Understanding SEER Ratings

If you plan on upgrading your HVAC system — furnace, heat pump, air conditioner, or geothermal system — and are comparing heating and air conditioning units, one of the most important things you’ll want to look at is the SEER rating. For everything you need to know about this HVAC energy efficiency ratio, keep reading our “SEER Ratings Explained” guide.

What Are SEER Ratings?

The SEER rating, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, was defined in 2008 by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI).

SEER ratings are important because they help you identify the efficiency of each HVAC unit – and there are new laws in place that require HVAC units to have specific minimum SEER ratings to help you save money and extend the lifespan of your system.

How to Understand What SEER Ratings Are Telling You

Think of a SEER rating as being like the miles-to-the-gallon ratio that cars have, except, in this case, it’s the amount of cool/warm air for every unit of energy that is used. The higher the SEER rating is, the more efficient the heating or cooling unit is.

For example, an air conditioner with an 18 SEER rating is more energy-efficient than an air conditioner with a 16 SEER rating.

Efficiency is one of the most important considerations that you can make when comparing HVAC units. This is not just because a high SEER rating helps reduce your environmental footprint but also because the unit will use less energy, thereby helping to reduce your monthly energy costs.

You can assume that an air conditioner between ten and 15 years old probably only has a SEER rating of 9 or 10. New central air conditioners range from 13 SEER to 23 SEER.

The Importance of SEER Ratings

The SEER rating of your HVAC unit can greatly determine how much money you will end up spending on your home heating and cooling system. Here are the following benefits you could experience from choosing a unit with a higher SEER rating:

Increased Comfort

HVAC units with higher SEER ratings can provide greater comfort than systems with the lowest ratings. This is because high-efficiency systems offer two-stage or variable-speed heating and cooling. The two-stage cooling unit’s lowest setting allows it to maintain the temperature in your home with fewer temperature dips and spikes. Variable-speed systems have several hundred different settings, allowing the unit to adjust automatically to maintain the temperature in your house. Variable-speed systems usually carry SEER ratings of 20 or above.

When you choose an HVAC unit with a low SEER rating, the system will be single-stage, which means it only has one setting and operates at 100% capacity. These units often struggle to adequately heat or cool homes, especially if the houses are large or have multiple stories. With these units, you may notice cold or hot spots as well as high levels of humidity. Single-stage HVAC systems are also noisy to run.

Decreased Energy Costs

Even though two-stage and variable-speed HVAC systems run more than single-stage systems, the mid- to high-efficiency systems do not rack up as high energy costs. Their multiple settings allow them to use less energy. When the system detects your home only needs a slight adjustment in temperature, it will switch to a lower setting, which doesn’t require much energy.

Single-stage HVAC systems are programmed to heat or cool your home on the coldest or hottest day. This results in the unit turning on and off frequently and consuming excessive amounts of energy. You could see amazing cost benefits by switching to an HVAC unit with a high SEER rating.

Tax Credits

You may be eligible for tax credits when you install an HVAC unit with a certain SEER rating. To receive the federal tax credit, you must have a unit with a minimum SEER rating of 16. This rating also applies to split systems.

Government SEER Rating Requirements

Different regions of the country have different government requirements regarding SEER ratings. The following are the SEER requirements for Pennsylvania:

  • Split system air conditioners must be at least 13 SEER.
  • Split system heat pumps must be at least 14 SEER.
  • Packaged air conditioners must be at least 14 SEER.
  • Packaged heat pumps must be at least 14 SEER.
  • Gas packs must be at least 14 SEER.

What Is the Lowest SEER Rating Possible?

To protect homeowners from exorbitant energy costs, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) passed a regulation in 2006 stating that all newly installed HVAC units should have a minimum SEER rating of 13. Then, in 2015, the DOE revised its regulations by requiring the minimum SEER rating to be raised to 14 for states with the hottest summer climates.

Pennsylvania was not one of the states included on this list, so you can still have SEER 13 units installed if you live somewhere in PA. However, just because you do not live in one of the hottest states doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from a more efficient HVAC system than one with the lowest possible SEER rating. Instead, you could choose a high-efficiency model with ratings in the low to mid-twenties.

Tips for Purchasing SEER Rated HVAC Units

The following are a number of tips that you should keep in mind in regards to comparing SEER ratings on various HVAC units:

Look for ENERGY STAR Approved Units

To ensure that you are purchasing an HVAC unit with a high SEER rating, look at units that are approved by ENERGY STAR®. All ENERGY STAR-approved HVAC units must have a SEER rating of at least 14.5 in order to meet ENERGY STAR standards.

Spend More to Save More

Don’t just purchase the lowest SEER-rated unit you can in order to save money. Keep in mind that the higher the SEER rating is, the more money you will save over the long term on energy costs. The amount you can end up saving will likely make up for the higher initial cost.

Keep in Mind Efficiency Declines With Age

Keep in mind that HVAC units grow less efficient as they age. Corrosion, dirt, and debris can all affect your unit’s efficiency. This means that if you bought an air conditioner 15 years ago that had a 10 SEER rating, it’s probably only at a 7 SEER rating now.

Consider Other Factors Impacting HVAC Efficiency

While your air conditioner or heat pump SEER rating is highly important in determining the efficiency you can enjoy with your new HVAC system, it’s not the only factor you need to consider. Your system’s efficiency can be impacted by:

  • Your home’s insulation
  • Your ductwork
  • How often you have your system maintained by a professional

Make sure you have your HVAC partner inspect all these aspects of your heating and cooling system before settling on a unit with a specific SEER rating. Depending on these other factors, you may not need a high-efficiency system, only simple repairs.

Questions? Ask Us About SEER Ratings!

The SEER rating is an important factor to keep in mind when comparing different HVAC units. Our team can help you choose the right SEER rating for your home. For more help understanding SEER ratings or advice concerning an HVAC system upgrade, be sure to contact W.F. Smith today.

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