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Understanding Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio For HVAC

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An air conditioner is a big-ticket item that requires a significant investment. Like buying other large items, you’ll want to shop around to ensure that you get the best product for the best deal. Aside from price, variable fan speeds, and other features, you’ll also want to consider the air conditioner’s energy-efficient ratings. On the side of every appliance, air conditioner, furnace, heat pump, and other household equipment, you will find a big yellow energy sticker. The U.S. Department of Energy requires that all manufacturers display each unit’s energy ratings. While these are important numbers to look at, they can be difficult to understand.

Like purchasing a car where you check out the miles-per-gallon stats, you’ll want to check out the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, to understand how your unit will perform. The SEER rating will allow you to compare the energy efficiency of different models and understand the operating costs of each unit. Given that your HVAC can account for around half of your total annual energy bills, it is important to know how much it will cost to run your AC in the summer. Let’s take a closer look at SEER ratings.


What is a SEER rating?

On the side of every new air conditioning unit, you will see the SEER rating for the unit. As discussed, you can think of this number as a vehicle’s miles-per-gallon indication. The SEER number will let you know how the unit should perform over the year. SEER ratings are calculated by looking at the cooling output for a typical season divided by the total electric energy input over the same period. The number you see as the SEER is the maximum efficiency rating. Your car might get 30 miles per gallon on the highway, but if you’re stuck in traffic, it will probably be lower. The air conditioner’s SEER number is the maximum performance.


What is a good SEER rating?

The higher the SEER rating a unit receives, the more energy-efficient it is. The Department of Energy mandates minimum SEER requirements that differ by geographical region. The minimum rating for AC units in the southwest and southeast, where it is warmer, is 14. In cooler northern states, the minimum SEER rating is 13. The most energy-efficient units have ratings in the upper 20s.

If you have a system older than 10 years old, you could have an AC unit with a SEER rating below 10. As a result, even the equipment with the minimum SEER rating today will be much more energy-efficient than older models. A good SEER rating for any situation will depend on the unique factors of each home. Elements such as location, size of the home, and your cooling preferences will all impact the unit that is best for you. To be an ENERGY STAR-qualified unit, an air conditioner must have a SEER rating of 14.5.


Is a higher SEER rating worth the investment?

As discussed, a higher SEER number means a higher level of energy efficiency. This could also translate to a higher level of comfort and lower energy costs. However, units with higher SEER ratings will usually have a higher price tag. These units tend to come with features like multistage cooling, which means that the AC will stay on more consistently rather than cycling on and off. A SEER-rated unit may make your home more comfortable in areas with higher humidity and warmer temperatures.

The EPA suggests that units with higher SEER ratings can cost half of the operating costs of lower-rated units. As a result, you may pay more for higher-rated units up front, but you will save more in energy costs in the long run. Given that the average household pays $115 for energy usage each month, a higher SEER-rated unit might be worth the investment.

When shopping around for a new air conditioning unit, it is important to pay attention to the SEER rating to understand the performance and long-term costs of the unit.