How to Get an Energy Efficient Air Conditioner and Heat Pump
How Efficiency Ratings Can Save You Money
Depending on your local climate, cooling your home in the spring and summer can get expensive. Unless you’re into sweating, you’ll need to run your air conditioner, which will eat up electricity. The same principle applies for using a heat pump during the colder seasons.
That’s why finding an energy efficient air conditioner and heat pump is crucial to saving money. Efficiency tells you how much you get out of something versus how much you put into it. In the case of air conditioners and heat pumps, efficiency means how much heating or cooling you get for the amount of electricity used.
Two ratings are used to measure air conditioning and heat pump efficiency: SEER and HSPF. We’ll cover them in detail and explain how much you can save by switching to a higher efficiency level.
What is SEER?
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and represents the amount of heat an air conditioner removes divided by the amount of electricity it uses. The more heat an AC unit can remove per kilowatt used, the higher its SEER rating.
Important to note is that SEER is a seasonal ratio that measures efficiency only in warmer months. SEER ratings DO NOT apply to how the equipment performs in winter.
SEER vs EER: While the SEER rating will tell you how your unit will likely perform over the course of a summer, another rating, called EER, is used to compare units while keeping conditions constant. Because of the conditions typically used during testing of EER, EER often reflects efficiency at peak (although not necessarily extreme) use and, thus, is lower than SEER.
Being seasonal, SEER is best for measuring efficiency in climates with a distinct warm season. EER is a better efficiency measure for air conditioners in more stable climates.
What is a Good SEER Rating?
The U.S. Department of Energy sets regional efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps, which represent minimum efficiency levels for equipment. Good SEER ratings will be above these minimum levels. For central air conditioners, a good SEER rating is between 14 and 16. For ductless mini split air conditioners, a good SEER rating is 20 or more.
Use the SEER rating chart below to find out the percentage of savings you’ll see by moving from a lower SEER piece of equipment to a higher SEER. For example, if you upgrade from a 16 SEER air conditioner to a 17 SEER air conditioner, you will save an additional 6 percent on energy.
What is an HSPF Rating?
HSPF stands for Heating Season Performance Factor and represents the amount of heat that a heat pump adds to a space relative to how much electricity it consumes. In that sense, HSPF is the opposite of SEER. The more heat that a heat pump produces per kilowatt used, the higher its HSPF.
What is a Good HSPF Rating?
An HSPF higher than 9 is considered good. How high of an HSPF you go with should depend on how you plan to use your heat pump. If you live in a warmer climate and a heat pump will be your primary source of heating, then you should be fine with a lower HSPF. On the other hand, if you live in a colder climate and won’t be using your heat pump much, you should be fine with a higher HSPF since the unit will be working much harder.
Department of Energy Minimum Efficiency Requirements
As mentioned above, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) periodically updates minimum SEER, HSPF, and EER requirements. The table and map below indicate minimum ratings by equipment type and region. These standards apply to new equipment being manufactured. Existing equipment below these standards is fine to use.
|System Type||North Region||Southeast Region||Southwest Region|
|Split System Air Conditioners||13 SEER||14 SEER||14 SEER / 12.2 EER (<45k BTU) |
14 SEER / 11.7 EER (>45k BTU)
|Package Air Conditioners||14 SEER||14 SEER||14 SEER / 11.0 EER|
|Split System Heat Pumps||14 SEER / 8.2 HSPF||14 SEER / 8.2 HSPF||14 SEER / 8.2 HSPF|
|Package Heat Pumps||14 SEER / 8.0 HSPF||14 SEER / 8.0 HSPF||14 SEER / 8.0 HSPF|
|Package Gas/Electric Furnaces||14 SEER||14 SEER||14 SEER|
All or Nothing
An especially important point to remember about efficiency is that, in an air conditioner, both the outdoor condenser coil and the indoor evaporator coil should be the same size. Both should have the same efficiency rating. If the indoor evaporator coil has a SEER of 17 but the outdoor coil has a SEER of 16, the whole system will have a SEER of only 16. The lesson here is not to mix and match equipment because the efficiency rating is only as good as the weakest link in the system.
Choosing an efficient air conditioner or heat pump, whether it’s ducted or ductless is important for saving you money and keeping you comfortable. In a world where the cost of everything keeps going up, take this opportunity to bring your cooling costs down.
NEXT: Mini Split & HVAC Sizing Calculator