Single-stage vs Two-Stage vs Variable-Speed ACs: Which is Better for My Texas Home?


Looking for a new AC system? By now you’ve probably come across a few common specifications/terminologies, such as:

  • Single-stage
  • Two-stage
  • Variable-speed

All three options come with their advantages, but which system is best for your budget and the climate here in Texas?

Well, because the summers tend to get pretty hot and humid, we typically don’t recommend single-stage systems for our customers. Instead, we strongly suggest getting either a two-stage or variable-speed system for your Texas home.

In this blog, we’ll compare single-stage, two-stage and variable-speed ACs based on:

  • How each system works
  • How much each system costs

Understanding what each system does and how much they cost will help you determine the best system for your home.

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How single-stage ACs work

Just as their name suggests, single-stage ACs only know how to run at one speed —full blast. So, whenever the AC turns on, it will blast cold air at 100% capacity.

With your AC running at full speed every time it clicks on, a single-stage system is able to cool your home rather quickly and immediately shut off. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The quick succession between your AC turning on and shutting off can lead to:

  • Uneven cooling
  • Higher energy bills
  • Less humidity removed from your home

Bottom line: If you’re on a limited budget, a single-stage AC is a solid option. But, just know that paying less upfront for a single-stage system doesn’t really mean you’ll be saving money in the long-term.

How two-stage ACs work

Two-stage ACs are capable of running at two speeds. Like single-stage systems, two-stage systems can run full blast at 100% capacity. But, they can also run at 60-70% capacity. With this second lower-speed option, a two-stage AC can run longer, which means higher comfort and lower energy bills. How?

Think of it this way: Two-stage systems that run more steadily use less energy than single-stage systems that constantly stop and start. This is similar to how a car that drives at a steady pace on a freeway consumes less gas than a car that is constantly stopping and starting for traffic lights on a city road.

Less energy consumption means less money out of your pocket.

Having longer run times allow two-stage ACs to provide:

  • More even cooling
  • Lower energy bills
  • Better dehumidification
  • Fewer repairs
  • An extended lifespan

Bottom line: If you don’t mind paying just a bit more for a two-stage air conditioner, it’s definitely worth it to install one. You’ll not only see significant energy savings throughout the lifespan of your system, but you’ll also notice higher comfort levels.

How variable-speed ACs work

Variable-speed units are similar to their two-stage counterparts, but are much more efficient. Variable-speed systems don’t just have a low or high setting.

Instead, the operating capacity of a variable-speed system depends on the particular indoor temperature your home needs. The unit can ramp up or down in speed to run at whatever capacity is needed at the time.

Because they are capable of running at very low speeds for long periods of time, variable-speed ACs promote:

  • More even cooling
  • The best dehumidification
  • Even lower energy bills
  • A Longer lifespan
  • More precise temperature settings

Bottom Line: Variable-speed ACs are the most efficient of the three systems and the most expensive as well. But, if paying a little extra upfront doesn’t faze you, a variable-speed AC can save you a great deal in the long-run.

Also, since variable-speed units are the most efficient of the three systems, they often come with a rebate/tax credit. So, variable-speed systems are definitely worth the investment.

How much each system costs

So, you’ve heard all about what each stage can do and how they can benefit your cooling needs, but now you’re probably more curious about costs.

We structure the cost hierarchy like this:

  • Single-stage: Least expensive
  • Two-stage: Mid-priced
  • Variable-speed: Most expensive

For example, a two-stage air conditioner will typically cost you anywhere from $250 - $500more than a single-stage AC.

A variable-speed AC, on the other hand, will cost you about $1,200 - $2,000 more than a single-stage AC, and around $500 - $1,000 more than a two-stage AC.

Note: These figures don’t include the cost to have the system installed.

The exact difference in cost between the three stages depends on the specific SEER-rating, size, brand of the unit, among other factors.

To learn more about AC prices and installations, refer to our previous blog: What's the Cost to Install a Central AC in San Marcos, TX?

Looking for an AC recommendation for your home? Let a Texas pro help

Schedule appointment today

Every home and budget is different, which is why it’s hard to give a general recommendation on which AC system you should get. If you want a trusted pro to go over the numbers and help you choose the best stage for your home and budget, we can help. No games. No gimmicks. Just Reliable.

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