Variable Speed AC Worth The Money?

The Truth About Variable Speed Air Conditioners

I have a bone to pick with some of the AC Companies in Phoenix! I’ve now heard more than a few homeowners my company, Magic Touch Mechanical, has visited with, tell us that another Arizona HVAC company advised them that; “variable speed air conditioners are not worth the money”.

I have some questions for anyone in the air conditioning and heating industry making this statement to consumers:

How do you determine what someone else’s comfort is worth to them?

How do you determine that lower electric bills every month aren’t worth it to them?

How do you determine that a quieter AC unit isn’t worth it to them?

I have many more questions, but the bottom line in my mind is – our job as experts in the air conditioning and heating contracting business is to educate consumers about the technology and options that are available to them and then let them decide if the features and benefits of said technologies are worth their hard-earned cash or not.

Maybe, the additional investment is not worth it to my client, no problem – let’s look at more basic models and choose an air conditioner that best fits their needs and budget. I feel I’d be doing that person a disservice by not at least showing them what their options are, as opposed to determining on their behalf that they don’t need to know all of their options – based on some preconceived notion I have about what’s important to them and what’s not!

This misinformation makes me question their sales motives, as why would anyone discourage someone from considering a better mousetrap? Does a variable speed ac unit cost more upfront than a single speed or two stage ac unit? Yes. However, in my experience not everyone is looking for the cheapest price, in fact most are not, and everyone should be able to determine the value of certain features and benefits for themselves!

While I can buy this equipment at wholesale costs for my own personal use, there is still a significant enough cost difference in the equipment alone that I have to pay…and I chose variable speed for some of my own personal HVAC equipment over single-stage – because I determined the additional benefits were worth the additional money to me.

My approach to selling new ac units to consumers has always been based on informing people of their options, showing them a side-by-side comparison of the specifications, features, and price, and letting them decide what’s best for their budget and home.

This is why we believe in open-book pricing at Magic Touch Mechanical, and why we sell multiple major brands like Trane, Lennox, Mitsubishi, and Goodman. When someone asks me what I would choose for myself (which is quite often), I start by asking them what their budget is.

Since my price book is wide open, they can see the installed price range in front of them on the different types and brands of new AC units – this avoids any awkward discomfort in telling me how much they want to or have to spend.

This is the same reason we carry multiple brands. I make the same amount of money when Magic Touch installs a high-efficiency Trane as I do if someone chooses an entry level Goodman. I just want people to choose my company to install it (if they live in the Mesa – Phoenix area), whereas a company that only carries one or two brands has to steer people towards the brand they carry.

That said, let’s talk about whether or not the higher upfront cost to install a variable speed AC unit is “worth it”, or not. To do that, let’s look at what it does and what that means to the people occupying the home it serves.

Variable speed air conditioners have the ability to ramp their speed up or down in tiny increments to precisely match the temperature conditions outside while maintaining a constant temperature inside without temperature swings.

The analogy I like to use to help people understand this is comparing it to the cruise control feature in a car. If you set your cruise control to 60-mph, when your car gets to a hill, it ramps up the motor to maintain that 60 mph set speed, and the opposite when you are headed downhill. While the engine is ramping up or down to match the road conditions, it is constantly maintaining the 60-mph set point.

The variable speed compressor in an air conditioner works much the same way. When you set it to 75 degrees inside, and it’s 88 degrees outside, it’s going to use a lot less of the energy it’s capable of producing, but when its 111 degrees outside it’s going to ramp up to maintain the 75-degree temperature setting indoors. (For our readers who do not live in Arizona, yes 111 degrees is a thing…as is 121 degrees!)

What Are The Benefits of a Variable Speed Air Conditioner?

  • Lower energy consumption = lower power bills

If you have a 5-ton air conditioner but conditions only call for using 3-tons to maintain that 75-degree indoor setting, you only pay to produce 3-tons worth of energy. With a traditional single speed air conditioner, it’s running 5-tons no matter what.


  • Consistently even temperatures throughout the day

If you find yourself turning your thermostat up or down every few hours because it’s either getting too hot or too cool, it’s most likely due to the wide temperature swings of several degrees associated with the operating design of a conventional single-speed air conditioner. Most variable speed air conditioners never fluctuate more than a degree (and usually a fraction of a degree) throughout the day and are excellent at maintaining a constant temperature and humidity in the home.


  • Much quieter operation

Variable speed compressors operate at significantly lower levels than their single-stage and two-stage cousins. I’ve had many customers tell me quiet was the single-most important consideration for them when purchasing a new air conditioner (more so than even energy savings). Typically, this is due to the location of the outdoor unit to a bedroom or living room window, and the fact that their existing unit is noisy.

This is a perfect example of why it’s not my decision to determine how much the quieter unit is to them – only they know that.


On the opposite side of the spectrum, I speak with clients regularly that for their own reasons, decide the base model air conditioner is best for them and their budget. For example, maybe they’re putting the home up for sale this year, maybe they’re concerned about lay-offs at their workplace and are concerned about spending the additional money, maybe the kids need braces…you know…life!

In all of these cases, the base or mid-level model probably is the best option for them and the variable speed unit isn’t worth the investment (for them). My point is, you as the consumer should determine that, and you as the air conditioning and heating professional should educate your consumer to enable them to make the best decision for their situation.

Bone picked!


Curious to learn more? Check out our infographic explaining the difference between variable speed air conditioning and single stage units.