Why SEER Matters
You’ve determined it’s time to replace your air conditioning system and as you begin researching the best new options available, you’re presented with a dizzying array of choices. Terms such as tonnage, SEER, and load capacity are discussed, and you don’t understand any of it, so, you’re just going to trust that the local AC repairman you called is going to sell you the best unit for your home. Hold on…purchasing a new air conditioning system is a huge investment!
Depending on where you live, the lifespan of an AC unit could last 10-15 years. Besides the upfront cost of a new unit and installation, the type of system you purchase will affect your monthly utility bills over the course of that unit’s lifetime. That’s 10 to 15 years’ worth of utility bills coming out of your wallet. The decision to purchase a new AC system is not one to be taken lightly, nor handed over to someone who may not have your best interests at heart.
Doing your due diligence to research the different types of air conditioning units is not only your responsibility as a conscientious consumer, but it’s also not that difficult. Here at Pricefixer.com, we believe in educating consumers, so they can make the best purchasing decisions for their home and their budget. Continue reading to discover the top five SEER rated AC units.
Where to begin
When shopping for a new air conditioner, you’re going to want to pay attention to the SEER number. SEER stands for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio,” which is a measurement of how energy efficient a particular AC system is. The higher the SEER, the greater its energy efficiency. The SEER number is important because it’s not only regulated and monitored by the U.S. Department of Energy, with minimum SEER ratings enforced across the nation, but also because the SEER number affects the cost of the unit. The higher the SEER rating, the more expensive the system. However, the higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient it is and, therefore, the more money you’ll save on utility bills over the lifespan of the unit. But, is the higher upfront cost really worth it? How much does a 16 SEER save over a 13 SEER or a 22 SEER over an 18 SEER?
In order to determine accurate cost savings across various SEER rated units, we simply need to do a little math. When trying to determine the best SEER rating for your home and budget, you’ll need to divide an AC unit’s rated BTUs by its SEER number to figure out how many watts per hour it consumes. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.
First, let’s get some basic definitions out of the way. BTU stands for “British Thermal Unit” and is used to measure heat energy. One BTU is approximately equal to the energy released by burning one match. As it relates to air conditioning, it’s a measurement of how much heat is removed from the air or, in other words, the “cooling power” of an AC unit. A 1-ton AC unit can remove 12,000 BTUs per hour; a 2-ton unit can remove 24,000 BTUs per hour, 3-ton, 36,000 BTUs per hour. Kilowatt is a measurement of energy typically used by large appliances to measure how much energy they use.
So, back to our formula:
If you’re looking at a 3-ton (36,000 BTUs) AC unit with a 16 SEER rating, divide the number of BTUs by the SEER rating:
36,000 BTUs / 16 = 2,250 watts
Since utility companies bill in increments of 1,000 watts, known as Kilowatt hours (kWh), to get the hourly wattage consumption number from the annual number of hours, we just need to divide 2,400 by 1,000, which equals 2.25 kWh.
36,000 BTUs / 16 = 2,250 (÷1,000) = 2.25 kWh
To determine your annual operating costs with a 16 SEER, you’ll need to know approximately how many hours your AC system is going to operate over the course of a year based on your geographical region. For example, the state of Florida uses an average of 2,800 hours of AC operation a year. Northern states, of course, will have a much lower average.
The next part of the math equation is to take the number of hours of operation and multiply it by the number of kWh consumed per hour (2.25 kWh) to get the annual consumption in Kilowatt hours.
2,800 x 2.25 kWh = 6,300 kWh in annual consumption
Now, it’s just a matter of converting these numbers to dollars to get an idea of the annual cost. If you look at your utility bill, you will be able to determine the total cost per kWh. For Florida residents, the average cost is 11.6 cents per kWh, which we’ll put into our formula as .116.
6,300 kWh x .116 cents = $730.80
The approximate annual cost of a 3-ton 16 SEER unit in Florida is $730.80.
Applying this same formula to the other SEER ratings results in the following costs:
13 SEER = $896.45
14 SEER = $834.74
15 SEER = $779.52
18 SEER = $649.60
22 SEER = $519.68
These saving look impressive and you may want to run out and purchase a 22 SEER, but, remember, the higher the SEER rating, the more expensive the unit. You will have to determine if the initial upfront cost of a more expensive unit will be worth it for you over its lifetime.
Some things to consider would be, do you plan to stay in your home for the next 10-15 years? What is your budget? Do you prefer to pay more now to save more later each month? Is it important to you to have energy efficient appliances to help benefit the environment?
If you only intend to stay in your current home for five years, then comparing prices of different SEER units with the annual operation costs figured out above can help you determine if it’s worth it to have a higher SEER unit. For example, if the total cost including installation fees of a 13 SEER unit is $4,200 and a 14 SEER unit is $5,000, then that’s a difference of $800. When comparing the annual operational costs of the two SEER numbers calculated above, the 14 SEER unit has an annual savings of $61.71 more than a 13 SEER ($896.45 – $834.74). However, if you plan to only be in your home for five years, then the total savings of having a 14 SEER over a 13 SEER is $308.55, meaning you haven’t even recouped half of the increased cost of the 14 SEER yet. However, after 13 years, the extra cost will be recouped.
Higher SEER Rated Units, Are They Right for You?
The minimum standard SEER number for the northern states is 13 and for southern states is 14. Some SEER ratings, however, go as high as 26. Typically, higher SEER units are the best option for those who live in a climate that is hot and humid for most of the year and cutting energy costs is a priority, or for those who are dedicated to helping the environment by reducing carbon emissions with energy efficient appliances. As technology continues to improve, there will no doubt be more efficient models for consumers to choose from.
In fact, according to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which was adopted by the United States in 2009, a framework of upgrades has been laid out that will continue until 2030 requiring manufacturers and installers to use progressively more efficient units. These changes will drive down costs and reduce environmental damage, which benefits everyone.
Therefore, the minimum SEER value will continue to increase, with the next one likely to go into effect in 2023, where northern states must have a minimum of SEER 14 and southern states a minimum of SEER 15.
The Impact of Standardized SEER Ratings
The mandatory upgrade from a SEER 12 to a SEER 13 that took place in 2006 represented a 30% increase in minimum energy efficiency for air conditioners. What does this mean in terms of reduced energy consumption? According to the DOE, 4.2 quadrillion BTUs will be saved between 2006 and 2030 by using a SEER 13 instead of SEER 12. This equates to the amount of annual energy used by 26 million U.S. households, resulting in savings to the consumer of over $1 billion by 2020! Also, the SEER 13 standard has significantly reduced fossil fuel consumption and limited air pollution. Fewer power plants needed to be built due to a SEER 13 standard, which means nitrous oxides emissions and greenhouse gas emissions were significantly reduces. As the minimum standard SEER rating increases, even more savings to the environment and consumers’ wallets will occur.
History of SEER Ratings – We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
Before 1980 ———-SEER 6 or less
1980 to 1985 ———SEER 7 or less
1986 to 1991———-SEER 8 or less
1992 to 2005 ———-SEER 10 – SEER 12
2006 to present ——SEER 13 or higher
That’s a lot of energy saved!