Should I be shopping for an Air Conditioner with a higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) rating? It’s no surprise that this question pops up frequently because homeowners are always looking for ways to lower their electric bills. As with anything, there are trade-offs. You will pay a little more for an AC with a higher SEER, but you’ll spend less money on operation.
A big part of the energy revolution has been focused on making residential heating and cooling systems more efficient, smarter, and cleaner. A high SEER rating system gives all those advantages.
What is SEER?
SEER ratings are a way to calculate the efficiency of an air conditioner. The acronym stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It’s the output during a typical season divided by the total electric energy output during that same period.
The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the AC. For a unit with a SEER rating of 10, it would cost 10 cents per hour to operate. That’s assuming that electricity costs you 20 cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour) and that it’s a 5,000-BTU air-conditioning unit.
The higher the SEER rating, the higher the price. That’s because you will save the life of the unit with lower operating costs. Say you’re trying to decide between SEER 13 and SEER 16.
Both are 3-ton (36,000-BTU) AC size. If the climate were the same, with each unit running the same number of hours, the SEER 13 would cost you about $500/year to operate, while the SEER 16 would cost $95 less each year.
How many years of SEER savings would you need to make up the difference in the purchase price? Probably not that many, since the difference in price might be only a few hundred dollars.
Benefits of Upgrading to a Higher SEER Rating
Let’s take a look at what benefits a high SEER air conditioner has.
A SEER is kind of like the miles per gallon (MPG) rating for your car, applied to air conditioning. A unit with a SEER of 16 will use roughly half the energy of a SEER-8.
As of 2006, all AC units had to rate at least SEER-13. Now there are systems available that are rated as high as SEER-23.
If your AC is more than eight years old, it’s probably a no-brainer that an upgrade will save you money.
A higher SEER will also put out less carbon dioxide (CO2). So you might sleep a little easier knowing that you are making less of a contribution to climate change.
If you switch from a SEER-8 to a SEER-16, you will cut your CO2 emissions in half over the lifetime of the system. Even changing from a SEER-13 to a SEER-16 would save 30,000 pounds of CO2. That’s the equivalent of removing three cars from the road.
If you live in a warm climate such as Georgia or Florida, it makes even more sense to shop for a higher SEER. With the AC running most of the year, you can mitigate some of the environmental impacts by choosing the most efficient unit you can afford.
Should You Invest In a Higher SEER Air Conditioner?
The trade-off is that you’ll pay more for a higher SEER system. You can compute your payback period if you take the price difference between a low SEER air conditioner and a higher one, then divide your estimated monthly savings into that number. This will give you the payback period in months.
Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you can replace either the outside compressor or the inside evaporator without replacing the other. Aside from the obvious dysfunction of cobbling together two separate systems, there may be discrepancies in the type of coolant used by each unit. If you can afford it, go for the highest SEER rating possible. Consult your HVAC contractor before making the final decision.