SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, SEER is a method of rating central air conditioning systems that allows consumers to compare energy efficiency between various makes and models. The SEER. number for an air conditioning unit is required by law to be prominently displayed in manufacturer’s specifications and on the Energy Star label that is affixed to the air conditioner. The SEER minimum rating for air conditioners is mandated by the federal government and is currently at 13. All central air conditioners sold in the U.S.must meet this minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The rating is calculated by taking the maximum BTU tonnage provided by the air conditioner and dividing it by the amount of electricity in kilowatt hours consumed by the air conditioner during the season of highest demand.
The higher the SEER number, the greater the efficiency of the air conditioner. Generally speaking, the consumer can expect to gain between 5 percent and 9 percent efficiency for each number up the SEER scale. However, units with higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio ratings also have higher initial purchase price. This price will be gradually repaid with lower electrical utility bills over time. The longer life span of today’s A/C technology usually assures that the unit will remain operational long enough to repay the higher upfront cost. In an average residence, choosing a central air conditioner with a SEER rating of 18 instead of the minimum standard 13 will provide enough energy savings to pay back the cost differential in less than five years.
Some air conditioning units have SEER ratings as high as 20+. Units with SEER numbers higher than 13 are generally termed “high efficiency” air conditioners. In addition to greater economy, high efficiency units usually offer enhanced features not available on basic SEER 13 equipment. These includes dual-stage compressors, options for fan-only air circulation, super-quiet operation and longer warranties.
Air conditioners made before 2006 will usually have a SEER rating of 10 or less. Upgrading only to the current minimum standard of SEER 13 will potentially result in efficiency gains of almost 25 percent immediately. An upgrade to high-efficiency SEER 16 air conditioner may return up to 50 percent improvement in efficiency. In addition, more effective, consistent cooling and a wider array of features come along with higher efficiency. Consumers still operating A/C units below the current SEER minimum should seriously consider upgrading to the current standards.