What will the new standard be for air conditioners and heat pumps — 12 or 13 SEER? What should it be?

As The News reported over the last three weeks, the Clinton Administration had proposed a 13-SEER standard. The Bush administration decided to make it 12 SEER. Goodman Manufactur-ing Co., one of the biggest unitary equipment producers, strongly supports 13. The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), made up of the industry’s manufacturers, strongly supports 12.

The good thing is that, in both cases, we’re talking about a significant increase in efficiency: 20% in the case of 12 SEER and 30% in the case of 13 SEER.

And both sides say that they want to do what’s right. John Goodman, chairman of Goodman Manufacturing, specifically said that 13 SEER “is the right thing for consumers. It’s the right thing for manufacturers. It’s the right thing for the environment.” Now, a smaller manufacturer has also come out in favor of the higher standard — Goettl Air Condition-ing. (See “Goettl Joins Goodman in Support of 13 SEER” on page 1.)

ARI believes 12 SEER is better, said Ed Dooley, the association’s vice president of communications and education, because, with the higher unit cost and possible higher installation cost of 13 SEER, “consumers might be discouraged from replacing their units,” especially lower-income families and retirees.

Wait Until 2006?

But the proposed new standard, whichever way it goes, will not go into effect until 2006. Since we have an energy crunch now and face the threat of potential brownouts and blackouts in selected parts of the country this summer, the U.S. obviously can use higher efficiency equipment right now. So whichever number you favor, 12 or 13, the industry would be well advised to start pushing and promoting the benefits of this equipment immediately.

I realize that some companies already are actively selling higher- efficiency equipment. But a concerted, across-the-board effort by manufacturers, distributors, and contractors would help motivate consumers to begin trading up this year instead of five years from now. We have the equipment to cut consumers’ energy bills; let’s sell it.

Whether 12 or 13 SEER, manufacturers should consider special promotions on this equipment now. Offer a special “energy savers” discount, a rebate check or some other financial incentive to replace old equipment. To get ancient 6-SEER units replaced, offer bigger discounts depending on how old the unit is.

A Guaranteed Return

Stress that buying high-efficiency air conditioners and heat pumps is an investment, and it’s an investment with a guaranteed rate of return compared to the consumer’s old unit. Show them a statement with an investment return of one, five, 10, and 20 years. Note that this return will never go down, and as the cost of energy goes up, as everyone knows it will, the payback just gets better.

We need to emphasize the long-term investment. We can sell the environmental benefit too, but the big advantage is that higher efficiency puts more money in the customer’s pocket over the long haul.

Pushing higher efficiency right now makes sense from a business standpoint because this equipment costs more and should provide a decent profit. It makes sense for consumers because they save significantly on utility bills. It makes sense for the country because it helps relieve the strain on the electric power grid.

We have technology that can make a difference. We don’t want to see the entire country in a crisis mode like California. Energy efficiency is in the news, and higher costs for oil, natural gas, gasoline, and electricity are on everyone’s minds. The time is right. It’s the right thing to do. Let’s sell higher efficiency right now.

Mazurkiewicz is new products/technologies editor. He can be reached at 810-296-9580; 810-296-9581 (fax); mazurkiewiczg@ bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/14/2001