ARLINGTON, Va. - For the fourth consecutive year, HVAC manufacturers shipped a record number of central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps, announced the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), exceeding 8.6 million units in 2005, up 16 percent from the just over 7.4 million units shipped in 2004. Annual shipments have exceeded 5 million units every year since 1995.

According to ARI, the strong economy, continued growth in housing starts, and rebuilding in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast all contributed to another record year for America's air conditioning and heat pump manufacturers. December's robust shipment total - more than 590,000 units, a 45 percent increase from December 2004 - was due in part to a last minute flurry of shipments prior to the Jan. 23, 2006 commencement of the new 13 SEER minimum efficiency standard. Manufacturers were clearing out the remaining 10 SEER units to make room for the new, more efficient models.

Looking ahead to expected 2006 shipments, ARI believes that the transition to 13 SEER will almost certainly have a dampening effect on unitary equipment sales, if the 1992 transition is any guide. That year, the minimum efficiency level rose from 8 SEER to 10 SEER, and unitary shipments fell a little more than 1 percent compared to the previous year. It is important to note, however, that in 1991, the industry SEER average was 9.5, so the increase in 1992 was only one-half point. In 2005, the industry SEER average was 11.2, so the increase is significantly higher this time around, which could increase the dampening effect above what it was in the last go-around.

A couple of factors could limit the dampening effect, says ARI. If high energy prices continue, more homeowners might opt to upgrade to higher efficiency equipment, which would partially negate any negative effect of the transition. In addition, continued growth in housing starts would also be beneficial for unitary shipments. Furthermore, continued rebuilding in the Gulf Coast will necessitate shipments to that region above what would otherwise be expected.

Publication date: 01/30/2006