Top 10 Most Energy Efficient ACs in 2021: Costs and Pros & Cons

Our HVAC pros have selected the 10 most energy efficient central air conditioners. The units are divided by performance: 4 variable capacity options and 3 each for two-stage and single-stage models. Our strategy is to give you the most efficient options based on the performance level you want, as will be clear in the model reviews.

This guide is focused on the standard split system air source central air conditioners.

Each model is reviewed with the total cost installed, unit features and benefits, pros and cons, and information on how to use the AC for top ROI.

Split System Air Conditioner Options

As you shop for central ACs, considerations will include:

Size/Capacity: Residential air conditioning units can range in size from 1.5 to 5.0 tons, which corresponds to 18,000 BTU to 60,000 BTU.

Efficiency: ACs start at 13 SEER, though the least efficient from most brands are now 14 or 15 SEER. Maximum efficiency increases every year and tops out at 26 SEER for 2021.

Important Notes:

SEER is Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a measurement of how effectively the unit uses electricity to move heat from inside to outside.

SEER ratings: Each model’s SEER rating is qualified with “Up to.” Why? Because the efficiency level drops slightly in larger models. For example, the Carrier Infinity 26 offers 26 SEER in the 2-ton and 3-ton sizes, but the 3.5-ton to 5-ton models range from 22.5 to 25 SEER.

Installed Cost: Expect to pay $4,500 to about $12,500 to have a central AC installed. This includes the outdoor condensing unit, a matching coil placed in or adjoining your furnace or air handler, new refrigerant lines and possibly a new thermostat.

Average Cost To Install Central AC Typical Range: $3,870 - $5,430
See costs in your area

Average Cost: Most homeowners pay between $6,000 and $9,500 for a 3-ton, 18 SEER air conditioner with a two-stage compressor.

Cost factors are straight-forward: The central air conditioning unit’s size, quality, efficiency, performance level and the complexity of installation are the major determinants of final cost.

The units in our Top Central AC list are manufactured by brands known for superior quality.

What is an Air Source Central Air Conditioner?

Let’s break down that question to find the answer:

Air source: The AC pulls heat from the air in your home and, here’s the key, releases it in the air outside.

While this is obvious, we mention it in distinction to a geothermal or ground-source air conditioner that releases the heat through piping beneath the ground or submerged in water.

As a result, air-source ACs are not as energy efficient as geothermal units. However…,

Central: This means it serves the whole house – or a large section of a very big house. The units in this list work in conjunction with an air handler, which in most homes is a gas furnace. Cooled and dehumidified air is pushed through supply ducts into each room or zone of the home. Return ductwork circulates warm, humid air back to the air handler to be “treated.”

Air conditioner: These units supply cooled and dehumidified air only. The refrigerant in the system absorbs heat indoors and carries it outside to be released. They do not have reversing valves like a heat pump, so cannot supply heat.

As noted, they DO require ductwork, unlike a ductless mini split central AC or heat pump.

Top 10 Most Efficient Central Air Conditioners in 2021

1-4 are Variable-capacity ACs: They have compressors that operate between 40% (25% on some models) and 100%. The “speed” of the compressor modulates very slightly up or down to maintain very even indoor temperatures. They are the most expensive, most efficient and remove the most water from humid indoor air.

5-7 are 2-stage models: These units are top-sellers for their balance of efficiency, climate control and reasonable cost. They are manufactured with compressors that run at 65% of their potential to maintain your home’s comfort level. When outdoor temperatures rise quickly or you turn down the thermostat, they shift to 100% capacity to catch up.

8-10 are Single-stage ACs: Their compressors operate at 100%. They are the most affordable and least efficient. In very humid weather, they might not remove as much moisture from the air as you would like.

Remember, the list is grouped 1-4/variable capacity, 5-7/two-stage and 8-10/single-stage, so the most efficient air conditioners top the list.

Identical Brands – Most of the units in our list have a “twin” from another brand. For example, the Carrier Infinity 26 and the Bryant Evolution Extreme 26 are identical in all but the cabinet and name plate.

So, if you don’t see your favorite brand in the 10 Most Efficient list, check the Identical Models entry at the end of each Review. It might be there. Below the Reviews, we list a who’s who in HVAC equipment manufacturers and the brands each makes.

  1. Lennox Signature Series SL28XCV Air Conditioner
  2. Carrier Infinity 26 Air Conditioner
  3. Lennox Signature Series XC25 Air Conditioner
  4. Daikin DX20VC Air Conditioner
  5. Lennox XC21 Air Conditioner
  6. Daikin DX18TC Air Conditioner
  7. York YXT 19 Air Conditioner
  8. Lennox Signature Series SL18XC1 Air Conditioner
  9. York YCG 17 Air Conditioner
  10. Lennox Elite Series EL16XC1 Air Conditioner

Read more

New Gas Furnace Cost 2021: Replacement vs. Repair Costs

Furnaces remain the most common way for homeowners in North America to heat their homes. This buying guide has all the research and information needed to help you understand your gas furnace options, so you can make a buying decision you’ll be happy with for the next 15-20 years.

The focus is on gas furnaces, since most furnaces are fueled by natural gas (NG) or, with a simple gas valve change, liquid propane (LP). However, for comparison, we also briefly discuss oil furnaces.

