Do I Need a High-Efficiency Air Conditioner?

Summer is coming. With it comes sweltering heat. For most of us, that means it’s time to kick the AC into gear for the first time since early fall.  However, every homeowner knows that keeping their home comes at a cost – literally. The energy your AC uses to keep your home cool equates to significant energy costs. The larger your home, the more expensive these costs will be.  That’s exactly why many consumers are making the switch to high-efficiency air conditioners. Should you join them? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to explore here today. 

What Makes an Air Conditioner High-Efficiency

In simple terms, a high-efficiency air conditioner is a system that is designed to use less energy while still providing effective cooling for your home. These systems can do this in multiple ways such as variable-speed compressors or advanced refrigerants.  These systems will have both higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEERs) and Energy Efficiency Ratios (EERs). These units are used to measure cooling efficiency. The higher the SEER rating, the better the efficiency. These values typically range from 13 to 26. The closer to 26, the better.  Think of it as getting the same cooling you want with less of the power bill that you hate.  Until January 1, 2023, the minimum efficiency standard for AC units was 13 SEER. However, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act from the U.S. Department of Energy has raised this 14 SEER. As such, manufacturers will be dropping older models and shifting to higher-efficiency models across the board. 

The Pros and Cons of Buying a High-Efficiency Air Conditioner 

As with any purchase, it’s important to know the pros and cons of buying a high-efficiency air conditioner. 

Let’s look at the pros first. 

  • Money Saving – Ask any homeowner, “Do you want to save on your electric bill?” The answer will always be yes. So, it goes without saying that the biggest benefit of a high-efficiency air conditioner is the lower power bill at the end of the month. 

  • Environmentally Friendly – As these AC units use less power, that lowers the strain on the electric grid, and less power needs produced on the power company’s end. Lower energy consumption equates directly to a smaller carbon footprint.

  • Quieter – Many high-efficiency AC models provide quieter, continuous air circulation that requires fewer restarts.

  • Consistent Cooling – High-efficiency models experience significantly less wear and tear than their low-efficiency cousins. That means they can cool your home consistently and for longer.

  • Potential ENERGY STAR rebates – High-efficiency models are more likely to be eligible for ENERGY STAR rebates. 

And those are the benefits. Sounds pretty good right? So, what are the downsides?

Here are the cons of high-efficiency air conditioners. 

  • Higher upfront costs – It’s no secret that higher efficiency units naturally come at a higher upfront cost. As such, serious savings come in the long term. So, this is only really a downside if you’re on a strict budget or intend to move homes soon.

  • Potentially incompatible with existing systems – New models mean new parts. There’s a possibility that a high-efficiency air conditioner may not be possible compatible with your current heating and cooling system. Always take this into consideration for any new HVAC system. 

That’s really it. These models come with serious benefits with very few drawbacks. 

Should You Switch to a High-Efficiency Air Conditioner? 

Now that we’ve considered the pros and cons, let’s take a look at the bottom line: Should you make the switch?

What if I Live in an Older Home?

Older homes often have poorer insulation. That means it’ll be harder to keep your home cool in the hotter months as the cool air escapes your home. What’s more, it’s likely an older home comes with an older AC system that won’t be as effective at keeping your home cool.  As such, high-efficiency air conditioners are highly recommended for older homes. Not only will it keep your cooling costs lower, but it’ll help keep you consistently cool throughout the hottest days of the year. 

Is My Existing Unit Fine to Use? 

If you’re comfortable with your existing unit, you’ll naturally want to keep it. However, it’s important to note that with the changes in the EPCA’s standards, older models will have less available support. Home builders and HVAC contractors will be making the shift to higher efficiency models, especially in the South and Southwest where the installation will be obligatory.  So, you can certainly keep your existing unit. You will, however, need to make the switch as your current model reaches its end of life. 

What if I Only Use my AC For A Few Months? 

If you live in a particularly cooler climate, you may not think of your AC very often. You may only use it for a few weeks out of the year. This can make the choice on a higher-efficiency model harder. The energy-saving costs of adopting a new model will be significantly lower, requiring a longer period of time to see any real change.  In this circumstance, a high-efficiency unit may not be for you. However, the final call is yours.