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What Is a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) Rating and Why Does It Matter?

If you’re shopping for a new air conditioner, you have undoubtedly come across the term “SEER rating.” Besides cooling capacity, the SEER rating is the most important specification to consider when replacing your AC unit. Here’s a closer look at what SEER means and how this rating can affect your costs and comfort level for years to come.

What Is a SEER Rating?

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It measures how effectively a cooling system uses electricity to remove heat from the air throughout a typical season. Like a car with high gas mileage, a better SEER rating means you get more comfort from every dollar you spend on air conditioning.

SEER is calculated by taking the amount of heat removed from the air (measured in British thermal units, or BTU) and dividing it by the amount of energy consumed (measured in watts). Keep in mind that the SEER rating is the maximum efficiency an air conditioner can achieve. Like gas mileage, real-world performance may be lower depending on the operating conditions.

The U.S. Department of Energy enforces a minimum SEER rating for newly installed air conditioners. In the Northern U.S., including Pennsylvania, the minimum rating is 13 SEER, which will no longer be legal in a few short months. The more cooling-intensive Southern U.S. has a minimum rating of 14 SEER. Central air conditioners must be rated 15 SEER or higher, regardless of region, to qualify for the ENERGY STAR® rating. Still, the highest-efficiency AC units available today are rated 21 SEER or higher.

Is a Higher SEER Rating Worth it?

High-end air conditioners rely on advanced features to boost efficiency. These components cost more than standard parts, raising the purchase price. However, if you’re willing to invest more upfront, you stand to benefit in big ways.

Lower Energy Bills

The primary reason to invest in a more efficient air conditioner is to lower your electricity costs. Because high-efficiency ACs operate more cost-effectively, they usually pay for themselves in just a few years.

Consider your old 10 SEER air conditioner you’re looking to replace. If you install a 13 SEER unit, you could save 23% compared to what you’re paying now. This amount is substantial, but the savings skyrocket to 52% if you invest in a system rated 21 SEER. While we recommend higher efficiency air conditioners, you should know that operating cost savings alone will not pay for a 20 SEER AC in our climate over 10 years.

Boost in Home Comfort

Saving money is great, but what impact does a high-efficiency air conditioner have on your daily comfort? Consider that the average air conditioner uses single-stage cooling. This means it has two settings: on and off, resulting in temperature swings that may leave you feeling chilly one moment and overheated the next.

AC units with high SEER ratings operate at multiple speeds, making them more like a car air conditioner. They run longer, switching from high to low speed as needed to provide more even cooling. A longer run time also removes humidity more effectively, preventing that unpleasant cool-but-clammy feeling.

The Bottom Line

There is no magic SEER rating that’s right for every home and climate. If your current unit is over a decade old, installing anything above 13 SEER will save you money. We recommend working with an HVAC company to calculate your lifetime costs for maximum long-term savings.

For more information on SEER ratings, turn to Jack Lehr Heating, Cooling & Electric. We have served Allentown, Macungie, Bethlehem, and Easton, PA, with honesty and integrity since 1974. Our technicians would be happy to help you select a new air conditioner that lowers your utility bills and boosts home comfort for many summers to come.

Contact us at (888) 454-7365 to speak with a knowledgeable HVAC technician about your home cooling needs.

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