Understanding SEER Ratings

understanding seer ratingsWhat is the SEER rating of your existing air conditioning unit? If you’re like most homeowners, you probably don’t a have a clue or even know what a SEER rating is, but it’s something you should definitely learn more about if you’re in the market for an A/C upgrade. As of January 2015, all air conditioning units must have a minimum SEER rating of 14, but systems can go as high as 25. So, which do you choose? The answer isn’t as simple as you may think.

What Does SEER Mean?

First, let’s start with the basics. SEER is short for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It measures cooling efficiency in air conditioners and heat pumps, calculated by the cooling output divided by the total electric energy input over the same time period of time (cooling season). The higher the SEER rating, the greater the energy efficiency.

Where Do You Find the SEER Rating?

If you’re wondering what your current A/C SEER rating is, you can find out without too much effort; most A/C units have a yellow “Energy Guide” sticker that displays the SEER rating. If your sticker is missing or too worn to read, you can also check the model number on your unit. It should start with something like “15AC” or similar, which simply means your A/C has a SEER rating of 15.

Which SEER Rating is Right for Me?

Here’s where things get a little complicated; you would expect that choosing the highest SEER rating would be the best, but it’s not the only thing to consider when upgrading you’re A/C system. A 14 SEER unit can keep your home at the same temperature as a system with a higher rating, but the costs of purchasing the units and the energy to run them will be different. It’s important to consider both the immediate and long-term investment when deciding which SEER rating is right for you. To do this, you simply need to use a little math.

Determine Your Annual Energy Costs

Let’s say that you currently have an air conditioner that needs replacing. You could go with a 14 SEER system, but you’re thinking about upgrading to an 18 SEER unit. First, take the BTUs (we’ll use a 3 ton for this example) and divide by the SEER rating. Next, take that number and divide by 1,000 to determine the number of kilowatts consumed per hour (kWh). To find the annual kilowatt consumption, multiple the kWh by the total hours of operation (we’ll use 2920, which is 8 hours per day). Finally, multiply the annual consumption by the cost per kWh ($.10361 for JEA residential customers).

14 SEER Unit

  • 36000 BTU ÷ 14 SEER = 2571 Watts
  • 2571 ÷ 1000 = 2.6 kWh
  • 8 kWh × 2920 hours = 7592 kWh
  • 7592 kWh × $0.10361 (cost per kWh) = $786.61 annual cost

18 SEER Unit

  • 36000 BTU ÷ 18 SEER = 2000 Watts
  • 2000 ÷ 1000 = 2 kWh
  • 2 kWh × 2920 hours = 5840 kWh
  • 5840 kWh × $0.10361 (cost per kWh) = $605.08 annual cost

Consider Your Initial Investment

The 18 SEER A/C system will save you approximately $181.53 each year in energy costs, which is great, but you’ll also need to factor in the price of each unit to see if there is any advantage to upgrading. For this comparison, let’s assume the 14 SEER is $4,000 and the 18 SEER is $7500.

$7,500 – $4,000 = $3,500 (difference in initial cost)

Look at the Long-Term Investment

Now, divide the difference between the price of the two units by the average annual savings to see how long it will take to recoup your investment.

$3,500   $181.53 = 19.2 years

Although the higher rated unit may save you money on annual energy costs, it would take you nearly 20 years to see that investment pay off. If you don’t plan on living in your home for that period of time or longer, it may make more financial sense for you to purchase the lower SEER unit.

Ask the Experts!

If math isn’t your favorite thing, or you still have questions about SEER ratings and which new A/C system may be right for you, contact a trusted heating and air expert, such as Cool Connections. Cool Connections is Jacksonville’s go-to HVAC company. We employ only the best NATE certified technicians and offer competitive rates on A/C installation and tune-ups, duct cleaning, dryer vent cleaning and other A/C services. Please contact us online or call 904-908-5252 to schedule a free consultation today!