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SEER Ratings and Your New Air Conditioner: What You Need to Know

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SEER. When you are in the market to buy a new air conditioner, this acronym is just one of many mysterious new terms you may encounter.

But few other terms will be as important for your carbon footprint or your bottom line.

SEER stands for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio.” In this post, we explore what SEER can mean for your energy bill and indoor comfort.

Where Do SEER Ratings Come From?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) developed the SEER rating system in partnership with the AHRI (Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute).

Every air conditioner sold commercially in North America is assigned a SEER rating. This is to help consumers like you choose the best air conditioner for the summer weather pattern in your local area—provided you understand what the SEER rating is trying to tell you.

In the U.S., there is also complementary program called Energy Star that evaluates the overall efficiency of many appliances, including air conditioners.

What About Canada’s EER Rating?

In Canada, a similar rating system to SEER exists through the EnerGuide program.

In fact, recently, EnerGuide and Energy Star have partnered together to offer Canadian consumers as much information as possible about major appliance efficiency.

Through EnerGuide, each air conditioner also receives an EER (Energy Efficiency Rating). The EER rating measures the overall efficiency of an air conditioning unit relative to its peers, assuming a constant daily temperature of 95°F (35°C).

The higher the EER rating, the more efficient the air conditioner will be.

What Does “Seasonal” Really Mean?

The word “seasonal” in the SEER rating acronym doesn’t refer to summer versus winter. It refers to summer weather pattern differences in different areas of North America.

For example, in the United States, the entire country is divided into three regions: North, South, and Southwest. Summer weather patterns differ from one region to the next, which influences the minimum SEER rating required for air conditioners sold in each region.

The goal of using a seasonal efficiency rating versus an overall efficiency rating is to ensure customers are selecting the right air conditioner to deliver top energy efficiency for their unique weather patterns.

What’s In a SEER Rating?

The SEER rating formula is designed to measure an air conditioner’s total cooling output (BTU) divided by its total energy input (in watts per hour) over a typical warm weather season of usage.

The SEER rating for an individual air conditioner will typically appear on that unit’s Energy Guide label. It will look like this: “13AC.” This translates to “13 SEER.”

13AC or 14AC is currently the minimum SEER rating required for new air conditioning units manufactured for sale in most areas within North America. However, SEER ratings can go much higher to accommodate the energy efficiency needs for different-size spaces.

A (Sort Of) Easy Formula to Calculate A/C Operations Costs

If you are mathematically inclined, you may really enjoy the U.S. Department of Energy’s formulas for calculating overall SEER energy efficiency.

For the rest of us, we highly recommend the AHRI’s simpler formula for calculating the annual cost of operating air conditioners with different SEER ratings:

SEER (capacity) * Hours (1000) * Electricity rate in your area = Annual cost of operation

P.S. If you promised yourself you would never make yourself calculate anything ever again after completing your education, the AHRI also states that talking with a reputable HVAC company is a great way to estimate annual operating costs for a new air conditioning unit.

SEER’s Impact on A/C Pricing

In some ways, SEER ratings present a catch-22: you will pay more initially to purchase an air conditioner that bears a higher SEER rating. But you will make that money back over the long run with more efficient operation and lower monthly utility bills.

Or at least that is the running theory.

What is critical to understand here is that a higher SEER rating is not always the best choice. Several factors can combine to determine whether purchasing an A/C unit with a higher SEER rating will really deliver the level of cost savings that will justify the purchase price.

These factors include:

  • How long you plan to reside in your current home. The longer you stay, the more savings you will reap and the more that higher SEER rating will save you in utility bills.

  • If the new A/C unit is sized appropriately for your property. Buying a unit that is too small or too large can negate a higher SEER rating.

  • If your your home is prepared to make the best use of a higher SEER rated A/C. On average, you will receive 5 percent greater energy efficiency with each single digit increase in SEER rating, provided your home is ready to make full use of it.

How to Choose the Right SEER Rating

So you now know what SEER stands for and how it complements Canada’s EER rating. You know what you need to do to create the most efficiency-friendly home space for your new A/C unit.

Now, how do you know you are choosing the right SEER rating for your needs?

The right SEER rating for you will depend on a number of factors:

  • The daily impact of sunshine on your home

  • The total volume of interior space

  • The age, condition, and orientation of your windows

  • The age and condition of your home

  • The amount of shade your home receives

This stage is when most people will begin consulting with a professional HVAC provider to ensure the right match in overall cooling capacity (tonnage) and energy efficiency (SEER) for their home space.

Give Us a Call

If you are ready to tackle SEER in earnest in your search for a new air conditioner, we can help! Give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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