Choosing a new air conditioner involves a lot of different factors. What is your budget range? What size should you choose? What features do you need? Which features are simply “nice to have?” However, when it comes to all of these different decisions and factors, two extremely important factors need to be considered above all others: unit size and unit efficiency. In this blog, we’re going to talk about the latter.

An air conditioner’s efficiency is graded by a rating known as a “seasonal energy efficiency ratio” or SEER rating. Essentially, this number tells you how much energy you can expect to consume over a typical year based on average use. Manufacturers calculate this value by taking the amount of cooling output that the system will generate during a typical season and dividing it by the amount of energy that’s input over that stretch. The more cooling performed with the same amount of energy, the better the ratio.

Typical Seer Ratings

As little as just a few years ago, the most basic air conditioners had SEER ratings as low as eight to ten. However, legislation demanding better energy efficiency and environmental protection has driven the development of new technology and fueled the rise of a more energy-efficient market. Today, the lowest SEER rating you’re able to buy in California is 14. By the year 2023, the lowest SEER rating you’ll be able to buy in southern states across the country is 15 (including California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and more).

However, these are not the only available models: loads of different options on the market have SEER ratings as high as 16, and some of the ultra-efficient air conditioning models have energy ratings as high as 25! As technology continues to improve, this will also only continue to rise, so don’t be surprised if there are systems with SEER ratings as high as the 30s within a few decades or so.

It’s also important to remember that a 14 SEER-rated system is not the “bottom of the line” in terms of energy efficiency. While this may be the minimum you’re allowed to buy, that doesn’t mean these systems are inefficient. As stated previously, many older systems had ratings as low as eight or nine, and odds are you may still have one of these systems in your home. Even buying a 14 SEER system to replace your old setup will be a huge jump in efficiency!

Higher Seer Is Better, Right?

First, a note about seemingly high SEER ratings. Think of your system’s SEER rating the same as an MPG rating on your car: they are maximum values based on a system’s capabilities. In other words, you can reach these numbers, but it depends entirely on how you use it. In other words, a system with a SEER rating of 21 will not always function at that maximum efficiency capacity. Many times it will be lower than that, so don’t be surprised if your seemingly ultra-efficient system doesn’t save a ton of energy if you proceed to drive it super hard for hours on end during the hottest days of the month.

As such, the pressing question for most homeowners becomes this: is a higher SEER rating always better? The surprising answer for most customers: no, it isn’t. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Energy efficiency is not guaranteed. As stated previously, SEER ratings are maximum values, which means that you may not necessarily save the bundle of energy that a 20+ SEER-rated system advertises, particularly if you push your system to its limits. As a result, you won’t notice nearly as sharp of a drop in your energy consumption.
  • High-SEER systems are expensive. Jumping from a 14 or 15 SEER system to an 18 or 20 could as much as double the cost of an air conditioner at a particular size, which makes the purchase extremely expensive. If you aren’t going to maximize the savings by running your system efficiently, or your demands are too great for maximum system efficiency, the investment may not be worth it.
  • Your heat pump is just one component. The SEER rating for your system is usually assigned to your heat pump, which is what consumes the majority of the energy. However, the heat pump is just one part of a much larger machine. If you don’t have the most efficient blower fans, heat-transfer coils, or refrigerant, your whole system efficiency will also suffer.

Why Buy A High-Seer System?

All of this is not to discourage you from buying a high-SEER system if you want to make the effort to save energy and save money. If utilized properly, this equipment can save you a ton on your electric bills each month. However, if you wish to make this upgrade, you’ll need to be prepared to buy much more than just a heat pump—you’ll likely need to replace other components as well to make your entire system properly utilize this efficiency.

However, if you have a lower budget and simply need to replace your dated or broken down air conditioning system, our Los Angeles air conditioning experts are likely going to recommend a lower-SEER system that can handle your demands without significantly elevating your costs.

For more information about choosing the right air conditioner, call JW Plumbing, Heating and Air today at (213) 444-2115 to request an estimate or speak with a skilled member of our team!

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