In your search for the perfect air conditioner, you’ll frequently come across the terms “single-speed” and “variable-speed.” In fact, a few bold friends will advise you openly to go for a variable-speed model rather than a single-speed AC.
We’ll find out shortly that it’s actually good advice. Variable-speed air conditioners typically perform better than their single-speed counterparts.
But, what does “variable-speed” even mean in the first place? How is it different from the traditional AC unit, and what makes it better. Read on to find out.
What’s a Variable Speed Air Conditioner?
A variable speed air conditioner is an AC that runs at different speeds over the operation cycle. The air conditioners are often contrasted to single-speed air conditioners that run at one speed – 100% – whenever they’re on and two-speed units with two pre-determined operations speeds – often 50-75% and 100%.
The variable speed AC can run at thousands of different speeds over an operational cycle. The majority are designed to run at any speed between 25% and 100%.
How do Variable Speed Air Conditioners Work?
Whenever you hear someone talking about variable-speed air conditioning, they merely say it has a variable-speed compressor.
A variable-speed compressor allows the AC to run at varying speeds throughout an operation cycle. Typically, the varied speed AC will run at between 30% speed and 100% speed.
A major attraction of this mode of operation is the reduced on-off operation. The traditional air conditioner works by turning on and off repeatedly to maintain the thermostat temperatures.
This on-off operation is neither good for the home nor the AC. It causes faster wear and tear. Also, it’s tough to achieve even cooling because the AC is on one minute and off the next minute.
Variable-speed air conditioners can operate at higher speeds when it’s too hot and self-adjust to a lower speed in milder temperatures – but never goes off until you turn it off.
Single Speed vs. Two-Stage vs. Variable Speed Air Conditioners
It’s important that you get the distinction between the two when shopping to make the right decision depending on your cooling needs;
- Single Stage ACs: A single-stage air conditioner has only one operating speed. It’s either off (at 0%) or on at full capacity (100%). There’s no in-between. As a result, it repeatedly goes on and off to maintain the thermostat settings.
- Two-Stage ACs: Two-stage air conditioners have two pre-determined operating speeds when running – Low and High. The lower speed is often between 50% and 75%, while the high speed is 100%. It automatically switches between the two operating speeds to maintain the desired cooling temperatures. You can also switch between the two-speed settings manually.
- Variable-Speed ACs: Variable-speed air conditioners can run at virtually any speed between the lowest pre-determined level and 100% capacity. If the lowest pre-determined speed is 30%, the variable AC can run at any speed between 30% and 100%. Most variable-speed air conditioners self-regulate to deliver the best air conditioning experience.
Pros of Variable-Speed Air Conditioners
Variable air conditioners are by far the best solution for your cooling needs. The following are some of the standout advantages over single-speed and two-stage air conditioners;
A significant drawback of single-stage air conditioners is that they’re always at 100% capacity whenever they’re on. Air conditioners consume a lot of power at 100% capacity. The two-stage AC reduces the power usage slightly by introducing a second, lower operating speed. However, it’s the variable AC that entirely solves this problem by allowing the compressor to run at the best speed.
No On-Off Switching
The on-off operation of a single-speed air conditioner is a significant drawback. First, the loud noises as the AC kicks on are a turn-off for most people. It’s like starting a motorbike. The initial noises are usually the loudest. Additionally, the constant on-off cycling is detrimental to the AC’s moving parts as it accelerates wear and tear.
Reduced Temperature Swings
There’s no doubt that single-speed and two-stage air conditioners make the home cooler and relieve us from the sweltering summer heat. However, the pre-determined cooling speeds mean you’re subjected to disturbing temperature swings. Variable-speed units lower or increase temperatures more gradually, eliminating the temperature swings.
A key advantage of air conditioning systems is that they also play a part in general dehumidification. By extracting sweaty, warm air from the room and dumping it outside the house, they also remove excess moisture. However, the process isn’t as efficient when using a single-stage air conditioner. The frequent off cycles negate all the dehumidification efforts by allowing moisture to re-enter the home quickly.
Improved Air Filtration
Two things ensure better filtration in variable speed air conditioning. First, the longer, more consistent runtime allows the filters to trap more airborne particles from the home. It’s a lot different from single-stage cooling, where the AC is off half the time. Secondly, the slower speeds allow more time for the circulating air to interact with the filters.
