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What Your AC SEER Rating Actually Means

When an HVAC unit works efficiently, it will consume less energy while making your home feel comfortable. A factor that helps you determine an air conditioner’s efficiency is its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. Understanding what this rating means for you before an AC installation will help you make an informed decision about the cooling unit that best meets your needs.

Our HVAC experts in Portland have compiled all you need to know about your HVAC SEER rating. Read on to learn how to find your unit’s SEER rating, how SEER ratings affect your AC unit, and more.

What Does SEER Rating Mean?

How SEER ratings affect your A/C unit.An AC’s SEER rating relates to how much energy and money the unit will use during operation over the course of a year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, SEER refers to the “relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output.” SEER ratings are important for homeowners because increasing your system’s efficiency can lead to savings in energy consumption and lower monthly costs.

How to Find the SEER Rating for Air Conditioners

  • Take a look at your cooling system and locate the yellow and black EnergyGuide label, which is usually affixed to the side of the condenser. 
  • If you can’t find the label on the side, check inside the appliance.
  • Some manufacturers include the SEER rating in the front part of the model number on the data plate.
    • Look out for “XC14” followed by the dashes and numbers that make up the rest of the model number—this would mean the SEER rating is 14.
  • Alternatively, you can check the seller’s or manufacturer’s websites.

How to Calculate SEER Ratings

If you’ve tried all the steps above and still can’t find your unit’s SEER rating, you can easily calculate it yourself. 

SEER ratings are ratios derived by calculating the annual cooling output during the cooling season divided by the total electric energy input. The total cooling output is the AC’s British thermal unit per hour (BTU/h) multiplied by the number of cooling hours per day and the number of cooling days per year. For example:

6,000 BTU/h x 10 cooling hours per day x 200 days per year = 12,000,000 BTUs per year

Estimated Annual Energy Use

Using the example above, if an air conditioner has a SEER rating of 15 BTU per watt-hour (Wh), you could calculate the estimated annual energy use as follows:

12,000,000 BTUs per year ÷ 15 BTU/Wh = 800,000 Wh per year

Annual Average Power Use

To calculate the annual average power use, divide the A/C’s BTU/h by the SEER rating. For example:

6,000 BTU/h ÷ 15 SEER = 400 watts (or 0.4 kilowatts)

The Cost of Electricity When Using the AC

To calculate the cost of electricity when using the AC, multiply the average kilowatts from the formula above by your local electricity rate in kilowatts per hour (kWh). For instance: 

0.4 kW x $0.25 kWh = $0.10 per hour 

The EnergyGuide label on the HVAC unit will also indicate the amount of energy the equipment consumes.

What is a Good SEER Rating?

The US Department of Energy sets the minimum SEER rating by region. Currently, the minimum SEER for air conditioners is 13 or 14 depending on where you live. The good news is that many modern units have ratings between 13 and 21. 

When looking at the SEER rating, you may be wondering if an AC unit with a high SEER ratio is worth it. Higher SEER units prove better cooling power and lead to more comfortable spaces. These units also offer more consistent cooling and don’t require your AC to frequently turn on and off to maintain temperatures. 

If you want to replace a 20-year-old air conditioner with a new one that has the minimum SEER rating, there’s a good chance that your energy efficiency will improve instantly. In general, good SEER values for residential air conditioners are 14 to 16.

Looking for other ways to improve your energy efficiency? Check out our guide to energy-efficient heating and cooling.

How SEER Ratings Affect Your AC Unit

Before an AC installation, keep in mind that a SEER ratio indicates the unit’s maximum potential. This means that when a unit states that it has a value of 21 SEER, for example, the rating can be as high as 21 SEER. It will not always perform at 21 SEER because of other variables such as outdoor temperatures, thermostat settings, building envelope, and current ductwork.

SEER ratings are variable, which means that HVAC units with the highest SEER values may not save you money in the future or “pay for themselves.” If equipment rated at 21 SEER performs at an average of 15 SEER, it may be wiser to save money and purchase an AC with a lower SEER rating. 

An HVAC specialist can help you determine the most appropriate SEER rating for your new AC unit using special equations that average the maximum Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) over the range of expected seasonal temperatures. In general, good SEER values for residential air conditioners are 14 to 16.

Other Factors to Consider in an AC Unit

While SEER ratings are an important factor when buying an air conditioner, it is also necessary to consider:

  • Your budget
  • The size of your home
  • The size of the air conditioning unit and its air handling capacity
  • EER ratings
  • Ease of maintenance
  • Lifetime costs, including energy, maintenance, and repairs
  • A unit’s quality and life expectancy
  • The manufacturer’s history of reliability
  • Warranty terms

The implementation of SEER ratings have made air conditioners more energy efficient and Earth-friendly, creating a win-win situation for all. When planning a new AC installation, contact the specialists at AAA Heating and Cooling to learn more about the options available and receive expert help with determining the best SEER rating for your comfort and energy savings goals.