The Journey To 13 SEER

August 11, 2005
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(Photo by Nelson Moy.)
Air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured after Jan. 23, 2006, must meet a minimum efficiency standard of 13 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Now that there are just over four months until the industry officially switches from a minimum efficiency standard of 10 SEER to the new minimum of 13 SEER, let's take a moment to look back at how the industry reached this juncture and what contractors, manufacturers, distributors, and dealers need to do from this point forward.

Since 1992, the minimums for split systems and packaged equipment have been 10 SEER for central air conditioners and heat pumps, plus 6.8 HSPF for heat pumps. When the legislative fighting over numbers ended and the dust settled this time around, we were left with the new 13 SEER standard - and, once again, a few hurdles to jump.

The articles in this issue will examine the new standard as it developed from a number of perspectives - the legislative battles, system concerns, and market forces - and summarize where the industry is now. These stories condense the information from more than 50 articles, which are available to subscribers in our online archives at The News' Web site,

The York Unitary Products Group’s (UPG) manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kan., produces residential HVAC products for its York, Luxaire, and Coleman brands. Pictured here are 400- and 500-ton coil feed presses that are used to fabricate sheet metal parts for air conditioning products. (Photo courtesy of York Unitary Products Group.)

Vital Background Data

In 2000, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was time to up the efficiency ante again for appliances, including HVAC equipment, under the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA).

There was some back-and-forth debate about whether the new minimum should be 12 or 13 SEER. Along the way, unitary manufacturer Goodman broke away from the position represented by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). ARI had been working to get 12 SEER adopted as the new minimum. Goodman (later joined by Goettl, American Geothermal DX, and others.) said 13 SEER should be the goal.

The Clinton administration decided late in its last term that the new minimum efficiency should be 13 SEER. Later, the Bush ad-ministration cited a procedural technicality, reversed the decision, and changed the NAECA SEER level to 12.

That number was accepted and printed in the Federal Register until a court upheld the original 13 SEER ruling, putting it back in the Federal Register. ARI decided not to challenge the ruling for the good of the industry, which had to start making plans to meet the new mandate.

With the new efficiency standard set, a number of operational challenges became apparent, with size being one of the more important considerations for contractors and wholesalers. New units were predicted to be up to 40 percent larger than their 10-SEER counterparts. Many dealers and contractors would need to find more storage space, more room in trucks, and more room in replacement applications.

Another question raised was how the market would respond. Would wholesalers and contractors stockpile as many 10-SEER units as possible? When and how would the actual transition work its way through the market?

What would happen in California, which had already mandated higher efficiency equipment through its Title 24 legislation and appeared to be one year ahead of the pack?

The 13 SEER articles in this issue look closely at the news as it developed along the way. Who made the predictions - and were they correct? Could contractors read the writing on the wall? And, more importantly, how can the lessons learned in the past be applied profitably in the near future?

Publication date: 08/15/2005

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