Cons of Variable-Speed Air Conditioners
Despite the many advantages, variable speed air conditioners also come with a few drawbacks. These include;
High Upfront Costs
Variable-speed air conditioners are typically more expensive than their single-speed and two-stage counterparts. The good news is that you can recoup the extra costs within a few years of using your variable speed air conditioner.
Higher Repair Maintenance/Repair Costs
Variable-speed air conditioner compressors are slightly more complex than single-speed and two-stage AC compressors. The result is often more demanding maintenance and repair processes that may lead to higher costs.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Variable Speed AC
After deciding to buy a variable speed air condition, the next step is to pick the right one. Consider the following factors;
Air conditioners’ cooling capacity is measured in tons, though you may also come across British Thermal Units (BTU) measurements. Just remember that 12,000 BTU = 1.0 tons. The number of BTUs (or tons) needed depends primarily on the size of the room.
Generally, you need about 1.0 tons for a 150-250 square-foot room and two tons for medium-sized 350-550 square-foot rooms. Factors such as the room’s quality of insulation and ceiling height will also affect the final figure.
Efficiency is a significant factor considering that heating and cooling together account for more than 50% of electricity consumption in the average home. If you’re not careful, your power bill could surge by as much as $50+ during the cooling months. An efficient AC guarantees reliable performance without burning a hole in your pocket.
You want to focus mainly on the appliance’s Energy Efficiency Ratio EER and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). An 11+ EER and 16+ SEER AC is an acceptably efficient unit.
There are at least five air conditioner types to choose from, i.e., central, ductless mini-split, window, through-the-wall, and portable. Central air conditioners are whole-home cooling appliances.
So, unless you’re shopping for a unit for the entire home, consider the other four. If you’d like something more permanent, a window unit or ductless mini-split would be ideal. However, if you desire a mobile option, a portable model is the best.
Ultimately, most consumers choose ductless mini-splits because they are generally the most energy-efficient air conditioners.
First off, a great air conditioner offers remote control functionality. This way, you can adjust speeds and change modes from the comfort of your sofa. However, don’t stop at the remote control.
The latest AC units are even Wi-Fi compatible for smartphone control. A few even allow for voice control via smart home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Built-in convenience modes, such as Sleep Mode, Energy-Saver Mode, and Auto Mode, can also make life a little easier.
Although the AC’s primary responsibility is cooling, the best AC models are more than just coolers. Some even feature built-in heat pumps, allowing the air conditioners to add supplemental heat to the home during the cold weather. Even if the heat pump feature is absent, consider dehumidifier and fan modes. These two features are very common in modern air conditioners.
Additionally, the best air conditioners have built-in air filters to remove airborne particles from your indoor air.
Best Variable Speed Air Conditioners – Reviews
If you’ve already made up your mind to purchase a variable-speed unit, though, the following are seven of the best products to consider. These air conditioners excel in performance, energy efficiency, and reliability. They are also very reasonably priced.
1. Senville SENL-09CD/X LETO 9,000 BTU Mini Split Heat Pump
- 4-in-1 Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump. Built-In Air Conditioning, Heating (Up to 5F/-15C), Dehumidifier, Fan and Turbo Function.
- Great for Bedrooms, Additions, Living Rooms, Garages, and Commercial Applications. Can Be Installed in Virtually Any Home, Condo or Space.
- Whisper Quiet Operation (25dB). Energy Efficient Consumption and Engineered for the Harshest Climates.
- 5 Year Manufacturer . Senville Trusted Quality and Design. Free Technical & Installation Support Included.
- Includes 16 Ft. Installation Kit with Communication Cable and Copper Lines (Pre-Flared) and Remote Control. R410A Pre-Charged (25 Ft. ) *Requires Professional Installation.
The Senville LETO is a compact air conditioner unit ideal for small rooms, dens, and home offices. It’s a 9,000 BTU AC, i.e., 0.75 tons, and features a heat pump that can prove invaluable in the colder months. A dehumidifier mode and fan function are also built-in for a 4-in-1 performance. The heat pump keeps indoor temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a variable speed inverter air conditioner, the single-zone unit adjusts operating speeds as appropriate to ensure optimal comfort while using the least amount of energy possible. It’s also very efficient, boasting a 10.0 EER rating and 19.0 SEER rating. The heat pump component is rated, 9.0 SEER. The only downside is that the unit isn’t Energy Star certified.
