER ratings and variable speed technology.
Here’s what that means for your comfort and cooling costs.
Energy-Saving Features of a Modern Air Conditioner
Improved SEER Ratings
When shopping for a new central air system, pay close attention to the SEER. That’s the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, and it’s a good way to compare the performance of one air conditioner over another. The SEER factors the unit’s cooling output over a typical summer divided by the energy it uses in watt-hours. In short, the higher the SEER, the less energy it uses.
Modern AC systems have at least a 14 SEER to meet the U.S. Department of Energy’s efficiency standards, but top-of-the-line units will boast a 20 SEER or higher. That means even a mid-grade system will yield significant energy savings compared to an older unit, which likely has a SEER of 8 or less.
Keep in mind: A SEER rating rapidly degrades if the unit is operating under less-than-ideal conditions. Leaky ducts, a clogged filter, and neglected maintenance will impair its performance, compromising your comfort and spiking your cooling costs.
Variable Speed Technology
Air conditioners of old have two speeds: on and off. The blower kicks on like a jet turbine then clicks off when the thermostat reaches your desired temperature. Systems with a single-stage compressor operate at maximum capacity, turning on and off throughout the day.
A unit with variable-speed technology takes a different approach: it’s continuously operating at a wide range of capacities, ramping up and throttling down to maintain consistent comfort. How is this more efficient? An air conditioner uses a lot of power when starting a cycle. A single-stage compressor operating in short bursts drives up your energy bill.
Not only is a long operating cycle more efficient, but it’s also better for managing humidity, a welcome feature to help get you through the muggy Memphis months.
If you don’t want to spring for variable speed technology, a unit with two-stage cooling would be a nice compromise. This means the compressor has high and low cooling outputs -- not as efficient as a variable speed compressor but considerably better than a single-stage system.