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If you’re in the market for a new air conditioning unit, you may have heard that its SEER rating is something you should consider when choosing a replacement. You may not, however, understand what a SEER rating is and why it’s essential.

In a nutshell, a SEER rating can help you compare different units in terms of their efficiency and cost-effectiveness over time. But what, specifically, do SEER numbers mean, and why should you care? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you uncover what you need in a SEER rating and how it will affect your overall costs and comfort level.

SEER Rating Explained

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. A SEER rating relates to the amount of energy and cost; an AC unit will require to operate over one year. This ratio is derived by dividing your annual cooling output by the total electric energy input. The higher the SEER rating of an AC unit, the higher its energy efficiency.

The standard minimum SEER rating is 13. However, the US Department of Energy enforces minimums based on your geographical region. In southwestern and southeastern states, the minimum is 14, while the minimum in the northern states is 13. SEER ratings for modern air conditioners typically range from 13 to 21. Therefore, you’ll run across units that go above and beyond minimum requirements. But, are super high SEER ratings worth the extra bucks?

What to Look for in a SEER Rating

Although the general rule is that a higher SEER rating means higher energy efficiency, your system’s actual efficiency will vary depending on the size of your home and your existing ductwork, among other factors. There is no magic SEER number that will be appropriate for every homeowner in all situations. Moreover, a SEER rating of 13 or 14 doesn’t necessarily mean inefficiency. With most older air conditioners having ratings of 8 or 9, even a unit with the lowest available rating will be significantly more efficient.

It’s also important to understand that a SEER ratio refers to the maximum efficiency of a unit. Similar to miles per gallon for your vehicle, your unit’s efficiency will vary due to conditions. For instance, a car with an MPG rating of 25 on the highway will get fewer miles per gallon when you’re in stop and go traffic. However, starting with a higher SEER rating will still give you more comfort per energy dollar overall.

What Makes an AC Unit Have a Higher SEER?

The bottom line is that a higher SEER will mean more indoor comfort during the hotter months, especially in the Southwest or Southeast. Units with higher SEER ratings typically have two specific components to provide a higher comfort level: a 2-stage or variable-speed compressor and a variable-speed blower.

AC units with lower SEER ratings are generally single-stage and run on one speed only. This means that they will turn off and on frequently during milder weather, which means you may notice uneven cooling, as well as hot and cold spots. You will also likely experience increased humidity levels, making your home feel hotter than the set temperature. Higher SEER units will run for longer periods and remove the humidity from your indoor air.

Buying a new air conditioner is a significant investment, and you want to get your money’s worth. However, there’s no one-all-be-all SEER rating. Ultimately, the best number for your home will depend on your specific needs. Any rating above 13 is excellent, especially when considering that your old unit’s rating probably wasn’t over a 9. The price tag of a new higher efficiency unit may be shocking initially, but it will pay off in the long run. Also, consider looking into manufacturers’ rebates and tax credits to help lessen the blow. And remember, choosing a higher SEER rating means you can feel good about easing the Earth’s impact as well.

Billy Henley
Billy Henley is the Vice President of Operations for BHI Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. Before becoming vice president, he worked six years in the field as a service technician and has over ten years of experience working in the industry. Billy often shares his knowledge about plumbing and HVAC issues on industry publications.