The LETO moves air at up to 256 CFM and features three fan speeds for your convenience. The adjustable louvers mean you can direct the air wherever you need it most. Impressively, it’s very quiet. The indoor component is as silent as 26 decibels in the low-speed mode. Even at maximum speed, it only makes 41 decibels of noise.
A turbo button, sleep function, auto restart, and remote control are the AC’s main features. You’ll also appreciate that it arrives with a wall installation kit.
- Compact, attractive construction
- 4-in-1 cooling, heating, dehumidifier, and fan
- Multiple modes for convenience
- Installation kit included
- It’s a little pricey
2. Klimaire KSIF024-H215-S(W) Ductless Mini Split Inverter Air Conditioner Heat Pump
The high-efficiency “total comfort” KSIF is another worthy option when shopping for a variable-speed air conditioner. It’s a dual-function air conditioner and heat pump unit designed for all-year use. Moreover, the oscillating louvers ensure even distribution of warm or cool air throughout your home. You can turn the swing function on/off using the remote device.
Something unique with this AC is the “Follow Me” remote feature. When activated, the temperature sensor moves from the wall unit to the remote. This way, the AC is tuned to deliver the best cooling or heating depending on the conditions around the user rather than the air handler. It has 12 fan speeds for the ultimate comfort. For context, most air conditioners only have three fan speed settings.
You’ll also love that the KSIF024-H215-S (W) features multiple valuable features and operating modes to make your work a little easier. For instance, it features a dedicated dehumidification function to remove excess moisture from your home and turbo mode for fan-only operation. A Sleep Mode is also available for quieter, nighttime operation. An auto-clean function cleans and dries the evaporator to prevent mold and mildew.
The 24,000 BTU air conditioner is rated 15 SEER and recommended for spaces up to 1,500 square feet. It’s backed by a 5-year compressor warranty and 1-year parts warranty.
- 4-in-1 cooling, heating, dehumidification, and fan
- Refrigerant leak detection
- Installation brackets included
- Arrived pre-charged
- 5-year compressor warranty
- No smart/app controls
- It’s fairly pricey
3. Daikin 17 Series 24,000 BTU Ductless Mini Split w/Heat Pump
- 10 Year Parts Warranty. HeatandCool is a Daikin manufacturer online authorized distributor, We provide FREE Technical support for all your needs and process Warranty by our in-house experts.
- Daikin 17 SEER Wall-Mounted Ductless Mini-Split Inverter Air Conditioner Heat Pump System (230 Volt).
- Includes: Indoor Fan Coil, Outdoor Condensing Unit, Remote Control, and Maxwell Wall Mounting Bracket.
- Energy Efficient - 17 SEER, 9 HSPF.
- Coverage Area of 1,500 Sq. Ft. Applications: Primary living areas (master bedrooms), hot or cold rooms, renovations & remodeling, basements, attics & garages.
If you’re shopping for a variable speed air conditioner for a slightly larger room, then the two-ton Daikin model XB24AXVJU would be a great choice. It’s an AC/heat pump combo that would serve you round the year. The heat pump is rated 21,000 BTU. Better still, the turbo mode means you can set it to run as a fan only. The fan has three operating speeds.
It’s a single-zone air conditioner, though very efficient. The AC component is rated 11 EER and 17 SEER, while the heat pump is rated 9.0 HSPF. Unfortunately, it’s not Energy Star certified. It’s also reasonably quiet. The indoor component is rated 41 dB at the lowest speed setting and produces about 47 dB at maximum speed.
What truly sets the model XB24AXVJU Daikin apart, though, is the long line set. The line set is an incredible 98.4 feet. This gives you plenty of room for maneuver during installation. The only problem is that you need to purchase the line set separately. An air filter inside the unit helps eliminate dust, allergens, and other airborne particles.
