Single‑Stage vs Two‑Stage AC: Which Is Better for My Michigan Home?

Stuck choosing between a single- or two-stage air conditioner? This is what we recommend:

  • If you’re on a tight budget, go with a single-stage air conditioner.
  • If you’re willing to spend more upfront for increased comfort and long-term energy savings, go with a two-stage air conditioner.

To give you a better understanding of our recommendations, we’ll cover the following information in this blog:

  • How single- and two-stage air conditioners work
  • The cost difference between a single- and two-stage AC
  • A third option: Variable-speed air conditioner

Want a recommendation for a new AC based on your home and budget? Our trustworthy AC Replacement Specialists give honest recommendations with upfront pricing.

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How single- and two-stage air conditioners work

“Stages” refer to the operating mode of the compressor, which is the heat of your AC system. Without it, your air conditioner can’t cool your home’s air.

The compressor is located in the outdoor AC unit

A single-stage compressor has only one operating mode so it always runs at 100% capacity—no matter if the cooling demand is great or small.

Meanwhile, a two-stage compressor has 2 operating modes: Low or High. The High mode runs at 100% capacity just like a single-stage compressor, while the Low mode runs at 60–70% capacity.

The Low operating mode allows the AC to save energy when the cooling demand is small, which leads to benefits such as:

  • Better temperature control
  • Less wear and tear on the compressor and other AC components
  • Lower energy consumption

Now that you know a little bit about how each system works, let’s look at the cost difference.

The cost difference between a single- and two-stage AC

On average, a two-stage air conditioner will cost $500 to $1,000 more than a single-stage air conditioner. Of course, that number can be greater or lower depending on the AC manufacturer, SEER rating and other specifications of the unit.

That said, a two-stage AC will cost less to operate than a single-stage air conditioner despite its higher upfront cost. Because of our relatively mild summers, the cost savings of a two-stage AC may not pay for its higher upfront costs. So if you’re on a tight budget, a single-stage AC will still cool your home effectively and work well for Michigan homes.

However, if you’re more concerned with getting better comfort (more even temperatures), a two-stage air conditioner is the best option for you.

Third option: A variable-speed air conditioner

If you want the most energy-efficient compressor and the best indoor comfort, a variable-speed AC is the best option.

A variable-speed compressor can ramp up or down at whatever capacity is needed—anywhere from 10% to 150%. This means that on very mild days (which are common during Michigan summers), your AC will use minimal energy to cool your home.

In addition to energy savings, a variable-speed compressor can deliver temperatures within 0.5° from your set temperature and can significantly prolong the lifespan of your AC system.

However, a variable-speed AC can be $1,000+ more expensive than a two-stage AC, so we only recommend it if you have the budget and really want the best AC on the market. The HVAC contractor you hire to install your new air conditioner can help you determine which compressor stage is the best fit for your home.

Want an honest AC recommendation from a Michigan pro?

Request appointment today

Our highly-trained AC Replacement Specialists can help you find the perfect air conditioner for your home and budget. When you work with Thornton & Grooms, you can count on honest recommendations and upfront pricing for every job.

Learn more about what to expect when you hire us by visiting our AC installation page.


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