So you’re deciding to replace the old cooling clunker in your backyard? Today, many homeowners are trying to be more energy efficient to lower their energy bills, gain savings with government and manufacturer’s rebates, reduce environmental impacts and improve home and family health by ensuring their air conditioning unit in operating at its highest level of efficiency. In order to accomplish this, research of air conditioning units by SEER ratings is the key.
You’ve probably seen the flyer ads advertising 13 SEER air conditioners and some of these ads show A/C’s as high as 18 SEER. Now there are reasons to consider these ads. Your A/C is a major electricity hog accounting for as high as 40% of your hydro bill during hot summer days. Replacing an inefficient air conditioning unit can prove to be a good way to reduce that bill.
But, before you get swept away with all the hype, there is a steep decline in ROI when pursuing higher SEER air conditioners. Not to mention that the actual efficiency of your A/C is highly influenced by other factors such as quality of the installation and yearly maintenance. Your attention is better directed should really focus on the practices and procedures of the contractor you are hiring to perform the work.
The quality of an A/C is very important, it truly deserves it own set of articles in order for one to fully grasp it’s implications. However, for the purpose of this article we’ll only focus on understanding SEER ratings and the return on investment.
How SEER Ratings Work
SEER rating = Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio
Most A/C manufacturer’s advertise their SEER ratings to give homeowners a quick idea how energy efficient their equipment is. To better understand SEER, it’s best to discuss EER rating first.
EER is determined by the average ratio unit’s cooling output divided by the energy (watt-hours). It is calculated based on a single indoor and outdoor temperature. In other words, it calculates how much electricity your AC uses at a set outdoor temperature.
However, in the real world the temperature outside is changing all the time. As the temperature drops, your air conditioner efficiency, and therefore EER rating, changes.
SEER ratings were developed to simulate the variety of outdoor temperatures you could expect in a season. The A/C is tested under a single indoor temperature (your thermostat setpoint in your home) and a variety of outdoor temperatures. The efficiency ratings are then averaged to determine the overall A/C SEER rating.
It’s important to note the SEER rating represents its maximum rating — it can be as high as its rating, but often it will lower. As mentioned before, there are other factors that influence an A/C efficiency, such as poor installation, lack of maintenance and even the varying temperature outside.
What Represents a Good SEER Rating for an Air Conditioner?
“Energy Star-qualified central AC units use as much as 20% less energy than the standard new central A/C units. The ENERGY STAR specification for central air conditioners requires that the EnerGuide SEER rating be 12.0 or greater for a single-package unit and 13.0 or greater for a split system.”
Compare that with older AC units ranging from 10-20 years old, there average SEER rating is anywhere from 8-12.
In Toronto, Canada, the most popular options are 13 SEER, 15, 16 and 18 SEER and the efficiency. Note, the higher the SEER rating, the bigger the AC. So larger AC options may not be an option for you if you have limited space to install one.
Do Higher SEER units pay for themselves?
You`ll hear many sales people push for more efficient and expensive higher SEER AC. They`ll often make outlandish claims that it will pay for itself in 10-15 years. The reality is that no one can make that claim with full confidence (they’re either lying or misinformed).
As we mentioned before, the SEER rating is greatly influenced by external factors. So, unless you expect to have those perfect conditions all the time (which is impossible) you’ll never be able to attain the ROI calculated by the AC`s max SEER rating.
A more realistic expectation is to get ⅓ of your ROI in 15 years. Note, that this is upgrading from 8 SEER to an 18 SEER. You’ll still get good energy efficiency just upgrading to a 13 SEER. An article by ASM Mechanical better breakdowns energy savings.
If you’re looking to get a higher SEER AC for a good ROI, look elsewhere...the payback is just not there.. But if you’re looking to upgrade to a higher SEER AC because you want to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment, than that’s a good enough reason to invest in a more expensive system. This is why we recommend a 13 SEER if your solely focused on a good ROI.
It’s easy to get caught up with hype terms like “Energy Efficiency” and “ROI” when sales people start swinging those words with conviction. But the reality is, they don’t fully understand the poor ROI higher SEER air conditioners offer considering their substantially higher price tag. Their incentive is to sell you a more expensive AC that equates to higher commission for themselves.
Instead, you should be more focused on the the quality of the A/C install and keeping the equipment maintained regularly. A dirty and clogged evaporator or condenser coil will decrease the airflow of your equipment and drive your electricity bills back to where they were before you had the equipment swapped out. To avoid poor performance and premature failure, choose a contractor that will do the job right. Getting it done right the first time will keep you cool all summer long.