The most efficient central air conditioners are 20 SEER to 26 SEER. The SEER rating of the most efficient ACs goes up every year.
This guide to the 10 most efficient central air conditioners includes their SEER rating and any features that set them apart. We also discuss pros and cons and potential problems to be aware of when installing one of the most efficient ACs available.
Air Conditioners 20 SEER and Higher
What’s making you consider the most efficient ACs?
For some, efficiency is a top priority for because of the reduced cooling costs of 40% and more in many cases. For others, it is greener cooling with lower carbon emissions because less energy is used. Of course, that’s an attractive combination of advantages.
Most top ACs are variable-capacity air conditioners, though a two-stage model makes the list. See the Pros and Cons section below for more details on variable-capacity ACs.
We rate ACs two ways. First, by SEER, seasonal energy efficiency rating. SEER considers efficiency over the changes that occur in a cooling season. For example, in the Midwest, the AC might be used just a few times in the Spring, quite a bit in summer, and just a few times in the fall.
These ACs are also rated by EER, Energy Efficiency Rating, which rates peak efficiency. If your climate is consistently hot and dry from spring into fall, EER is a more important factor to consider. Anywhere else, SEER is more important.
To be on Energy Star’s current “Most Efficient” list, the unit must be 18 SEER and 13 EER. All these units make the list.
- Air Conditioners 20 SEER and Higher
- Top 10 Most Efficient Central AC Unit
- #1 Lennox Signature Series XC25
- #2 Amana AVXC20 & Daikin DX20VC
- #3 Lennox Signature Series XC21
- #4 Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 & Bryant Evolution180B
- #5 York YXV, Coleman AC21B, Luxaire AL21B, Champion AS21B, Fraser-Johnston AL21B
- #6 Carrier Infinity 20 24VNA0 & Bryant Evolution 180C
- #7 Rheem Prestige RA20 & Ruud UA20
- #8 Armstrong Air & AirEase SCU/BCE Series– Pro Series 4SCU20LX
- #9 Lennox Elite XC20
- #10 Maytag M1200 PSA1BG, NuTone FSA1BG & Broan FSA1BG iQ Drive
- Pros and Cons of the Most Efficient Central Air Conditioners
- Final Thoughts
Top 10 Most Efficient Central AC Unit
- Lennox Signature Series XC25
- Amana AVXC20 & Daikin DX20VC
- Lennox Signature Series XC21
- Carrier Infinity 21 24ANB1 & Bryant Evolution180B
- York YXV, Coleman AC21B, Luxaire AL21B, Champion AS21B, Fraser-Johnston AL21B
- Carrier Infinity 20 24VNAO & Bryant Evolution 180C
- Rheem Prestige RA20 & Ruud UA20
- Armstrong Air & AirEase SCU/BCE Series– Pro Series 4SCU20LX
- Lennox Elite XC20
- Maytag M1200 PSA1BG, NuTone FSA1BG & Broan FSA1BG iQ Drive
#1 Lennox Signature Series XC25
26 SEER / 16.5 EER
Lennox has made a greater commitment to high efficiency than any other HVAC. The brand has three models in this list, and Lennox SunSource solar PV modules are designed to eliminate energy use from fossil fuels.
The Lennox XC25, at the head of the premium Signature Series, is the most efficient split system central air conditioner with a 26 SEER rating. Some mini split ACs (at comparable cost) and geothermal heat pumps (at much higher cost) are more efficient, but no standard central AC.
Many homes are still cooling with ACs that are 10 SEER to 13 SEER. Replacing an old unit with a 26 SEER Lennox XC25 will reduce AC operating costs by 50% to more than 60%.
Likes and Dislikes
Solar: We love that the XC25 and other Lennox models easily integrate with solar to reduce the need for energy generated by coal-fired plants. Solar, in our opinion, is likely to become the pre-eminent renewable energy source. A 30% federal tax credit is available for solar installation, though it will drop to 28% and then 26% over the next couple years. The cost of solar equipment is coming down too as exciting new products like building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) shingles and tiles are competing with traditional solar panels.
Mediocre warranty: We’d like to think a top brand has a top warranty. Lennox doesn’t, as you’ll see when reading about the next units. All XC25 parts are covered by a 10-year limited warranty – nothing is Lifetime covered, and there is no unit replacement coverage.
Note on Lennox parts: Lennox uses more of its own brand replacement parts, rather than universal parts, than most other manufacturers. There’s no noticeable difference in part quality. For years, though, Lennox had supply chain issues. Parts were hard to get and costly. Our research shows that this issue has largely been solved, though localized parts shortages occur occasionally. We mention this because negative publicity about Lennox is still found online. Most of it is at least several years old.
24.5 SEER / 14 EER
Not only are these models tied in efficiency, but they are also exactly the same. Daikin acquired Amana in 2012. Since Amana has a well-known and good reputation in the industry, Daikin continues to use the name.
The Amana AVXC20 and Daikin DX20VC have a higher SEER rating than the Lennox XC25, as do several others on the list. These are variable-capacity ACs. Other terms for the same technology are modulating, variable-speed and inverter-driven.
