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26 Dec 2022

Author: Jeff O'Hara

According to the US Department of Energy, our air conditioners and furnaces consume more energy than any other appliances in the home. Although many of our kitchen appliances use much more energy, like ovens and microwave ovens, they only use it during meal preparation. Whereas our HVAC systems run all day, every day, consuming electricity and leaving an enormous carbon footprint in their wake.

Every new heating and air conditioning system is assigned a SEER rating, and that number will directly correspond to how efficient and expensive your new HVAC system will be. Starting in January 2023, new regulations will go into effect that will impact how systems are rated for efficiency.

Before we get into what SEER and SEER-2 are, I’d like to start with some background on why efficiency ratings and other regulatory measures came to be part of the industry. 

The Early Heating & Air Conditioning Days Were Like the Wild West

In the early days of the heating and air conditioning industry, there was essentially zero concerted effort made toward either energy efficiency or environmental protection. Power was cheap and plentiful in the 1950s, 60s, and well into the mid-1970s until the 1974 Middle East oil embargo against the US began. The US experienced our first true energy crisis, where almost overnight, energy conservation and efficiency became buzzwords for the next several decades. 

Around the same time, it was discovered that the off-gasses released by air conditioners were causing damage to the ozone layer of our atmosphere. It was time to completely change how air conditioning and heating systems were designed, from how well they utilized their consumed energy to extensive measures and regulations to prevent further damage to the environment with dangerous refrigerants. 

A Standard for Heating & AC Efficiency Was Required

In 1987, a rating standard for energy efficiency in heating and air conditioning systems was introduced. By 1992, the SEER rating standard that ranked their energy efficiency was turned into federal law, requiring that any HVAC-related product have a minimum SEER rating of 10. 

Early on, throughout the phase-in period of the first SEER-rated appliances, ratings of 8 and 9 were standard. We see very few of these early, inefficient models, as most have been replaced with newer, more efficient models. Since then, SEER ratings have been revised several times, rising to 13 in January 2006 and 14 in January 2015. 

Let’s Start with This: First of All, What is a SEER Rating? 

The acronym SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and is a rating system used by the HVAC industry for ranking appliances by their efficiency. The rating of an appliance is based on the cooling output during a typical cooling season, divided by the total amount of electricity used by the appliance for the same period. 

The higher the level of efficient performance, the higher the SEER rating will be, and the less energy required to operate the system, resulting in lower utility bills and a diminished carbon footprint. Energy Star must assign every new heating and air conditioning appliance a SEER rating before any retailer can sell it. 

Okay, I Understand SEER. What is an EER Rating?

Additionally, your new home comfort component will also have an EER rating. This number represents the energy efficiency of an air conditioner running at a constant high outdoor temperature, running at the maximum for cooling output. Even though the EER rating doesn’t get as much attention as the often higher, more impressive SEER numbers, the EER rating is the one that those of us in hotter climates should pay attention to. The EER rating will more accurately represent how the unit will perform during daily use, as we use our air conditioners for more than one “season” here in Houston.

What is Considered a Good SEER Rating on a New AC Unit?

Currently, the minimum SEER rating for any home comfort appliance sold is 13, with 14 set to become the minimum as of January 2023. 

Advanced, more costly whole-house HVAC units with SEER ratings of 20 and up are available, with some mini-split heat pump units achieving a SEER of 25. 

Still, the average homeowner should realize substantial, tangible energy savings with an upgrade to a unit in the 14 – 16 SEER range. If you’ve had your current HVAC system for more than seven years, it’s near the end of its practical life. Especially here in south Texas, where our air conditioners work nearly nonstop nine-to-ten months out of the year.   

How Does a Higher SEER Rating Affect You?

January 2023 will bring with it another incremental rise in SEER rating requirements and a revamp to the entire SEER testing system that will affect the HVAC products currently available on the market and how they are tested for efficiency. 

The new regulations require the major HVAC manufacturers to scramble to ensure their products meet the new minimum SEER requirements, even as computer chips and other necessary parts are in short supply. Many HVAC manufacturers may find themselves with leftover inventory they can not legally sell because it no longer meets the minimum requirements.

Do the Higher SEER Regulations Mean I Have to Replace My HVAC System?

No one is required to replace their current heating and AC units with SEER ratings below current standards. When that system eventually fails, and let’s face it, they all will someday, you will have to replace it with a unit that meets current minimum SEER rating standards. 

Is a Higher SEER Rating Worth Paying Extra For?

A higher SEER rating will mean a higher level of comfort and lower monthly energy costs, but the upfront cost will be higher at the time of your HVAC installation. Higher SEER units tend to come with features like variable-speed compressors, allowing the unit to stay on for more extended periods instead of starting and stopping. 

If you live somewhere with high humidity or if some rooms in your house are cold while others are hot, a higher SEER unit with this feature will make you much more comfortable.

If you live in a mild climate where humidity isn’t an issue, a lower SEER unit is a better option, as it will save you money on the installation. If you go with a lower SEER unit, investigate the minimum SEER requirements for your region before making a purchase. 

Shopping around for a new HVAC system can be an overwhelming experience, with so many makes and models to choose from. New furnaces and air conditioners far outperform their antiquated predecessors in performance and efficiency, offering an array of user-friendly features. 

Let Nick’s AC Help You Up Your Comfort Game & Your SEER Rating!

If you’re dealing with an older, poorly performing, inefficient heating and air conditioning system, give Nick’s Air Conditioning a call today. One of our licensed and experienced technicians will be happy to help you determine the proper size and SEER rating for your new system and install it professionally and promptly.

Call Nick’s Today. We’re on the Way!

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