What Your HVAC System's SEER Rating Means

According to the most recent household data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texans use 26 percent more electricity than the average American, and the amount we spend on electricity per year is one of the highest in the whole country.1 Because we rely on electricity so heavily here, a more efficient cooling system would likely save most of us a good chunk of change each month. If you’re shopping for a new air conditioner or heat pump and want to make sure you’re getting the most efficient unit possible, there’s one particular number you’ll want to look out for – its SEER rating.

What Is a SEER Rating?

At the most basic level, a SEER rating measures the energy efficiency of an air conditioner or heat pump – how much cool air it produces in respect to the energy it requires to function. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. As the name implies, the SEER rating tells consumers the energy efficiency of a cooling system over the course of an entire season, accounting for outdoor temperature fluctuations from 65 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Compare this to the EER, or Energy Efficiency Ratio, which only measures the energy efficiency of a cooling system operating at a static temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

SEER measurements always have units of BTU/Wh attached. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and it is a measure of how much heat it takes to make a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit hotter. Wh stands for watt-hour, which is a measure of electrical energy. It represents how many watts are used per hour to power your devices if they were kept on consistently. A watt-hour equals 3,600 joules.

For a SEER rating to be good, you’d want more BTUs per Wh, or more temperature change for less energy usage.

To put this in context, your electric bill is calculated using a unit called the kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is simply 1,000 watt-hours. The kilowatt-hours you use are multiplied by a monetary rate set by your electric company to calculate your monthly bill. For a cheaper energy bill, you’d want a lower wattage cooling system that can provide at least the same cooling power you already have, if not more.

What Are the Minimum SEER Ratings?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for setting federal regulations regarding energy efficiency and usage. Their most recent set of standards went into effect January 1, 2015. During this update, they increased the minimum required SEER rating for many air conditioners and heat pumps and also created different standards for different regions of the U.S. for the very first time. The variation in standards was meant to account for the vastly different climates in the U.S., from the temperate conditions of the North to the muggy dog days of the Southeast and the hot, arid summers of the Southwest.

North

Includes Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming

Split-system central air conditioners must have minimum SEER of 13

Southeast

Includes Alabama, Arkansas, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and the U.S. territories

Split-system central air conditioners must have minimum SEER of 14

Southwest

Includes Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico

Split-system central air conditioners must have minimum SEER of 14 and minimum EER of 12.2 (for units operating at less than 45,000 BTU/h) or 11.7 (for units operating at 45,000 BTU/hr or more)

There are also minimums for other air conditioners and heat pumps, which can be found in this DOE brochure.

What SEER Rating Should I Choose for My New A/C or Heating Pump?

Now comes the tough part: which SEER rating should you choose for your air conditioner or heat pump? The answer largely depends on what system you already have and why you are upgrading.

If you are looking to save money, you may be tempted to buy an A/C or heat pump with the highest SEER rating possible to lower your utility bills. However, this may or may not be the smartest decision for you. Units with higher SEER ratings often cost more upfront, and repairs can be more expensive. You want to be sure this additional cost is worth it in the long run. Consider how long you plan on living in your home and how much a new cooling system would increase resale value before installing the most high-tech unit you can find.

Additionally, you may be getting a SEER upgrade no matter what just by virtue of installing a new system. For example, in 1992, the federal SEER minimum was 10, and in 2006, the minimum was 13. Therefore, if your unit is 20 years old and met the minimum at the time, a new installation will automatically mean a jump of at least 3 or 4 SEER ratings, depending on your state! This may provide more than enough savings on your monthly energy bill.

Typically, systems with higher efficiency ratings also come equipped with additional features that improve air quality and help control humidity levels.

If, however, you are looking for ultimate energy efficiency, you can get an A/C or heat pump with a SEER rating in the 20s or higher.

Upgrade to a New A/C With Aramendia Plumbing Heating & Air in San Antonio

Texas summers can be particularly brutal, so you’ll want to ensure your A/C unit is in good working condition before the temperatures start to rise. If it’s time to replace your A/C or you need pre-season inspection, you can trust the fully licensed and certified team at Aramendia Plumbing Heating & Air to provide exceptional, honest HVAC service. We always come to your house with our trucks fully stocked, and will give you a call 30 to 45 minutes before we arrive so you aren’t left waiting. Call us at (210) 654-1034 for a free installation estimate or to schedule service today!

1 https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/reports/2009/state_briefs/pdf/TX.pdf

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