Everything You Need to Know About SEER Ratings

August 16, 2018

If you’re a conscientious shopper, then you need to understand what a SEER number is, why it’s important, and what benefits it brings to the table. Whether you are a homeowner or a contractor, you should pay very close attention to this figure, because the SEER rating of the AC unit you’re eyeing, and your choice will have a huge impact on future energy bills, among other things.

A new air conditioning system represents a significant investment. Not only are AC units more expensive than most household appliances, but they also use a lot of electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), running an air conditioner costs homeowners across the country nearly $29 billion + annually.

In general, homeowners are okay with the costs of running an AC unit as long as the household or space is comfortable. However, that does not mean they wouldn’t do things to help lower these utility bills. That is where the SEER rating comes in.

What is a SEER rating?

SEER is an acronym that stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, which is the key efficiency rating for an air conditioning unit developed by the DOE in partnership with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute or AHRI.

An AC unit’s SEER rating is calculated by dividing its entire cooling output over a cooling season by its total electricity consumption over that same time period.

Why is SEER important?

The SEER rating of an AC unit is a very important metric that will help consumers make an informed decision on which air conditioning system to purchase. In the SEER rating system, a higher figure is an indication of better energy efficiency.

Your AC unit accounts for around 50% of your total home energy consumption. If the SEER of your old AC unit, for example, is pegged at 9, then buying a new air conditioner with a SEER of 18 will mean a 50% drop on your AC’s energy consumption. With reduced electricity use, you can expect lower utility bills from that point forward with up to an estimated 25% reduction on your total bill. And if you go with ductless air conditioners and other highly-efficient systems with ratings of 20 SEER or higher, then you will get to save even more.

Today, higher SEER units have become possible with the help of DC brushless motors, inverters, integrated systems, rotary compressors, variable-speed drives, and other technological developments. As more new technologies are being discovered or developed, we can be sure to expect SEER ratings of air conditioners to continually become even higher in the future.

Government-mandated minimum SEER ratings

While there isn’t much the government can do with your old, low-SEER AC units, there are now federal regulations in place that require new units to have a higher minimum SEER rating, which would depend on the part of the country where you live. The impacts of climate on financial returns of energy efficiency are responsible for the differences in SEER rating minimums.

Split systems in the northern region of the U.S., for example, must have a minimum SEER rating of 13. Packaged systems, on the other hand, must be at least 14 SEER.  In the South and the Southwest, the minimum SEER rating for both split ACs and packaged units is set at 14.

More benefits of a high SEER rating

The efficiency and the resulting energy savings are often seen as its primary benefits, but a high SEER has a lot more to offer than just a few dollars off your utility bill.

Environment-friendly – Newer, high-efficiency systems are very friendly to the environment. They consume less electricity, which will naturally reduce the amount of toxic fumes spewed by power plants as they burn fossil fuels to produce energy.

The eco-friendliness of new AC units with high SEER rating can also be attributed to the fact that they now use a new type of refrigerant instead of the ozone-depleting R-22, which is also known as Freon. Today, many new and efficient AC units use R-134A, R-407C, and R-410A, all of which are deemed safer than R-22, which is now gradually being phased out not only in the United States by 2020, but also the world over, thanks to a United Nations-ratified international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol.

Removes moisture better – A high SEER unit also has better moisture-removing abilities since it cycles longer at lower pressures, allowing it to speedily cool the air inside any given room. This reduces the risks of mold formation and other humidity-related problems.

Rebates – When you’re operating an AC with a high SEER typically cost more, you get not only lower energy bills but also incentives such as rebates.

As part of their mission to become more eco-friendly, utility firms as well as federal, state, or local governments in many countries the world over encourage citizens to use more efficient equipment to reduce energy consumption. Typically, they give out direct rebates or tax credits or deductions to people who qualify.  Always verify with your local utility provider and licensed HVAC contractor on what the rebate requirements are.

A note about SEER ratings

A SEER rating is a top indicator of the efficiency of an AC unit, but it’s not the only factor that needs consideration. You also need to right-size your AC system and trust us when we say that in air conditioning, bigger is not always better.

AC units with high SEER ratings also tend to be more expensive than those with a lower SEER. That means you will have to pay more initially, and be patient enough to recoup that money in the long run with its highly efficient operation and reduced utility bills.

Proper maintenance also plays a huge role in keeping your high SEER unit efficient for a long time. You see, your AC’s SEER rating will decrease over time. As it gets older, your air conditioner becomes less efficient. However, with regular maintenance, you can keep your air conditioning unit as efficient as possible as it ages. Just have a reputable HVAC contractor work on your high SEER AC unit at all times, and it will continue working as efficiently as it can.