Understanding SEER Ratings and Why They’re Important

May 19, 2022
Heat Pump in Orchard Park, NY

Energy efficiency is obviously an important consideration when deciding what type of HVAC equipment to install. Calculating the energy efficiency of a furnace is simple since all you need to look at is the percentage of fuel the unit converts to heat. Unfortunately, determining the energy efficiency of an air conditioner or other cooling equipment is quite a bit more complicated. The reason is that, unlike with furnaces, the efficiency of an air conditioner can fluctuate quite dramatically from month to month or even hour to hour.

Since the AC unit sits outside your house, it is directly impacted by both temperature and humidity levels. This means that the unit will work much more efficiently in milder weather, whereas the efficiency will drop quite a lot in much hotter or more humid conditions. To overcome this, researchers developed the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating system as a way to more accurately judge the energy efficiency of cooling systems, and here is everything you need to know about SEER ratings and what they actually mean.

SEER Ratings Explained

The fact that the efficiency of a cooling system will fluctuate means it is impossible to just take a snapshot of its average efficiency. Instead, it is necessary to gauge the overall efficiency throughout the entire summer. SEER ratings are calculated by taking the number of BTUs of cooling the unit produces and dividing this by the total amount of energy the system would typically use over the course of one full cooling season.

To estimate the total energy usage, researchers test the unit in a range of conditions designed to simulate a typical summer. Specifically, the unit is subjected to different humidity levels and temperatures ranging from 60 to 100 degrees to determine approximately how much energy the unit would use over the entire summer.

SEER ratings are calculated based on the air conditioner running for a total of 1,000 hours during the cooling season. If working properly, the AC will usually perform two 20-minute cycles each hour. This means that the unit will typically run for 8 hours a day or around 1,000 hours over four months.

The fact that heat and humidity levels can vary so much in different parts of the country means that your air conditioner may run for much more or less than 1,000 hours, depending on the local climate. This means that the SEER number doesn’t mean all that much on its own. Nonetheless, SEER ratings are still extremely useful as they can allow you to determine how much more or less energy different units will use regardless of climate.

Which SEER Is Best?

In simple terms, the higher the SEER number, the more efficient the unit is. Currently, all cooling equipment in New York and other northern states must be at least 13 SEER, whereas 14 SEER is the minimum for the southern half of the country. In 2023, these minimum efficiency standards will rise to 14 SEER and 15 SEER, respectively. Up until 2006, the minimum was 10 SEER for all parts of the country, which means that you’re probably paying far more to cool your home than you should if your unit was installed before 2006.

Just because 13 SEER is the bare minimum doesn’t mean that these units are a bad choice. In fact, it often doesn’t make sense to go with the highest possible SEER rating due to the increased purchase price for the higher-rated unit. Most of the time, the added energy savings from the higher-rated unit won’t offset the added purchase price.

The easiest way to determine what SEER is best for your home is to estimate your annual cooling costs for each unit and compare this to the total cost of each unit. The average air conditioner will last for approximately 15 years, and you can use this to help estimate the total energy costs over the life of the unit. By performing these calculations, you should easily be able to find the best unit that fits within your budget.

Expert AC Installation and Services

If you’re looking to upgrade or replace your AC, the cooling experts at Vastola Heating & Cooling can make it easy to choose the best unit for your home. We are a Lennox Premier Dealer and carry a range of HVAC equipment suitable for any home and any budget. Our technicians also specialize in repair and maintenance services for any type of heating or cooling equipment from any brand. We are located in Orchard Park and have been providing professional HVAC services to customers throughout Erie County for more than 75 years. If you have any questions about SEER ratings or any of the other services we provide, give us a call today, and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.