New Gas Furnace Installation Cost

On average, you can expect to pay between $3,500 and $5,500 to install a mid-range gas furnace in a typical house. With replacements, the removal of the old furnace will typically add an additional $500 to the cost of installation.

Average Cost To Install Warm Air Furnace Typical Range: $3,640 - $5,230
See costs in your area

When efficiency, size and performance are factored into the equation, expect the following unit pricing tears:

  • Basic: $750 to $1,550
  • Better: $1,100 to $2,550
  • Best: $1,850 to $2,950

Furnace installation costs are based on the complexity of the furnace, sheet metal work required to connect it to the existing ductwork, and how difficult it is to access the installation location such as a crawlspace or attic. Expect estimates for the installation work in these ranges:

  • Basic installation: $1,500 to $2,500
  • Mid-range installation: $1,750 to $2,900
  • High-end installation: $2,500 to $3,900
Gas Furnace Installation Cost Only (Not including the cost of the unit being installed)

Reasons to Get a New Furnace

New Gas furnace and Duct Work

via Holliday Heating

If you are in an exploratory mode and wondering if a new furnace is the right move, here are the top seven reasons to buy a new furnace:

  • Repair costs on an existing furnace are 50% or more of the cost of a new furnace (33% for a furnace 12-15 years old; 25% of a furnace that is 15+)
  • You’re staying put – the longer you plan to live in your current home, the more it makes sense to put the money into new equipment (and conversely, if moving soon, repairing the furnace might make more sense)
  • It’s a preemptive move – your furnace is running, but you don’t know for how long due to age and/or past repair issues (worth considering where winters are harsh!)
  • Your gas bills are rising because the furnace is losing efficiency due to age (though you might want to have it cleaned and maintained to see if it significantly improves efficiency before deciding whether to replace it)
  • You want to improve efficiency
  • You want to upgrade climate control
  • You’ve built a home or addition that needs heating

Furnace repair vs. replacement:

Some of you may have heard from an HVAC contractor that it is time for a new furnace, and perhaps you think the contractor is trying to sell you something you might not need.

Skepticism is healthy in the repair vs. replace discussion when it is informed skepticism. Here’s a secret: HVAC contractors often make more money with a both/and approach. Repair it now; replace it later.

Charlie Greer is a seasoned HVAC contractor who owns a website called HVAC Profit Boosters with the motto, “Helping plumbing, HVAC, and electrical contractors become millionaires every day.” That tells you whose side he’s on. Speaking to HVAC contractors, Greer says:

Repair vs. Replace scenarios are tricky, because, once you bring up the topic of replacing the customer’s equipment, you stand the risk of the customer deciding to get bids, meaning that you could wind up getting neither the repair nor the replacement sale. In the long run, you make more money when they (homeowners) opt for the repair anyway. You get one repair now, possibly a few more down the road, then a higher price (due to inflation) when they ultimately replace it in the future.

Greer’s advice might be great for HVAC contractors, but not for homeowners. The bottom line is that if an HVAC contractor recommends replacing your furnace rather than repairing it, the person might be giving you sound advice, especially if the rationale involves some of the reasons from the above list.

Pro Tip: Make sure your HVAC contractor pulls a permit to install the new furnace, and that the job is properly inspected following the installation.

Read more

Top 10 Best-Value Furnaces in 2021: Installation Costs by Model

A great value gas furnace must be above average in quality and reliability, while also being priced competitively to make our list.

Lower-quality, cheaper gas furnaces don’t offer the best value because they don’t last long enough to justify the installation expense in the first place. Low quality furnaces are also more prone to breaking down in the middle of a nasty stretch of cold weather.

Value = good quality + reasonable cost

Your climate suitability for a particular model and the quality of the installation job also play an important role in the overall value you get.

Top 10 Gas Furnaces that Deliver the Best Value for the Money

  1. Day & Night G96VTN QuietComfort 96
  2. Trane S9X1
  3. Goodman GMVC96
  4. Payne 95 PG95ESA
  5. Armstrong Air A951E
  6. Goodman GMSS92
  7. Carrier Comfort 92 59SC2
  8. Day & Night N80ESN Performance 80
  9. Rheem Classic Series R801C/R801S
  10. Trane S8X1

That’s our list – and each model is reviewed below including cost, efficiency, performance, warranty and why it makes our list.

Before those reviews, we cover information about what makes for a good value gas furnace, installation costs, the cost of ductwork, if you need it, and other relevant information.

If you’d rather jump to the furnaces, select the Day & Night furnace that heads the list, and you’ll be taken directly to the reviews.

Gas Furnace Installation Cost – Warrantied Professional Installation/Labor

The professional installation part of your bill will be about $2,600 on average, if your installation is of average difficulty.

Average Cost To Install Warm Air Furnace Typical Range: $3,640 - $5,230
See costs in your area

The range is from about $1,500 for a very simple installation (not including the furnace) in new construction (not including the cost of ductwork) to about $4,000 (not including the furnace) for more involved jobs where the gas line needs replacing and/or other variables come into play, requiring more materials and warrantied professional labor. A high-end, touchscreen, WiFi thermostat can also boost the cost of the overall job with a price tag of $500 or more.

Here’s a gas furnace installation cost breakdown showing where your money typically goes:

Gas Furnace Installation Cost Only (Not including the cost of the unit being installed)

The plenum connects the furnace to the hot air ducts. The return connects the furnace to the cold air return ducts.

Read more