What Does the SEER Rating Mean for Air Conditioners?

Central air conditioning is essential for people who live in Southern Arizona. When it’s time to buy a new central air conditioner, you will undoubtedly want one that performs efficiently and keeps your home cool without causing your utility bills to skyrocket. One way to evaluate the efficiency of a central AC unit is to check its SEER rating. Since SEER ratings can be a little confusing—and because there are many other factors to consider before choosing the best central air conditioner for your home—you’ll also want to consult a certified HVAC technician. An AC technician will answer all of your questions about AC efficiency and sizing. He or she will also be able to help you figure out the right choice for your home.

The Definition of SEER

SEER is an acronym that stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The SEER rating is a measurement of how much cooling capacity an AC has compared to its usage of energy. The cooling capacity is measured in Btu (British thermal units) per hour. It is compared to the rate of energy input, measured in watts. In other words, the SEER rating lets you know how much output (cooling capacity) the AC will have compared to its input (energy use). This lets you know how energy efficient the AC unit is. It can guide you in making a smart purchasing decision.

The Range of SEER Ratings

In general, the higher a SEER rating is, the more energy efficient the AC will be. The Department of Energy (DOE) has established minimum SEER ratings for different regions of the country. These minimum standards were designed to produce maximum energy savings for consumers and reduce adverse effects on the environment. In Arizona and the rest of the Southwest, consumers can only purchase a central AC with a minimum SEER rating of 14.

However, purchasing a system with this minimum standard still won’t provide you with optimum energy savings. To truly get an energy-efficient system, you should look for a higher SEER rating. Most AC manufacturers offer systems with a maximum SEER rating of 21. However, there are some units that go as high as 22.

The higher the SEER rating is, the better. A unit with a very high energy efficiency rating will understandably cost more than a less efficient unit, since it will utilize top-of-the-line technology. It’s similar to the cost of purchasing a hybrid car (more expensive) compared to a gas guzzler (less expensive). The initial expense of the hybrid car will be higher, but it will cost less to operate in the long run. However, you should be aware that other factors can affect the energy efficiency of your AC.

Beyond SEER: The Importance of Central AC Maintenance

Consider this: If you purchase a hybrid Toyota Prius, you’ll spend far less on gas than if you’d purchased a non-hybrid Honda Civic. However, what would happen if you drove the Prius on flat tires? It would get far lower gas mileage compared to the Civic (not to mention that you’d seriously damage your car). The same thing can happen to your central AC.

If you purchase an AC with a high SEER rating, yet fail to keep the AC maintained properly, it won’t achieve its maximum energy efficiency. Remember that the SEER rating is the maximum efficiency. Efficiency can change over time and in different conditions. If you don’t schedule routine service visits and fail to keep the filter clean, the AC will lose efficiency over time.

Beyond SEER: The Role of Proper Preparation for Installation

Another factor to consider is the installation of the unit itself. Before installing a new central AC, a certified technician should test the ductwork to see if it’s leaking. Leaky ductwork will definitely affect the efficiency of the AC.

The size of the AC also matters. Many people make the mistake of buying the biggest system they can afford, assuming that it will keep their home cool and comfortable. But in fact, an oversized system will be prone to short cycling. This refers to when the AC shuts itself off and turns itself back on at intervals that are far too short. A short cycling AC is not an energy-efficient AC.

Likewise, an AC system that’s too small will have to work too hard to try to cool down the home. It’s best to have a certified AC technician take precise measurements and determine exactly what size AC your home needs to operate at peak energy efficiency.

The best way to determine which central AC is right for your home is to request a free estimate from the certified technicians at Intelligent Design. We’ll explain your SEER rating options, take precise measurements, and recommend the right size unit to keep your home comfortable. Call us in Tucson at (520) 462-1538 to request your free estimate today!