The HVAC industry uses the SEER rating system as a way to measure HVAC efficiency. SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) which measures how much energy an AC system uses to effectively cool an area over a given period. Ideally, an AC system will cool a space while using as little energy as possible. Air conditioners with higher SEER ratings require less power to cool a space to desired temperatures.
“Seasonal” is the key word. The efficiency of your AC system will vary based on several external factors. Your AC may be less efficient at times when there’s temperature extremes, if it’s damaged, or older. It’s similar to a vehicle’s MPG rating, while a car can be rated for 25 mph on the highway, the actual mpg is dependent on internal and external conditions. The SEER rating represents the AC unit’s maximum efficiency.
The SEER rating is useful because it helps consumers understand how much energy their AC system will use and how it may impact one’s electric bill. If you’re in the market for an AC unit, comparing SEER ratings is a good method to compare different systems you’re considering.
How is the SEER Rating Calculated?
The SEER rating is calculated by this formula:
Cooling Output (BTUs) / Energy Output (kWs) = SEER Rating
BTU stands for “British Thermal Unit” which measures how much energy an AC uses during the cooling process. A 12,000 BTU system can absorb 12,000 BTUs per hour, while an 18,000 BTU system can absorb 18,000 BTUs per hour.
The SEER rating is determined after an AC system completes laboratory testing, in which the lab will replicate indoor and outdoor temperatures.
Why the SEER Rating Matters
Consumers carefully review the purchase price and installation costs of a new AC system but forget that the energy-efficiency of the unit will have a major impact on their electric bill for years to come. An AC unit with a higher SEER rating may cost more up front but could also generate much higher energy savings over a period of 10-15 years.
Older AC units (built more than 10 years ago) typically had SEER ratings between 8-10. Modern systems usually fall within the 14-21 range. If you have an older AC unit, you could save between 20-40% on energy costs by replacing your current system with a new one. Most AC systems tend to age out after 15-20 years, so a replacement may be warranted anyway.
Benefits of Having a High SEER Rating
AC units with a higher SEER rating will yield significant benefits:
- Reduced Energy Costs: AC units with higher SEER Ratings will operate more efficiently and can reduce your electric bill by a large margin. High-efficiency units typically have variable-speed compressors which can adjust how much power the unit needs to operate.
- More Comfortable: High-efficiency AC units are more effective at cooling your home and get it cooled faster.
- Smaller Environmental Impact: AC units with a higher SEER rating have a smaller environmental impact than units with a low rating. Many state and local governments offer rebates and incentives for replacing an older AC unit with a new one that has a smaller carbon footprint.
Things to Consider When You Are Purchasing Different SEER-Rated AC Units
The SEER rating can help you choose a replacement AC unit for your home. Take the following factors into consideration:
- Your Cooling Needs: You may want a higher SEER rating if you live in a warm or humid climate. 2-stage units are better at controlling the temperature and humidity, and typically have a SEER rating of 16.
- Size of Your Home: Larger homes require larger air conditioners that use more energy for cooling. SEER ratings do account for this by incorporating the larger BTU output into the formula.
- Your Budget: AC units with higher SEER ratings are more expensive. Make sure you account for the higher cost in your installation budget.
What is a Good SEER Rating for an Air Conditioner?
Most modern AC units have SEER ratings that range between 13 and 26. The average SEER rating is between 15 and 18. The HVAC industry is evolving rapidly, and the metrics used to measure efficiency may continue to evolve with it. However, a “good” SEER rating has traditionally been 14-15. Systems rated 16-19 were in the next class, while the most premium systems rated between 20-26.
What is the Minimum SEER Rating?
The minimum required SEER rating has changed over time. 10 was the minimum in 1992 before it was changed to 13 in 2006.
As of 2023, new AC units must be sold with a minimum SEER rating that varies depending on where they’re sold.
- Southeastern States (Minimum 15 SEER Rating): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas
- Southwestern States (Minimum 13 SEER Rating): Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico
- Northern States (Minimum 14 SEER Rating): All remaining states
Is a Higher SEER Rating Always Worth It?
AC units with a higher SEER rating can reduce your energy bill and will typically be more effective at producing a cool and comfortable home. A higher price tag might not be worthwhile if the unit won’t recoup the added cost in energy savings. This is often the case with AC units that have a SEER rating of 21 or higher.
Keep in mind that an AC system will mostly yield long-term savings, and it may take several years for the energy savings to offset the added cost.
What is a SEER2 Rating?
The SEER ratings are changing to reflect new testing methods that are more accurate, and which replicate real conditions that AC units operate in. SEER2 is a revised version of the SEER rating system that was introduced in 2016 and made the federal standard in January 2023. The original SEER rating will now be phased out by the U.S. Department of Energy.
While the original SEER rating was set nationwide, the SEER2 ratings are region-specific and better gauges the performance of AC systems in varied, real-world conditions. It also implements a new testing process for AC units that utilizes a higher static pressure on the air conditioner. The new formula generally lowers the SEER rating on most units. AC units that formerly received a SEER rating of 16 would now receive a rating of 15.5.
Contact Hurricane AC if You Are Ready to Upgrade Your AC
Contact Hurricane AC if you live in Southwest Florida and are planning on upgrading an AC unit in your home or commercial property. Our licensed air conditioning experts can help you find the AC unit that’s perfectly suited for your cooling needs, property size, and budget. We also offer an annual servicing plan so you can protect your warranty and investment.
SEER Rating FAQs
How much more efficient is a 20 SEER vs. 14 SEER?
In testing conditions, a 20 SEER unit is between 40-45% more energy efficient than an AC unit with a 14 SEER rating.
How much more efficient is a 16 SEER vs. 14 SEER?
In testing conditions, an AC unit with a 16 SEER rating is between 13-14% more energy-efficient than a unit with a 14 SEER rating.
Is 21 SEER worth the money?
AC units with a SEER rating of 21 are typically very expensive, and your energy savings may not recoup the extra cost. However, these AC units usually have excellent performance and may be more effective in producing a cool and comfortable home. They might be worthwhile to you if you’re not concerned about the extra cost.
Is 18 SEER worth the money?
An AC unit with an 18 SEER rating is about 12.5% more efficient than a unit with a 16 SEER rating. Your savings will amount to about $12.50 for every $100 you spend. Consider the cost of the 18 SEER unit compared to a unit with a lesser SEER rating, and calculate how long it would take for your savings to offset the added cost (keep in mind that well-maintained AC systems will last for 15-20 years).