Likes and Dislikes
Inverter technology: Daikin was an industry leader in the development of inverter technology, though mostly in the mini-split market. It has decades of experience and expertise. Since this technology is fairly new in standard split systems, it will still be 5-10 years before we know which brand makes the best variable-capacity compressors. We won’t be surprised in Daikin/Amana technology is shown through data to be among the most reliable.
Great warranties: These brands have some of the best warranties available. Amana offers a lifetime warranty on the compressor. If it ever fails, Amana will replace the entire condensing unit, the technical name for the AC or outdoor unit. The general parts warranty is 10 years. Daikin offers a 12-year unit replacement warranty on the compressor and a general 12-year warranty on all other parts. Yes, they’re the same unit. Daikin’s AC replacement warranty is shorter, lifetime vs 12 years, and that allows the manufacturer to sell Daikin branded systems at a slightly lower cost.
Reliability concerns: As noted above, the inverter technology should not be a problem. It’s other parts we’re concerned with. Amana has traditionally been average or slightly below average in dependability. Daikin brought a commitment to improving quality when buying Amana (and Goodman), but there is a bit of lingering doubt about Amana/Goodman parts.
#3 Lennox Signature Series XC21
21.2 SEER / 15 EER
This is a two-stage AC. It beats the Carrier/Bryant models below by .2 SEER, so justifies Lennox calling it the “most efficient two-stage” air conditioner. This unit is designed for super-hot climates.
Likes and Dislikes
Two-stage: These units cost less than variable-capacity ACs, break down less and cost less to repair when they do.
Solar: Like the XC25, this unit works with SunSource PV solar modules.
Warranty: As noted above, Lennox doesn’t back its products with the warranties many other manufacturers provide.
Price: Lennox air conditioners cost more than most comparable units.
21 SEER / 15 EER
Here’s our second set of identical air conditioners. Carrier owns the Bryant brand. Note how high the EER is! These ACs are a good choice where summer heat is extreme.
Carrier was the first major brand to introduce variable capacity cooling with a model that isn’t made any longer. It’s interesting that the most efficient Carrier AC isn’t variable!
These are two-stage ACs, not variable-capacity. This means they air condition on low or high. Low cooling is about 70% capacity, and it is used to maintain even temperatures. If it heats up quickly or if you turn down the thermostat a few degrees, the system will switch to 100% capacity for faster cooling.
Likes and Dislikes
Two-stage: These units cost less than modulating ACs. They offer proven dependability compared to variable-speed compressors that were developed more recently. Repair costs are lower too, if the compressor needs to be replaced.
Warranty: Carrier and Bryant compete most with Trane and Lennox, and they all have so-so warranties compared with Amana, Daikin, Goodman, Heil, Day & Night, Tempstar and others.
#5 York YXV, Coleman AC21B, Luxaire AL21B, Champion AS21B, Fraser-Johnston AL21B
21 SEER /14.5 EER
These are all Johnson Controls brands, and the units are identical. York is the most widely sold brand. The others aren’t available in all regions of the US.
This is a variable-capacity air conditioner.
Likes and Dislikes
Climate adjustment: These units can be adjusted by the installer for optimal efficiency and indoor comfort in your environment. Options are Humid, Dry and Normal climate.
Labor warranty: A 1-year labor warranty is included. It’s likely you’ll only have a first-year issue if the installer bungled the job. It happens. While most won’t be a problem, this is a small benefit.
The need for using it can be avoided by using our Local Quotes option to get estimates from some of the best HVAC contractors in your area. They are pre-screened for experience, and are licensed and insured.
10-year warranty: The general parts warranty is standard. It doesn’t stand out.
#6 Carrier Infinity 20 24VNA0 & Bryant Evolution 180C
20.5 SEER / 15.5 EER
We’re not sure how Carrier manages such high EER ratings relative to SEER ratings, but it is impressive.
These are the brands’ top variable capacity ACs. Carrier calls it Greenspeed Intelligence.
Likes and Dislikes
15.5 EER: These air conditioners have the best EER rating of all – ideal ACs for an Arizona dessert summer.
Labor warranty: Most ACs come with one year of labor coverage. Some have no labor coverage. These units have 3-year labor warranties, the best we are aware of. You can pay for extended labor warranties – these come standard.
Parts warranties: We mentioned the average warranties for these leading brands.
Cost: Maybe it isn’t accurate to say the 3-year labor coverage comes free with the unit. These are expensive air conditioners, so in a way, you’re paying upfront for 3 years of labor coverage you likely won’t use. Few ACs have significant mechanical problems in the first three years.
#7 Rheem Prestige RA20 & Ruud UA20
20.5 SEER / 13 EER
These brands are owned by Paloma Industries, like Daikin, a company with its headquarters in Japan.
The Prestige RA20 and Ruud UA 20 are the first modulating, aka variable-capacity, ACs from these brands. They were introduced in mid-2019.