This unit features multiple operating modes as well as a programmable timer for your convenience. You’ll also love the self-diagnostics capability and auto-swing louvers
- It also works as a dehumidifier and fan
- Adjustable louvers, automatic oscillation
- Includes air filters
- Auto-restart and timer functions
- Line set sold separately
- Requires 220V-240V wiring
4. DuctlessAire 21-SEER 12,000 BTU Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner
- Energy Star: 21.5 SEER, Variable Speed Inverter Compressor. Complete Package 25 ft Full Installation Kit. R410a Pre-charged!
- Whisper-quiet operation; Refrigerant Leak Detection; LCD display, Electroplated Coils
- HEPA Filter Included; Quick access, Washable air filters; Turbo mode; 3 fan speeds
- Self-diagnosis and Auto-Protection Function; Heating Belt; Auto Restart, Sleep Mode
- Low Ambient Operation; Dual Sensor - fixed or remote; Auto Cleaning
The model DA1221-H2 is part of the Evolution Series by DuctlessAire. Evolution Series air conditioners are variable-speed DC inverter compressor units that are Energy-Star certified for efficient performance. The air conditioners are also designed for all-year comfort, thanks to the built-in heat pumps. They don’t require any ductwork.
This particular unit features electroplated anti-corrosive coils for extreme durability and reliability. It also has a dual-sensor function – fixed and remote. The follow-me remote sensor feature allows the AC to adjust temperatures to the needs of the person holding the remote. It’s rated 13 EER and 21.5 SEER for cooling (some of the highest ratings on this list) and 9.8 HSPF4 and 7.7 HSPF5 for heating.
The AC/heat pump boasts two-directional air vane technology. In cooling mode, the air vane system opens counterclockwise to direct the air horizontally. Meanwhile, in heating mode, the vanes open clockwise to direct the warm air upwards. The unit also features two high-density washable filters and a HEPA filter to eliminate allergens and unwanted airborne particles.
Refrigerant leak detection (RLD), an outdoor pan heater to avoid the accumulation of rainwater, and a low-noise sleep mode are the other standout features.
- Very efficient AC, at 21 SEER
- Low indoor noise level, up to 25 dB
- Powerful indoor airflow, up to 306 CFM
- Features self-cleaning function
- No smart/app controls
5. GREE 12,000 BTU 30.5 SEER Sapphire Ductless Mini Split w/Heat Pump
- Introducing Gree Sapphire, the Ultra high-efficiency, smart ductless split system from Gree, one of the world's most trusted HVAC manufacturers. With the Sapphire Wall Mount Ductless Mini-Splits, you can keep any room comfortable without sacrificing aesthetics.
- The quiet, unobtrusive design delivers advanced performance with an industry-best energy efficiency rating of up to 30.5 SEER in cooling and 14.0 HSPF in heating. The Sapphire provides ULTRA Heating technology to keep you reliably warm when temperatures drop as low as -22degs F.
- Universal Wi-Fi technology makes operation simple - enjoy direct control from any smartphone using the Gree+ app. With efficiency and unparalleled technology make Sapphire the perfect choice for any home or office space.
- Items included: Condenser and Indoor Wall mount with remote. | Required, but NOT included: 1/4" x 1/2" line set | Other accessories sold separately.
- SEER: 30.5000 -- EER: 15.3000 -- Room Size: 400 - 650 ft2
The GREE Sapphire had to be on this list for two main reasons – the ultra-high efficiency and intelligent controls. Rated at 30.5 SEER, it’s the most energy-efficient air conditioner on this list. It also features a built-in heat pump that’s almost as efficient. The heat pump is rated 14.0 HSPF, one of the highest ratings in the market.
The unit is also Wi-Fi compatible. To begin controlling the cooling and heating functions from your smartphone, all you need to do is download the GREE+ app. It’s available in both the Android and Apple app stores.
These units are designed for easy installation. The wall sleeve creates a neat hole through the wall, and the line set is covered by the wall cover. Better still, each wall cover is individually packaged and furnished, complete with stainless steel screws to attach the wall cover to the base. Remember that you need to purchase the line set separately. A surge protector is built into the unit to protect it from accidental power surges.
Other key features of the model SAP12HP230V1A GREE include the 4-way airflow design, polymeric air filters, and 180-degree vertical air supply. The 7-speed fan is very quiet, with the quietest modes rated at levels as low as 19 decibels.
