Home cooling systems are getting more energy efficient with each new generation of air conditioning appliances – which is great news for you and our planet.
But how do you measure that efficiency?
One of the most important ways to quantify efficiency in A/C systems is through the use of a SEER rating. Don’t know what SEER is? Here are some basics (you can learn about some other efficiency terms here).
What does SEER mean? Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) measures the energy efficiency of your HVAC system that is, how efficiently it turns electricity into cool air. Just MPG in a car, the higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit is.
How is SEER measured? The SEER rating of an A/C unit is a ratio of cool air produced (measured in British thermal units, or BTUs) to total energy consumed (in watt hours).
What is a typical SEER rating? Federal law requires a minimum SEER rating of 13 for new central air conditioners (in some hotter areas of the country, the SEER minimum has been raised to 14). Most of today’s best-selling models offer SEER ratings between 14 and 18; ductless A/Cs (also called mini-split systems) can go a bit higher. Many older A/C models have a SEER rating of 7 or 8 – which means that it takes about twice as much energy to produce the same amount of cold air as does a new unit with a SEER rating between 14 and 16.
What is a “payback period?” A payback period is the time it takes to recoup the extra expense of buying a more efficient air conditioner (or any other home comfort appliance). In the case of replacing a 7 SEER unit with a 14 or 15 SEER unit, the payback period can be quite short, since you’ll save 40 percent or more on your monthly energy bills. When buying a new A/C unit, the price increases about 8-10 percent for every 1-point increase in SEER rating, all other factors (size, manufacturer, etc.) being equal. A typical payback period for choosing an 18 SEER central air conditioner over a 14 SEER model can be as little as 3 years, depending on the workload (the more you use your A/C, the faster the payback period will be).
What is Energy Star rating? The federal government began the Energy Star program to identify energy-efficient products. Currently, for a central air conditioner to meet Energy Star requirements it must be rated 14 SEER or higher.
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