What does SEER stand for? Is a higher SEER number better? Does it cost more? Why do I hear 18 SEER A/C systems cool better than 14 SEER systems? They must be better, right?
Let’s take a look at what all these things really mean for your comfort and your pocketbook.
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. You may hear it referred to as Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating, but that is incorrect. It represents the ratio of the cooling output of an A/C over a typical cooling season divided by its’ energy consumption, which is measured in Watt-Hours. Stay with me…. It is the average calculated over an entire cooling season and is calculated by using a constant indoor temperature with various outdoor temperatures, which represents a typical cooling season. The SEER ratings vary depending upon regulations and the age of the systems, but it’s important to remember that SEER ratings are not constant and represent a maximum value for the system. Use of the system and the condition of the system will impact the SEER rating the same way the MPG of a car varies depending on the condition of the vehicle and the way you drive. It also depends on the way you cool your space, the outdoor temperature extremes, etc. In short, a higher the SEER value equals less electricity usage required to achieve a certain degree of comfort. It saves money on your electricity bill, but can it save in the long run when you upgrade to a more expensive, higher SEER unit (i.e. 18 SEER)?
The SEER value of a new system will always represent better efficiency than the SEER value of an old system, so even if both have a SEER value of 14, your older system doesn’t necessarily stay at that SEER value throughout its’ life. You could say that the SEER value of your system could be as high as the number assigned to it, but that doesn’t mean it is always that SEER value. But is an 18 SEER better than a 14 SEER unit? Is the much more expensive 18 SEER going to save you MORE money? The answer is yes, and no. The higher SEER unit is typical twice as expensive as the base model, plus markup of the equipment costs. To come out ahead, you need to know what your energy costs over time will be. You can’t. It depends on too many unknown factors to truly compare the two dollar values to assess gains or losses. It could take 20 years to recoup the extra cost of a more expensive system, but since the SEER value is a constantly changing number, what can you honestly say you have saved in 20 years? Who knows, that’s the truth.
The bottom line is that if your main concern is comfort, at any cost, the higher SEER value will appeal to you. If your concern is cost of the system and recouping dollars based upon energy savings, higher SEER cannot necessarily achieve that for you.