Likes and Dislikes
10-year unit replacement: Rheem and Ruud understand that consumers want warranty protection. If the compressor fails on this unit in the first decade, Rheem or Ruud will replace the whole AC.
Copeland compressor: Copeland might be the most respected manufacturer of compressors in the industry. You’ll find Copeland units in most brands including Carrier, Goodman, Amana, Heil and Arcoaire.
New products: Some car buyers are hesitant to purchase a vehicle in its first model year or after a significant overhaul in its technology. That’s how we feel about these units, even if the compressor is a Copeland. We’d wait a couple years to see if there are “bugs” in the technology that Ruud/Rheem need to fix. Sure, the warranty is good, but having your unit quit working in a heat wave is still a hassle.
#8 Armstrong Air & AirEase SCU/BCE Series– Pro Series 4SCU20LX
20 SEER / 14 EER
If you want a good value in an air conditioner, these identical brands are a good choice. They are owned by Allied Air, a subsidiary of Lennox.
These are variable-capacity ACs.
Likes and Dislikes
Cost: Lennox is the elite, high-cost brand. These are nearly identical to the next AC on this list, but cost less. Why? Because Lennox knows that some homeowners won’t get estimates Lennox-branded ACs because they believe they are over-priced. Pricing Armstrong Air and AirEase at a lower cost allows them to sell more air conditioners, though at a lower profit margin for these brands.
Warranty: The same mediocre 10-year parts warranty is offered.
#9 Lennox Elite XC20
20 SEER / 14 EER
Lennox again. This unit is almost identical to the model above. It costs more, as we explained above. So, if you can find an Armstrong Air or AirEase dealer in your area with a good reputation for quality installation, choose their unit over Lennox.
#10 Maytag M1200 PSA1BG, NuTone FSA1BG & Broan FSA1BG iQ Drive
20 SEER / 13.5 EER
Maytag is sold more widely than NuTone and Broan, but these are identical models.
These are variable-capacity central air conditioners. The brands fall into the middle of the pack for reliability, which is to say you can expect pretty good durability from them.
Likes and Dislikes
10-year replacement warranty: The brands will replace the entire AC if the compressor fails in the first decade.
Quality checks: These units are put through the most stringent quality assurance testing in the industry. While that’s nice, most ACs are tested before shipping, and few fail so early after being manufactured.
10-year general parts warranty: This is the industry standard. Nothing special.
Pros and Cons of the Most Efficient Central Air Conditioners
A super-efficient AC costs 20% to 50% more than single-stage and two-stage ACs with moderate efficiency. The payback period is the number of years it will take to recoup the higher equipment cost through lower energy bills.
- Hot climates: 3-8 years
- Moderate climates: 9-15 years
- Cool climates: 16-25 years
We structure the pros/cons by asking if a 20 SEER AC or more efficient unit is right for you.
Yes: Consider a Top 10 Most Efficient AC
Here are the reasons to buy one of these units:
- You live in a climate where the hottest temperatures are 90-plus degrees F.
- You use your air conditioner for 6 months or more each year.
- Humidity is a problem in your home.
- You are concerned about the environment. By the way, if you also heat your home, a heat pump is more ecofriendly than an AC and gas furnace option. Our Heat Pump Guide has a wealth of practical information that can help you decide if a heat pump is a good choice for your home.
- Optimal indoor comfort is important to you. These units not only cool most efficiently, but they provide the best temperature balance in all climates and the most dehumidification in muggy climates.
No: A 20 SEER AC Isn’t a Good Choice
You might want to avoid these units if:
- Summers are mild or warm where you live, but not extremely hot.
- Reliability is more important to you than monthly AC bills.
- The AC will be for a part-time setting like a vacation home, cabin, workshop or guest apartment.
- You plan to sell your home in less than five years, which is too soon to recoup the extra expense.
- You prefer proven single-stage and two-stage technology rather than variable-capacity air conditioning that might be more prone to failing and much more expensive to repair.
- You’re not interested in communicating technology that offers the best efficiency and climate control, but comes at a high cost and potential for mechanical issues. Our guide to Communicating vs Non-communicating technology is a wealth of practical information to consider.
Most air conditioner installers recommend a single-stage or two-stage AC rather than one of these high-performance air conditioners. Their reasons are the higher cost and greater potential for mechanical failure. It reflects badly on an installer if the unit fails prematurely, even if the problem was the equipment, not the installation.
With this in mind, we recommend:
- A single-stage AC for climates with occasional hot temperatures (West Coast, Upper Midwest, High Mountain areas)
- A two-stage AC for climates ranging from warm to hot (rest of the Midwest, New England, Upper Plains, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic)
- A variable-capacity AC for very hot and/or very humid climates (Carolinas, Gulf states, Southwest) and if you like the latest technology or want the greenest cooling for your home wherever you live.
Our SEER Savings Calculator is the only one of its kind. The AC savings calculator is a fun and insightful tool for discovering what your energy savings cost will be by upgrading to a more efficient AC or lowering the SEER to find the right value for your climate.
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