Understanding SEER Ratings & HVAC Energy Efficiency

When shopping for a new HVAC system, you’ll have a lot of things to consider. What size system should you get? What brand? What features do you need? These are just a few of the many questions you’ll need to answer, and that a skilled HVAC installer should be able to guide you through. However, there is one extremely important question you’ll probably need to answer for yourself: how efficient do you want your system to be? The logical answer would be “as efficient as possible,” but this isn’t always the best choice for everyone.

How Is Energy Efficiency Measured?

Energy efficiency is measured through static tests and is indicated by a statistic known as a SEER rating. SEER stands for “seasonal energy efficiency ratio.” To put it simply: this number is an indication of how much cool air this system produces compared to the amount of energy it consumes to do so. When the energy consumed is brought to a baseline level, the system that produces more cold air with the same amount of energy achieves a better score. SEER ratings are typically given in a standard single or double-digit number, with a higher number meaning better energy efficiency.

Over time, the average SEER rating of an air conditioning system has actually increased. As little as 20 to 25 years ago, you may have been able to find SEER ratings as low as six or eight for brand-new air conditioning systems, and those might have been some of the best you could get at the time. However, today’s air conditioners are significantly more efficient due to mandatory increases for environmental protection. Today, depending on where you live in the country, the minimum SEER you can buy and install is 13, and most of the southern states with warmer climates require a minimum of 14 SEER in new air conditioning products.

Choosing the Right SEER for Your Home

If better energy efficiency saves you more money, then you should absolutely buy the highest SEER-rated system you can afford, right? While this might make sense, it isn’t exactly true. SEER ratings are just one of the things you should consider, and a maximum-SEER system isn’t always what you want. While it is true that a higher SEER rating is more efficient, you are going to pay more upfront for that better energy efficiency, and that adds a considerable expense to your air conditioner installation project.

For example, a customer with a smaller home of only about 1300 square feet might only need a single air conditioning system to cool the entire home. In this instance, because the home is so much smaller, they will typically only need a smaller air conditioner. Going up in SEER rating will still bring up the cost, but only so much. Say their next door neighbor also needs a new air conditioner, but their home is over 3,000 square feet, multiple levels, and includes a custom wine cellar that needs individual climate control as well. In total, they have three different air conditioning systems to accommodate for all of the various zones throughout their home. In this instance, upgrading to a higher SEER rating might not be the best choice because they will have to do it three times over. That’s a major expense increase over a less-efficient system, and that alone could make the project unfeasible. But what about only replacing one of the systems? At that point, the benefit from the single upgraded system is less prominent due to the older cooling equipment still in place. The savings are not as large.

There is also a common misunderstanding with SEER ratings. As consumers, we are conditioned to want to avoid the “baseline” option because we often see them as the “worst” available. Nobody wants to invest in something and then immediately see it become outdated, such as with cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and the like. So for that reason many people are inclined to purchase a middle-of the-pack option.

This idea doesn’t apply to SEER ratings. Here in the Atlanta area, the minimum SEER rating you can buy today is 14. However, that’s probably still a massive increase in efficiency over the system you are replacing. If your air conditioner is more than 25 years old, there’s a chance it may be as low as an eight or nine SEER system. Upgrading from a nine SEER to a 13 SEER system could save you 31% per year on your energy bills, or more than $1,300 over five years. A 16 SEER system will save you an estimated 44% per year on your bills, or over $1,900 over five years, but at a higher initial purchase cost.

Get help choosing the right air conditioner for your home from the team at Premier Indoor Comfort Systems, LLC! Call us at (770) 749-7667 today to schedule your new system consultation.