It can be difficult to wade through all the different brands and information looking for a new air conditioner. You’ll need to choose the best model for your region and climate, and the best size for your home.
And if you want tax rebates, savings, or something high performance, there are even more factors to consider. But one of the main factors, and one of the most confusing, is the SEER rating of an air conditioner or heat pump.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through all you need to know about SEER ratings and how to find the best air conditioner for your needs.
What is a SEER Rating?
The SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and is a rating scale system for measuring air conditioner efficiency in small, easy-to-understand numbers. The SEER rating for your air conditioning unit will be listed on a sticker usually found on the exterior of the unit.
Minimum SEER Ratings
All central ACs were required to have a minimum SEER rating of 10 in 1992 and by 2006 that minimum was raised to 13. In certain regions of the country, like the south and southwest, that minimum standard is raised even farther to 14.
In 2023, regulations will require a minimum SEER of 14 for the northern U.S. and 15 for the southern U.S.
|Year||North||South & SW|
SEER ratings are compiled using standard formulas to help you determine how much you can expect to pay annually in energy costs. This lets you compare air conditioning units and pick the one that best suits your needs.
Remember, though, a SEER rating is an average. There are other factors such as insulation, windows, size of the home, ductwork, etc that weigh in on how efficient your air conditioning or heat pump is.
Difference between SEER and EER
The EER or Energy Efficiency Ratio is a rating used for window air conditioners while SEER is used to rate central air conditioners and heat pumps.
The SEER looks at the expected energy efficiency for an entire season, testing efficiency at temperatures ranging from 65 to 104 degrees while EER only determines energy efficiency at 95 degrees.
Both SEER and EER are like a miles per gallon rating on an air conditioner giving you the highest expected amount of cooling per watt-hours of energy.
What is a Good SEER Rating?
A good SEER rating is typically 14 or higher. The average efficiency rating for a central air conditioner in operation today is 16 but high energy-efficient models can have ratings as high as 23.
A better question is what is the right SEER rating for your home?
Since each home’s needs are different, a one size fits all SEER rating doesn’t work for picking a high-efficiency air conditioner. Today’s newer air conditioners, particularly Energy Star certified ones, are a constantly evolving technology, making them more energy-efficient than previous models. As a result, you save money on cooling your home no matter what the SEER rating.
Benefits of a Higher SEER Rating
While SEER 14 is good for most homes, systems that are high efficiency are worth looking at. A rating above 16 SEER is associated with lower energy consumption, which translates to less money spent on energy costs.
Replacing an 8 SEER AC or heat pump unit with a 16 SEER one may save you up to 50 percent on your energy bill. Additionally, there are government incentives and rebates for high-efficiency AC systems that can help lower the cost of the upgrade.
In 2006, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) established a minimum SEER requirement of 13 for air conditioners. Another modification was made by the DOE in 2015.
This time, the required SEER was increased from 13 to 14, but only for certain states. The change concerned primarily those states located in the south and southwest of the country. If you reside in northern states, your minimum SEER rating is currently 13 but by 2023 that will be raised to 14.
How Does SEER Rating Affect Costs?
Choosing to buy a higher SEER air conditioner or heat pump will depend on how much more efficient you want it to be.
Let’s take a look:
- You could pay an extra $900 to $1,500 for going from a 14 SEER system to a 16 SEER one.
- If you upgrade from a 14 SEER unit to a 21 SEER unit, prices may climb as much as $3,000 or even $5,000 above the cost of a typical 14 SEER system.
- Additionally, the cost of repairing a high SEER system can be higher than a standard system, but it’s important to note that it’s not anymore likely to need repairs than a standard system.
A high-efficiency air conditioner has a two-stage system that has a low and high setting, making it easier for the air conditioner to keep temperatures at your preferred settings with less energy. While dual-stage systems save you money by being more efficient they are also more costly to repair.
- If your compressor on your 14 SEER system goes out (and it’s not under warranty), repairs will start at around $1300.
- However, if your compressor on a 21 SEER system fails (again without a warranty), the repair costs start at $2000.
Additional reading: How Much Does It Cost to Install AC in My Home?
Are High SEER AC Units Worth It?
A 14 SEER standard is either on or off. This means that the fan and compressor are always at full speed while cooling your house. A higher SEER unit, with a two-stage AC compressor, has two settings: low and high.
When the air conditioner system starts up, it automatically comes on in low gear and runs very effectively as long as the load permits. When it can’t keep up the air conditioning system then it shifts into high gear until the temperature stabilizes, then downshifts to a more energy-efficient speed.
The blower fan offers the same performance. The lower speeds can meet 80 percent of your cooling demands roughly half the time, so it will run more often. There are two major advantages to this: fewer hot/cold areas and less humidity.
Two more advantages of higher SEER ratings: eco-friendliness and less noise. If you’re serious about going green, an upgrade will get you to your goals. High-efficiency systems use up to one-third less fuel than older AC models, allowing them to save even more natural resources.
More efficient systems are much quieter than standard 14 SEER systems. This comes in handy when you have to place the outdoor unit next to a bedroom window. Additionally, some HOAs or local codes may require you to use quieter systems depending on the proximity of homes.
SEER Ratings Chart
What’s the Difference Between a 14 SEER and 16 SEER?
As stated, two of the most common choices for air conditioners and heat pumps are systems with efficiency levels of 14 SEER and 16 SEER. But is the jump from a 14 SEER to a 16 SEER worth the added cost? Let’s take a look.
A 16 SEER AC system is approximately 13 to 14 percent more efficient than a 14 SEER unit. While energy pricing across the country fluctuates (and remember this is at maximum efficiency), a 14 percent savings would save you $13 to $14 for every $100 you spend on your energy bill now.
With the 16 SEER, you will still get the same technology as a 14 SEER but the advantage is the savings over the lifetime of the unit.
What’s the Difference Between a 14 SEER and 20 SEER?
Anything above a 17 SEER has advanced technology, like two-stage and variable compressors along with variable speed condenser fan motors. These extra controls help protect the equipment and keep your home comfortable without as much work for the HVAC unit.
A 20 SEER AC unit is 43 percent more energy efficient than a 14 SEER system, making it very eco-friendly. However, the cost difference for a 20 SEER unit vs a 14 SEER system is significant so make sure you do the math for your situation.
Where to Look for High SEER Rated Systems
The best place to look for a high SEER rated air conditioning or heat pump system is with your local HVAC company. While you can go to a big box store and find high SEER rated systems it is best to buy your system based on your home rather than on simple price and reviews.
The installation plays a primary role in your air conditioning unit’s ability to keep your home comfortable. An HVAC professional will evaluate your home for insulation, square footage, windows, and other factors that affect how your air conditioning keeps your home comfortable.
Additional reading: Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Which is Right for You?
Jacobs is Here to Help You Navigate Your Home Cooling Needs
If you are confused by SEER ratings, AC and heat pump options or simply need expert advice, a Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning consultant can help. Our technicians can perform a full inspection of your current system and your home and give you options.
If you know that it is time for an HVAC upgrade or you want to replace your current HVAC system with a high efficiency system, give us a call for a quote. We offer a variety of flexible financing options and we’ll walk you through the process of how to pay for your new system.
Avoid extra costs and fewer repairs by scheduling a tune-up for your existing system before issues arise. Our maintenance plans keep your system running like clockwork without any stress or hassle. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away. You are welcome to review our statement on COVID-19 and how we’re taking precautions to protect you, our team, and our communities.