In short, in the HVAC industry, seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) means little to nothing to a homeowner. The unfortunate truth about HVAC equipment and consumers is they never think about it unless something goes wrong or they don’t have the comfort levels they expect.
Just to review, the overall transition that heralded an increase in minimum efficiency was highlighted by several changes in 2023. For example, SEER2, EER2, HSPF2. The move to SEER2 was due to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) being obligated to ensure test labs represent an average use cycle. Other changes included:
- 1ph split AC & HP minimum efficiency;
- AC Minimum Efficiency- increased 7% to 8% in 2023~ +1 SEER2 in each region;
- Energy Star 6.1 requirements and Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) efficiency tiers;
- Energy Guide labels; and
- Requirements to qualify for 25C tax credits.
What stayed the same in 2023:
- Three regions: North, Southeast, and Southwest;
- 1-ph packaged minimum efficiency; and
- Record keeping and enforcements.
But, it’s tricky explaining the transition from SEER to SEER2 to homeowners, and why the energy numbers on their unit’s labels don’t look as impressive. SEER is the standard measure of efficiency for heat pumps and air conditioning systems. Not for the sales talk, but SEER is the ratio of total cooling capacity during normal periods of operation divided by the total electric energy input over that same period. This ratio divides Btu by watt-hours.
The higher the SEER, the less electricity is required for the A/C unit to cool the space. The DOE had a minimum energy conservation standard of 13 SEER in the Northern region and 14 SEER in the South. Exceeding those standard SEER ratings of 14 or more would obtain Energy Star certification. Energy Star recognizes units with superior efficiency based on the current efficiency rating systems. But, now, from a homeowner’s point of view, the new standard’s numbers don’t seem to align.
In general, consumers may know heating and cooling units are a major contributor to their overall utility bills and that their equipment’s efficiency matters, but terms like 14 SEER don’t translate to anything relatable. The fact that minimum efficiency ratings for HVAC are increasing is great news for homeowners’ utility bills and the environment. New air conditioners or heat pumps below 13 or 14 will no longer be manufactured, though some regions will still allow those units to be sold and installed. A professional can simply explain that their old unit is 10 SEER, and the new one is going to perform better and more efficiently. Or, ballpark some estimates with the energy savings calculators available online.
Thinking forward, if we consider the new 2023 efficiency test standards in place and SEER2 as the new efficiency metric — the way dealers talk to homeowners at the kitchen table matters. For example, if the dealer before you provided an estimate referencing a 14-SEER unit, and you come in behind them talking SEER2, this may cause confusion. The homeowner’s perception (how did we go from 15 to 14.3?) might be that they’re being offered a less-efficient system at a similar or even a higher price point. Not good for closing the sale.
For the foreseeable future, it will likely be best to plainly talk about SEER and SEER2 and spend the time educating the consumer on what to look out for while shopping for something we know they don’t fully understand. Become their trusted adviser by showing it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, and while SEER2 may appear lower, that same system under the old test standards would get a higher rating.
A really simple analogy for the kitchen table is to compare SEER to MPG and highway miles and SEER2 to city miles. Different driving conditions on the same vehicle can produce varied results for fuel efficiency, and it’s the same for our equipment. The AHRI Directory is updated with SEER2 metrics for system matches. Use this tool to help lend credibility and provide homeowners with the peace of mind they’re looking for.
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