Inverter Air Conditioners: Are They Worth It?

Air conditioners are one of the necessities of modern life. On the one hand, they make life indoors comfortable, especially during the hot summer months. On the other hand, they are one of the biggest contributors to your monthly bills, particularly centralized AC units that consume up to 1450 kWh per month.

Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between sweltering in the heat or racking up a mountain of utility bills, thanks to a wonderful innovation called inverters.

What is an Inverter?

An inverter is a device that controls the frequency of the incoming electrical current that goes to the appliance, thus consuming less electricity. They also tend to make the appliance more durable as the motor or the compressor is used less.

Inverters are also called AC Drives, or VFD (variable frequency drive)

 

What is an inverter air conditioner?

An inverter AC is simply one that uses inverter technology to have variable cooling. This means the AC unit can adjust its power consumption based on the capacity needed to cool the room.

 

What Makes Inverter ACs Different?

Conventional air conditioners run on a fixed capacity: they are either off (0%), or on (100%). This means it’s always running at its highest capacity or not at all, which makes it inefficient.

An inverter AC is able to adjust its output capacity to suit the cooling need. The inverter directs the compressor unit to either increase or decrease the output based on the room’s air temperature, instead of blasting away at full volume all the time.

 

What are the Advantages of Inverter ACs?

More efficient

The efficiency of an air conditioner is measured in EER, or Energy Efficiency Rating. The EER is determined by the capacity of the AC in BTUs, divided by the watts consumed. The higher the EER, the more efficient the air conditioner is.

Not surprisingly, inverter air conditioners consistently have the highest EER scores in their respective AC categories, next to conventional AC units with EnergyStar certification.

In addition to EER, SEER or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is another measure that determines the AC unit’s efficiency over an entire season. This is the ratio of the heat removed from the space, divided by the energy consumed. The SEER is calculated by dividing the AC’s total BTU with the total watt-hours over the cooling season. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit is. 

The Department of Energy enforces minimum SEER requirements, which vary by region. States in the southwest and southeast have a minimum of 14 SEER, while northern states get 13. Modern air conditioners typically have a SEER ranging from 13 to 21, but it is inverter AC units that populate the higher ranks thanks to their variable speed compressor or blower components that make them more efficient.

It should be noted that the Energy Department will be raising SEER ratings by 2023. The new mandate requires a minimum of 14 SEER for northern states, and 15 for southern states. As such, this may be a good time to upgrade your old single-speed or lower SEER AC unit to bring it up to standard.

 

Reduced power consumption

Inverters have a variable electrical consumption based on their workload.

 

Longer operational lifespan

Since the motors or compressors are more efficient and don’t have to work as hard, inverter air conditioners tend to have a longer lifespan than conventional AC units.

 

Faster cooling

Inverter ACs start off strong, then gradually decrease the power level as the room temperature goes down. This means faster cooling.

 

Better comfort

For normal ACs, the compressor typically switches off once the desired temperature is reached, and then goes back on if it falls off by a few degrees. This can cause temperature fluctuations. On the other hand, inverter ACs dynamically adjust the compressor to maintain the temperature constantly, without any fluctuations.

 

More quiet

AC units tend to be noisier on higher settings. Inverter ACs can lower their setting when the room temperature is cool enough, which makes them more quiet.

 

Long-term savings

Inverter-equipped units can save up to 40% more in monthly costs than traditional AC units. That’s a ton of savings, especially for an appliance that’s meant to be used for years to come! 

 

Disadvantages of Inverter ACs

More expensive

Inverter air conditioners are more expensive than regular AC units. However, the higher price tag can be recouped in long-term operating costs.

 

More complicated

The addition of an inverter, VFD, and rectifier represent more possible points of failure for an inverter AC, especially if the temperature fluctuates wildly and the inverter kicks in more frequently.

 

Recommended Inverter ACs for 2022

Most efficient inverter AC: 

Panasonic XE12WKUA 12000 BTU Class ClimaPure XE Series Single Zone 24.6 SEER Heat Pump System - Built-In WiFi - Energy Star

Panasonic: XE12SKUA-1

This single zone mini-split AC uses inverter technology to regulate compressor rotation speed. The result is lower energy consumption, achieving the maximum 30.6 SEER rating in energy efficiency. 

It also comes with ECONVAI – a human detection technology that monitors and adjusts temperature in a space based on activity happening in the space.

 

Most efficient inverter PTAC:

Friedrich PVH09K3FB 9000 BTU Class FreshAire Series with Inverter Technology 12.1 EER PTAC Air Conditioner with Heat Pump - 20 Amp - 230 Volt

Friedrich PVH09K3FB 9000 BTU Class FreshAire Series with Inverter Technology

This PTAC (packaged terminal air conditioner) unit is part of Friedrich’s FreshAire line of fully integrated makeup air systems. This particular model is capable of 9,400 BTUs of cooling and 8,500 BTUs of heating with its reverse cycle heat pump. It has an impressive EER of 12.1 and can cover 400-450 sq. ft. of space.

All units in the FreshAire series bring in additional air from outside, which passes through a MERV 8 filter. Other features include room freeze protection, electronic temperature limiting, reversible louvers for air path modification, and an indoor coil frost sensor that protects the compressor for a longer life.

Best multi-zone inverter mini-split: 

Panasonic CU-5E36QBU-5 36,000 BTU 3 Ton Configurable Five-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner System with Heat Pump Sku:

Panasonic: CU-5E36QBU-5

This five-zone outdoor unit has a 36,000 BTU rating. It also comes with a heat pump boasting 37,800 BTU heat pump, making it a two-in-one cooling and heating solution. The heating can work in temperatures down to -5°F.

The system uses an inverter for variable cooling and efficient operation, with a high SEER rating of 18.5 (for non-ducted indoor units).

For more recommended AC units, check out our Top Air Conditioners list.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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