- Extremely energy efficient
- Universal, Wi-Fi control
- Resilient construction
- 4-way airflow
- Extremely quiet at up to 19 dB
- Line set sold separately
- Costs over $1,500
6. Pioneer Model WYS012GMFI19RL 12,000 BTU 230V Mini Split w/Heat Pump
- Save money all year-round with a highly efficient ductless mini split inverter+ heat pump system
- Ultra-silent and beautifully built perfect for home or light commercial use
- Comes with every needed component in the box, including an easy-install 16ft copper piping kit
- Use for both cooling and heating: 12000 BTU/hour with 19 SEER and 10 HSPF efficiency
- Free tech support and a 5 year coverage on the compressor
- Voltage 110 120 VAC 60 Hz (standard household power l-n-g)
The 12,000 BTU model WYS012GMFI19RL from Pioneer is another great variable-speed air conditioner. Ideal for spaces up to 500 square feet, it boasts five different operating modes and is near silent, making it the ideal choice for living rooms and bedrooms.
The one-ton air conditioner is rated 11.3 EER and 19.5 SEER, both of which are good ratings. However, there’s more. It also functions as a heat pump. The heating capacity is 12,000 BTU at 10.0 HSPF. Also, it has a dehumidifier mode and fan-only mode. In the dehumidifier mode, it removes up to 60 pints of excess moisture per day.
Features that stand out about the model WYS012GMFI19RL include the three fan speed levels (the highest is 294 CFM), Sleep mode, auto restart function, and adjustable louvers. A programmable thermostat with a timer function makes it easy to use the air conditioner. The unit also allows for remote control.
At 25 dB in the lowest setting, you can say that the air conditioner is very quiet. It arrives with a 16-foot line set (fully pre-charged).
- Wi-Fi compatible
- Installation kit and line set included
- 2-year parts warranty
- 5-year compressor warranty
- Requires 230V wiring
7. LG LP14191VSM Smart Dual Inverter Air Conditioner with 14,000 BTU Cooling
- ULTRA QUIET OPERATION - Revolutionary DUAL Inverter technology gives powerful yet silent performance, operating at sound levels as low as 44dB in sleep mode.
- 40% MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT - DUAL Inverter technology provides cool temperatures with up to 40% more energy savings.
- CONTROL YOUR COOL FROM ANYWHERE - LG ThinQ Technology lets you control your LG air conditioner from anywhere. You can start or stop cooling, change the mode, or set the temperature while on the go. It also works with Amazon Alexa and Hey Google so you can change settings with simple voice commands.
- AUTO SWING AIR VENT - Enjoy every bit of cool air with our oscillating air vent technology that circulates your cool air more efficiently.
- COOLS ROOMS UP TO 450 SQ. FT. - LP1419IVSM is ideal for cooling medium rooms (18' X 25')
So far, we’ve only discussed mini-split units because they are the most popular AC type currently. However, if you prefer a different style, portable models are often the next-best. This particular unit from LF, the model LP14191VSM, would be an excellent acquisition.
It’s a 14,000 BTU smart dual-inverter air conditioner designed for spaces up to 500 square feet. The dual-inverter compressor saves up to 40% of the energy the unit would otherwise consume. Additionally, it functions as a dehumidifier and fan. An auto evaporating system dries out the unit for 10 seconds after every cooling cycle.
The SmartThinQ app allows you to control the air conditioner from your smartphone, though you also have the option of remote control and an on-board control panel. You can also physically move the unit from one area/room to the next, thanks to the included caster wheels.
It’s a 15-amp, 115V appliance, meaning you don’t need to worry about fresh wiring. You’ll also love that you can purchase a two-year or five-year warranty to cover the investment.
- Attractive, mobile design
- Works with Alexa and Google Assistant
- Includes washable air filters
- Lo-Decibel optimal low-noise performance
- Incudes Sleep mode and Auto Restart
- No thermostat
- Not Energy Star certified
- No heating function
If you follow the above tips, you should easily pick a great variable-speed air conditioner for your needs. We just want to stress two things – size and warranty. It’s very important that you bring home the right size AC. Otherwise, you may struggle to get value for your money.
As for warranties, it’s always a great idea to personally confirm with the seller. Sometimes you need to sign an agreement for the warranty to stand.