Starting January 1, 2023, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) minimum energy efficiency standard goes into effect for all newly manufactured residential and commercial air conditioners and heat pumps. The standard not only increases the minimum efficiency of residential equipment by approximately 7%, but also includes separate efficiency standards and installation requirements for central air conditioners sold in the northern and southern parts of the U.S. Contractors in southern states will need to pay particular attention to the installation requirements, as installation of air conditioners is not permitted after December 31, 2022, unless their EnergyGuide labels meet the new 2023 SEER/EER minimums.
After January 1, 2023, contractors will also have to decide how they want to approach replacing existing, lower-efficiency equipment with new 2023-compliant units. For example, if a new condensing unit is being installed, should they advise customers to replace the existing air handler as well, even if it is still in good condition? It's an age-old question, and the answer from industry groups and manufacturers is almost always, “yes.”
Director of product management and training, Carrier
Under a voluntary program, AHRI tests various types of HVAC products to ensure they perform according to manufacturers’ published claims. With split-system air conditioners or heat pumps, an AHRI-certified system confirms the performance ratings of specific combinations of outdoor units, indoor units and/or furnaces, resulting in an AHRI product rating certificate. Contractors can consult the AHRI Directory of Certified Product Performance to find out which indoor and outdoor units can be paired together.
“Having a properly matched system helps set expectations for how efficient the system will perform compared to others,” said Braden Cook, director of product management and training at Carrier. “There are a wide range of efficiencies based on what the outdoor unit is paired with, and level-setting expectations with the customer helps guarantee satisfaction.”
If the indoor/outdoor combination is not properly matched, the equipment manufacturer cannot verify the cooling/heating capacity or efficiency of the system, which could lead to service calls, unoptimized performance, and ultimately, unhappy customers, added Cook.
“With a matched system, customers will be assured that it will perform to a certain rating,” said Chris Forth, vice president of regulatory, codes, and environmental affairs, ducted systems, at Johnson Controls. “It is also a quality issue, because manufacturers test the equipment combinations to ensure they operate properly at various ambient temperatures.”
Simply put, compliant systems will produce predictable results, while mismatched systems will not, said Ed Janowiak, manager of HVAC design education at ACCA.
“I believe AHRI-matched systems are the way to go. Too many unknowns when we don’t use matching systems.”
Another reason to install a matched system is to take advantage of any rebate programs that may be offered by the local utility or at the state or federal level. That’s because in order to qualify for most rebates or tax credits, the customer or contractor must present a certified performance certificate from AHRI, said Forth.
“A mismatched system could disqualify the homeowner or the contractor from getting rebates,” he said. “With the Inflation Reduction Act, homeowners are going to have to buy the highest CEE tier, and it will have to be a certified match to get that tax credit or rebate.”
The only time a mismatched system may be appropriate is in the case of an emergency, where a customer’s air conditioner has died and the contractor cannot obtain a particular coil, said Forth. In that case, installing a non-matching coil temporarily may be the best course of action, but a compliant coil should be installed as soon as possible.
Matching systems may be a little more complicated in 2023, as the new efficiency standard requires a new test procedure. As of the first of the year, all new single-phase heating and cooling equipment must be rated using the DOE Appendix M1 testing procedure, and the ratings metrics will change to SEER2, EER2, and HSPF2, said Cook. Three-phase equipment is not required to be tested under the M1 procedures until 2025 and will still have SEER, EER and HSPF ratings.
“Ratings tested under M1 have been generated using external static pressures that are up to five times higher than DOE’s pre-2023 Appendix M test procedure, which produced the SEER, EER, and HSPF ratings,” he said.
That is why it is important to make sure a matched system is installed, as the new SEER2 systems will perform better versus that of the current SEER units, as they were designed to work against the higher static used in the new DOE M1 test procedure, said Forth. Even if a contractor installs a base DOE 2023-compliant unit, it will be significantly more efficient than non-compliant equipment.
LEGACY UNITS: Carrier is rating the new SEER2 outdoor units with both legacy and new evaporator coils and air handlers to help with the phase in/phase out process. (Courtesy of Carrier)
“Just the energy efficiency improvements alone will be huge, and a homeowner is going to see that benefit from day one,” he said. “Customers who balk at replacing an older indoor unit with a new outdoor unit should be aware of the energy savings they will receive if a matched SEER2 system is installed. That payback is going to be a lot shorter.”
That said, there will potentially be gray areas when it comes to matching equipment starting January 1, 2023, but Carrier has an easy-to-use website — mycarrierratings.com — that contractors can use to find combinations, said Cook.
“At Carrier, we are rating the new outdoor units with both legacy and new evaporator coils and air handlers to help with the phase in/phase out process,” he said. “However, it is important to check the ratings to ensure that the legacy indoor achieves compliance with the sell-through deadline for that region and the appropriate minimum efficiencies.”
Should contractors come across a product that is of questionable compliance, Carrier recommends they reach out to their distributor to verify the product’s status prior to installation, as fines can be hefty, as much as $503 per unit per day, said Cook. Becoming familiar with the new SEER2 match ratings is important, as Carrier started shipping 2023-compliant products in June 2022 and plans to be fully transitioned from legacy models to 2023-compliant models by November 2022.
“In addition to launching regulation-ready units early, Carrier is leveraging new sourcing strategies, new supply chain tactics, and working closely with our contractors to ensure they are stocked and supported through this major industry change,” said Cook. “Carrier is fully focused on meeting customer demand for new 2023 models to prevent mismatched systems and guarantee customer satisfaction.”
Johnson Controls has also started launching its 2023-compliant products, and to make the matching process easier for contractors, the company has “double matched” them, said Forth.
“In other words, we've got AHRI matches for the new SEER2 products, as well as matches for old to new SEER products,” he said. “It’s a model-by-model decision, because in some cases, we have consolidated models, and in other cases, we've taken an old single model and made multiple new ones. So contractors really need to search for their model to see what match ratings are available. But we are focused on getting that transition done and quickly providing the matches old to new, in order to minimize any potential for both stranded inventory or mismatched ratings.”
While the transition to 2023-compliant products may seem somewhat daunting, it is also a huge opportunity for the industry, said Forth.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES: The energy efficiency standard offers new sales opportunities for controls, which can improve performance and reduce maintenance cost as well as lower emissions. (Courtesy of Excel Mechanical)
“Instead of contractors simply changing out individual system components, there’s opportunity for them to sell more complete, split residential systems and higher efficiency commercial equipment,” he said. “This also includes new sales opportunities for controls, which can improve performance and reduce maintenance cost as well as lower emissions.”
Contractors are ready for the challenge, said Janowiak.
“Transitions like this are always tough. When you add this change to new regional efficiency requirements and supply chain issues, it’s even tougher. Fortunately, the past year has hardened HVAC professionals, so navigating new efficiency ratings, finding matched systems, meeting regional requirements, and handling shortages is just another day at the office.”