What is the most efficient central air conditioner? How much does a variable-capacity AC cost? These are among the questions answered in our list of 2017 most efficient central air conditioners. You might also be interested in these guides with links that open in a new window:
Central Air Conditioner Buying Guide 2017: Comprehensive information and buying tips for choosing an AC that fits your climate, space and your lifestyle priorities.
Top Rated Central Air Conditioners 2017: The highest-quality central ACs, and not all of them are the most efficient from their brand. They’re quality-built and dependable.
Driving the Demand for Efficient Air Conditioning
HVAC manufacturers keep squeezing more cooling out of the energy used. Here’s why:
- Spikes in the cost of electricity in the last decade fueled consumer demand for a way to get costs under control
- Many home and business owners are concerned about the environmental impact of the air conditioning, so they started buying efficient ACS, and the manufacturers took notice
- Competition from mini split ductless systems, which are very efficient
- The demand for the improved climate control that comes with efficiency, most recently variable-speed AC compressors becoming more popular
Are one or more of these motivating you to consider the most efficient central air conditioners of 2017? If you take the plunge on a two-stage or variable-capacity (aka variable-speed or modulating), it will optimize efficiency and comfort if paired with a variable-speed blower motor in the furnace (or air handler, if AC-only system).
2017 Most Efficient Central Air Conditioners
Most of these are variable-speed models. This means that their rotary compressors vary up and down like cruise control between 40% capacity (some models as low as 25% capacity) and 100% capacity to deliver exactly the amount of cooling required to keep temperatures balanced and humidity under control throughout the warm months. They’re quieter, more efficient and create far superior climate control that single-stage units and even two-stage ACs.
The industry standard warranty for top-of-the-line central ACs is 10 years on the compressor and parts. We’ll note below what units have better warranty coverage.
Note: The SEER ratings below are preceded by “Up to.” That’s because each model is made in 5-7 sizes, and not all the sizes are equally efficient. In most cases, every size within the model is within 1.5 SEER of the top rating.
Lennox Signature Collection XC25 Air Conditioner
- Up to 26 SEER
Lennox keeps tweaking the technology of this model to make it more efficient rather than introducing a new model. This unit has been on the market for several years, and while that’s not long enough to develop a service history track record, so far it looks reliable. Some old ACs being replaced by the Lennox XC25 have SEER ratings of 10 or less, so energy use and cooling cost is being reduced by 40% to 60%. Those who want ecofriendly cooling love it too, especially when pairing it with the Lennox SLPV98 gas furnace with 98.7% efficiency and, in sunny climates, Lennox SunSource solar equipment that can generate enough electricity that the HVAC system doesn’t require any from the grid. This is expensive equipment, but energy bills can be very low or even zero.
Daikin DX20VC and Amana AVXC20 Central Air Conditioners
- Up to 24.5 SEER
Daikin is a Japanese HVAC giant with global reach, and the brand is in it to win it, as they say. The company acquired Goodman in 2012 to get into the North American residential HVAC game. Amana is a Goodman brand. First, Daikin put its name on Amana units and sold two brands plus Goodman. Now, Daikin is updating and upgrading, and it shows in these two impressively efficient and high-performing air conditioners. Watching Daikin and Lennox compete for the top spot in efficiency going forward will be very interesting. Both brands have deep pockets and invest enormously in efficiency and performance. There’s one more reason to like Daikin and Amana: warranties. Daikin backs it with a 12-year parts and compressor warranty that provides for an entire new AC unit if the compressor fails during that time. Amana backs the compressor with a lifetime AC replacement warranty and covers all other parts for 10 years. Impressive.
Trane XV20i TruComfort & American Standard AccuComfort Platinum 20 Central Air Conditioners
- Up to 22 SEER
This is a newer AC for Trane and American Standard, the top two brands of many residential HVAC brands in the United Technologies Corporation family. The units have all the bells and whistles for superior climate control including communicating technology called ComfortLink II that coordinates system components from the control to optimize efficiency, dehumidification and balanced air conditioning. Both brands have good reliability records. American Standard sets its unit apart slightly with a 12-year compressor warranty instead of Trane and the industry’s 10 years.
Carrier Infinity 21 and Bryant Evolution 180B Central Air Conditioners
- Up to 21 SEER
Carrier and Bryant make similar lineups as United Technology Corporation brands; These units are identical except for the cabinet and name tag. Oddly, the most efficient ACs from Carrier and Bryant are two-stage models. That’s impressive efficiency for a two-stage unit, and the equipment costs a bit less than a variable-capacity compressor. Both make variable-speed models that have 19 SEER ratings, so you’ve got very efficient options. Carrier was once the most efficient brand. UTC needs to make a comparable investment to keep pace with Daikin and Lennox.
Maytag PSA1BG Central Air Conditioner
- Up to 20 SEER
While Lennox and Daikin/Amana innovate for the top efficiency spot, don’t rule out Maytag and other Nortek Global brands Tappan, Westinghouse, Broan, NuTone and Frigidaire, many of which make an identical unit. Nortek Global, based in Missouri, USA, appears committed to investing in better efficiency and performance, as seen in this unit – and a couple of others the brand has discontinued for now that were even more efficient. The warranty on the Maytag version (others might vary slightly) is a 12-year warranty on all parts including a 12-year unit replacement warranty on the compressor that provides an entirely new condensing unit (the outside unit that most think of as the AC) if the compressor fails.
Armstrong Air 4SCU20LX and Air Ease 4SCU20LX Central Air Conditioners
- Up to 20 SEER
These brands are identical. They’re owned by Allied Air, a subsidiary of Lennox, though the product lineups are different from Lennox and from Lennox’s cheap brand Ducane. Armstrong Air and Air Ease have been significantly upgraded in the last five years, and now its products rank among the top 10 in efficiency and performance. While these are reliable units when properly installed, there is nothing special about the warranty – 10 years on everything. That’s done to reduce long-term cost liability and keep the prices below Lennox’s prices.
Ruud Ultra Series UA20 & Rheem Prestige RA20 Central Air Conditioners
- Up to 20 SEER
Decades ago, Rheem bought Ruud. Then more recently, Japanese HVAC giant Paloma Group bought Rheem, acquiring both brands. Paloma Group has been making appliances and both residential and commercial heating and cooling equipment for more than a century. These variable-speed central air conditioners feature the highly rated Copeland Scroll compressor.
The Cost of Very Efficient Central Air Conditioners
Prices vary by brand, but for just the outside unit (not the inside coil, refrigerant lines or installation), here are the prices you can expect:
- 18,000 BTU heat pumps: $2,300-$3,000
- 24,000 BTU heat pumps: $2,700-$3,400
- 36,000 BTU heat pumps: $3,200-$3,900
- 48,000 BTU heat pumps: $3,700-$4,400
- 60,000 BTU heat pumps: $4,100-$4,700
* 1 ton of air conditioning is equal to 12,000 BTU
Professional Air Conditioner Installation is Crucial
A central air conditioner must be properly installed and coordinated with the unit doing the air handling to be as efficient and durable as intended. Hiring a qualified contractor is the best way to ensure installation done the right way. Get estimates from several HVAC contractors to find the right mix of experience and competitive pricing. A quick, convenient way to do this is to fill out our Free Estimates form with a few details about your project. You’ll receive written estimates from some of the top HVAC installers in your area. They’re prescreened, licensed and insured, and they know they’re competing for your job.