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What Is a SEER Rating?

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If you’re shopping for a new AC, you might feel confused by how many different units there are to choose from. One way to narrow down your choices is by looking for a unit with a higher SEER rating. But what is SEER rating? Think of it as an indicator of how efficient your heating and cooling system is—and the more efficient, the better.

If you’ve never heard of SEER ratings before, you aren’t alone. Lots of people aren’t familiar with the term. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It’s calculated by dividing an AC unit’s total BTUs of cooling output during a given period of time by its total watt-hours of energy input during the same time period.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do complicated math to understand that a higher SEER rating means better AC unit efficiency. The concept is pretty simple. When your heating and cooling system runs more efficiently, it uses less electricity to keep your home comfortable. That’s why an efficient system means you pay less each month when the utility bill comes due.

History of SEER Ratings

SEER ratings and efficiency standards are set by the U.S. Department of Energy. Since the year 2005, AC units have a required minimum SEER rating of 13. In 2015, that was increased to 14 for units in southern states, where hotter temperatures require more frequent AC use. In 2023, that minimum requirement will go up again, to 14 in northern states and 15 in southern states. As far as upper limits, for most AC units currently on the market, the highest SEER rating is 21. Although, there are split systems with SEER ratings as high as 25.

Another important thing to understand about SEER ratings is that they aren’t static. Similar to highway miles-per-gallon ratings for cars, SEER ratings indicate the highest efficiency that a heating and cooling system can reach under optimal circumstances. But circumstances aren’t always optimal, especially if you live in a region with hotter summers.

This means that even if you have an AC unit with a high SEER rating, it won’t always be able to perform at that maximum efficiency level. Everything from how hot it is outside to how often you change your AC filters can affect your heating and cooling system’s actual, day-to-day efficiency.

a homeowner calculating the optimal SEER rating for their home

What SEER Rating Does Your Home Need?

AC units with higher SEER ratings cost less to run over time, but they can cost quite a bit more up front to buy. When shopping for a new AC unit, each person has to decide what they can afford as compared to how much efficiency their home actually needs.

It’s also important to understand that a unit with a lower SEER rating doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work well for your home. The idea that a lower SEER rating means an AC unit isn’t as good as a higher-rated one is a myth. Maybe you live in a smaller home that has “green” or energy-efficient features, for example. Maybe you live in a drier or more temperate climate. In any of these cases, a less expensive AC unit with a lower SEER rating could work fine for your needs.

When To Get a Higher Seer Rating AC Unit

If you live someplace that gets very humid and hot, however, and you plan to be in your home for many more years, you might want to spring for an AC with a higher SEER rating. It may be worth the extra money you paid for it up front if its higher efficiency helps you save on your electricity bill.

Of course, the idea that AC units with higher SEER ratings pay for themselves over time is another common myth. This can be true in some cases, but it isn’t always true for everyone who springs for a more expensive, higher-rated unit. If you don’t live in the home very long, for example, your monthly electricity bill savings won’t have time to catch up to the higher initial cost of the unit.

Any new AC unit is a big-ticket item. It’s important to feel good about your purchase, and confident that you got the right one for your home. If you’re still confused about which unit to buy, a specialist can advise you on the right AC unit for your home. Their advice should take SEER ratings into account as well as your particular house and climate. They can also determine how many tons of AC per square foot you’ll need. An HVAC specialist can also give you tips about other ways to keep your system running efficiently.

AC insulation

How to Make Your AC System More Efficient

There are a lot of factors that influence the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling system. Your AC’s efficiency actually changes from day to day and month to month. That’s why SEER ratings indicate a unit’s efficiency under optimal conditions, rather than under any conditions, forever. Any AC unit will run less efficiently as it ages, for example. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your AC system more efficient over time.

Sign Up For Ongoing Maintenance

One important part of AC maintenance is having your system checked every year by a specialist. A heating and cooling specialist can head off expensive problems before they develop by keeping your AC system in great shape. They will inspect your entire system and will perform any needed cleaning of your units. They will also make recommendations about any AC repairs that will keep your system running optimally.

Change Your Air Filters

Another simple yet important thing you can do to maintain your AC’s efficiency is to change your AC filters. It’s wise to check your filters at least once every three months. If you live in a home with lots of dust or pet hair, you may need to change your filters even more often than that. Conversely, if you use a high-quality filter and don’t have pets or young children, you may be able to change your filters less frequently.

Close Your Blinds

One more simple way to keep your AC running efficiently is to keep your blinds or curtains closed during the hottest parts of the day. This acts as a bit of insulation, keeping as much sunlight and heat out of your home as possible. In winter, you can keep blinds or curtains open on windows that get direct sunlight. Just be sure to close them on all other windows to keep the warmth in.

Check Your Insulation

Increasing the insulation around your HVAC system can also help it run more efficiently. If your home itself is well insulated, it will be easier for your AC system to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. It’s also important to make sure your AC’s ductwork is properly insulated. This is something an HVAC professional can check for you during a routine maintenance visit. They can let you know if you should add insulation to your attic or other areas.

Get A Programmable Thermostat

If you don’t yet have a digital, programmable thermostat installed in your home, you should consider having one installed. This is yet another way to keep your AC running efficiently. You can program your heating and cooling system according to the hours when you’re actually at home or when you’re likely to be sleeping. Even minor changes in degree settings can make a big difference in your AC’s efficiency as well as in your monthly bills.

Following these steps will go a long way toward keeping your heating and cooling system running as efficiently as possible. For more tips and ideas, reach out to your HVAC specialist.

What Is My Current AC Unit’s SEER Rating?

Many people don’t know what their AC unit’s SEER rating is, or where to look for it. It should be easy to find, however, as long as you know where to look. Just go to your main unit outside and look for its yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label. Manufacturers are required to put these stickers on all appliances. Your AC should have one, and it will display the unit’s SEER rating.

You can also check your AC unit’s model number. Often, the first two digits of the model number will be the unit’s SEER rating.

ABC Can Help Increase Your AC’s Efficiency

There are lots of ways you can make your system more efficient and save on your heating and cooling bill. However, it can be difficult to tell what’s worth the effort. Fortunately, ABC Home & Commercial Services can help. Our licensed professionals can inspect your system, including your insulation, and make recommendations based on your situation. This way, you can feel confident that your system is efficient.

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