What is SEER Rating and Why Should I Care?

With rising energy costs, many homeowners are considering the efficiency of their residential HVAC unit. Every unit has a  rating is known as its “seasonal energy efficiency ratio” or SEER. This is defined by the total cooling provided by the unit, or BTU, divided by the total energy used to maintain the temperature over a period of time.

The efficiency of a central air conditioning unit is regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy. During the Clinton Administration the standard for minimum SEER rating moved from 10 SEER to 13 SEER. By 2030, it is estimated that consumers will save approximately $186 billion in energy costs based on this new minimum standard. In 2006, units with less than a 13 SEER rating were not allowed to be manufactured or installed.

It is safe to say that efficiency standards will continue to grow as old units are replaced with new technology and innovation. Even now, replacing your old, inefficient residential HVAC unit with a minimum 13 SEER efficiency unit can save thousands of dollars.  See the savings achieved in the tables below just by upgrading your unit to the minimum standard of 13 SEER. (Savings will vary by region due to differences in utility costs.)

Replace Cooling Unit with 13 SEER - Annual Energy Savings
Existing SEER Rating
1.5$ 374$ 266$ 194$ 142$ 104
2$ 498$ 354$ 258$ 190$ 138
2.5$ 623$ 443$ 323$ 237$ 173
3$ 748$ 532$ 388$ 285$ 208
3.5$ 872$ 620$ 452$ 332$ 242
4$ 997$ 709$ 517$ 380$ 277
5$ 1,246$ 886$ 646$ 475$ 346
Replace Heat Pump Unit with 13 SEER - Annual Energy Savings
Existing SEER Rating
1.5$ 1,215$ 864$ 630$ 463$ 338
2$ 1,620$ 1,152$ 840$ 617$ 450
2.5$ 2,025$ 1,440$ 1,050$ 771$ 563
3$ 2,430$ 1,728$ 1,260$ 926$ 675
3.5$ 2,835$ 2,016$ 1,470$ 1,080$ 788
4$ 3,240$ 2,304$ 1,680$ 1,234$ 900
5$ 4,050$ 2,880$ 2,100$ 1,543$ 1,125

Features of 14-16 SEER Units

R-410A Refrigerant vs. R-22
Today many air conditioners have a 14-16 SEER rating and operate on R-410A refrigerant rather than R-22. (R-22, or “Freon”, was the refrigerant used for many years in HVAC units.) The R-410A refrigerant is safer for the environment. And by a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), starting in 2010 all new manufactured models no longer can contain R-22 refrigerant.

To maximize the life span of your residential HVAC unit and to  maintain its efficiency, it is important to clean the coils regularly. Many 14-16 SEER units feature easy to clean coils as well as higher quality materials and better engineering, which also increase the life span of  these units.

Features of 17-21 SEER Units

Two-Stage Cooling
One of the features that makes 17-21 SEER rated units so efficient is their use of two-stage cooling. Single stage units provide only one temperature which results in temperature extremes and demands that the units have frequent stops and starts. This dramatically increases energy usage. In high-efficiency 17-21 SEER units, there is either a single two-speed compressor or two separate compressors that operate on two levels creating an energy-efficient, two-stage cooling system.

The lower speed is utilized to maintain a constant temperature, while the faster speed is only used for extreme spikes in temperature. This creates an even and consistent distribution of air throughout the home, allowing the unit to maintain a more constant temperature.

Two-stage cooling units also dramatically decrease the amount of humidity. This is important because a higher humidity means a greater chance for pollutants and mold to grow in the system and ductwork. Plus, lower humidity makes the air feel so much more comfortable. Another feature of the high efficiency units is that they are remarkably quieter than standard units, because of they are often running in the lower speed.

Many homeowners see a high SEER rated system as too costly, even though prices continue to drop. But the truth is that a residential HVAC system, when properly maintained, can last up to 20 years. With this in mind, the difference between a 13 SEER unit and a 21 SEER unit, when you factor in the energy costs to operate them, can be as low as a few hundred dollars annually. Plus the lower humidity and lower speed of a two-stage cooling system can mean less maintenance. All in all, this can save a homeowner thousands of dollars over the life of the unit. Give us a call today to find out how much you can save in energy dollars each year by upgrading to a more efficient system.

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