Air conditioners with a variable speed handler generally cost about 30 percent more than standard units, according to Chris Cunningham, owner of Service Plus Heating Cooling Plumbing in Fishers, Indiana. But he calls the added expense a worthwhile investment because of the energy savings, the lessened wear and tear on the system, and especially the comfort increase. “It runs longer with lower output, gets out the humidity and balances the house’s environment,” he says. “That’s worth every bit of the additional third of the cost.”
Here are some details on those benefits:
Peak efficiency: Remember that low-speed operation throughout the day? By some estimates, bypassing the full-speed operation of standard units equates to an approximate 80 percent savings in electricity, which you can confirm with a home energy audit. The air handler plays this unique role regardless of whether it's winter or summer, which will help you lower your energy costs by reaching peak efficiency.
Lower noise levels: If you've lived in a home with a standard air conditioner (or furnace), you're likely well familiar with the loud whoosh of air that emanates from the ductwork whenever the system cycles on. Standard handlers operating at full speed generate a lot of noise, but equipment with variable speed options doesn't. This system is less noisy, and often cycles on so quietly you won't even notice when it comes on.
Improved comfort: Near-continuous operation delivers more than just energy savings: Comfort levels get a boost, too. When an HVAC system starts and stops, the temperature variation in the average home can differ drastically when the system is running, compared to when it's not. With a variable speed handler driving your HVAC system, the temperature in your home will hardly vary because it can keep a fairly consistent, uniform temperature throughout the home.
Better air quality: The more the air in your home passes through the HVAC system, and its air filter, the cleaner your air will be. You'll have to keep an eye on the filter, and perhaps change it more often, but the net result is improved air quality inside your home.
Humidity control: In the summer, you rely on your air conditioner to dehumidify the air, a process that works more efficiently when the air conditioning system runs longer cycles. And that's exactly what a variable speed handler does, creating a more comfortable home, with less humidity.
Have you installed a variable speed air handler? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on June 20, 2013.