Everything You Need to Know About SEER Ratings

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) ratings are special ratings awarded to central air conditioners, heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits. Many consumers probably see these ratings without understanding what they are, how they’re calculated, what they really mean, or how they should use them to guide their purchase decisions. If you’re shopping for a new unit and are wondering how this system works, use this brief guide to learn everything you need to know about SEER ratings.

Why SEER Ratings Matter

The first step to learning how this system works is to understand why SEER ratings matter. Essentially, the SEER rating tells you how much cooling and heating the system provides compared to the amount of energy it uses. This is important because it tells you how efficient one HVAC unit is compared to other options on the market.

How SEER Ratings Are Calculated

Image via Flickr by Jan Tik

The system uses the unit’s total heat measured in British thermal units and the total amount of electricity used – measured in watt-hours — to calculate the SEER rating. The formula looks like this:

Btu / number of watt-hours consumed = SEER rating.

How to Use SEER Ratings

As a consumer, SEER ratings are a wonderful tool. Use them to quickly compare several units, assessing both the heating and cooling power of the system as well as how much energy it consumes. Another quick way to see whether an air conditioning unit meets your requirements is to look for the Energy Star label. This only goes on systems that have a SEER rating of 15 or higher.

In Florida, a unit that doesn’t have this label has a SEER rating of 14. Air conditioners and heat pumps sold in the state can’t have a lower SEER number. Outside of Florida, you shouldn’t see any units with a score lower than 13. In the current market, a score of 25 is the highest SEER rating you’ll find.

Is a Higher Rating Always Better?

The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the machine is. This is true across all types of systems, whether you’re interested in ductless, window units, or something else, and the same method of calculation is always used.

If efficiency is your priority, then yes — a higher SEER score is always better. It’s not uncommon for high-efficiency systems, such as ductless units, to have an energy efficiency ratio of 20 or higher. However, these systems are also quite a bit pricier, and sometimes, the utility savings won’t offset the initial cost until years of use. Also, keep in mind that all systems are capable of keeping your home at a certain temperature. Some will just require more energy to do so.

SEER ratings are important, and thankfully, the system is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. The calculations are also universal, so you can rely on the two-digit numbers to tell you how efficient any type of HVAC unit is. The next time you’re browsing for a new air conditioner or heater, keep this simple fact in mind: the higher the SEER number, the more efficient the appliance is.

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