SEER is an acronym for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and is used to measure the efficiency of your central air conditioning system. Explained in the simplest of terms, the higher a unit’s SEER is, the more efficient the unit is over the course of a “cooling season”. In more technical terms, SEER represents the measure of total cooling in BTUs of a central air conditioning unit or heat pump during the season as compared with the total energy input in watt-hours consumed during the same period. The “control” factor is the fact that the measure of efficiency is specific to the temperate climate in the middle of the United States.
So What’s a “Good” SEER rating?
When you’re buying an air conditioning unit with an Energy Star Label, you’ll notice that it lists the SEER rating. The model number also lists the unit’s rating. For example, a model number beginning with 20AC tells you that the unit’s SEER rating is “20”.
The minimum federally-regulated SEER number is 13 or 14 depending on where you live, and the ratings go up to 25, so you would surmise that a unit rated 18 is better than a unit rated 14, but there’s more to the story than just the number!
What Else to Consider
The size of your home and where it’s located will also factor in to determining a good SEER rating for an air conditioning unit for your home. Energy Star has a handy calculator tool to help you determine what range of SEER ratings you should be looking for in a new air conditioner. However, there are general guidelines for helping you decide on whether a SEER rating is good based on your geographic location …
Where You Live Matters
Here’s a general breakdown of acceptable SEER ratings for each of the three climate-based geographical areas of the U.S.:
Most of the U.S. — including all of Alaska — falls into this climate-based region. The new minimum SEER ratings for this area are 14 for packaged HVAC systems and 13 for split systems (aka part of the unit is inside the house, and part is outside the house). Heat pumps have a minimum SEER rating of 14.
If you live in Arizona, California, Nevada, or New Mexico, you’re in the Southwest in terms of SEER ratings. In this region, the minimum SEER rating for AC units is 14. The same rating — 14 — applies to all heat pumps.
The Southern region is made up of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as Hawaii and the District of Columbia. The minimum SEER rating for your area is also 14 for both air conditioning and heating units.
One more detail to consider: If you have an HVAC gas pack instead of a standard heat pump, it must be rated at least 14, no matter what part of the country you call home.
Finally, make sure that you get a unit that’s the right size for your home. Installing a system that’s too small will make it work overtime, and that will ultimately have the opposite effect on your energy bill from the one that you’re looking for. Similarly, buying a unit that’s too big isn’t going to make it more efficient. And making sure that your home is properly insulated will go a long way toward saving you money on your energy bills, too.