Proponents of the proposed 12-SEER standard and advocates for a 13-SEER standard for central air conditioners and heat pumps have prepared and submitted their final comments to the Department of Energy (DOE).

The News here sums up key points offered by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) for 12 SEER, and by Goodman Global Holdings Co. (Goodman Manufacturing) for 13 SEER, as well as selected comments from a News reader poll.

ARI notes that, according to DOE figures, over 75% of consumers will not benefit from 13 SEER because the payback period is too long.

“At 13 SEER, there is a significant increase in the cost of all air conditioners and heat pumps (split and package). This cost increase is mainly due to larger indoor and outdoor coils (meaning more raw materials such as copper and aluminum) as well as more sophisticated components and controls (variable-speed drive, time delay relay, etc.) needed to achieve high efficiencies,” explained Ed Dooley, vice president of communications and education for ARI.

Based on ARI cost multipliers and markups, and DOE’s assumption that installation cost is constant, the cost of a 13-SEER split air conditioner will increase by $712 (30%) over a 10-SEER unit. On the other hand, the cost of a 12-SEER unit will increase by $407 (17%).

In addition, because of the larger heat transfer coils required, replacement of existing systems could necessitate significant additional costs “due to inadequate physical space needed for the larger coils,” said Dooley. “Also, mismatched or improperly installed indoor coils would waste energy.”

He maintains the extra cost could make air conditioning unaffordable for the growing number of seniors, as well as working families and low-income consumers, “many of whom own single-family homes and many of whom rely on air conditioning for their health.”

According to Ramola G. Musante of Morgan Meguire, government relations consultant to Goodman, the company believes that the debate “has been fueled with inaccuracies.”

He asserted that 13 SEER “does not place a major burden on manufacturers; does not limit consumer choice; does not cause substantial increases in the size of the equipment; does not impose unreasonable costs on consumers; and does not hurt the elderly and low-income families.”

He noted, “The Air Condition-ing and Refrigeration Institute’s own data shows that virtually all manufacturers produce 13-SEER equipment today.…Moving to the higher SEER will simply mean producing a higher volume.”

Finding The Bottom Line

A major difference between Goodman and ARI is cost differential. Musante remarked that the company only sees an average difference in costs of approximately $122. “Moreover, history has shown us that once a standard is implemented, the market will drive prices down and make the more efficient equipment even more affordable for all consumers.

“In fact, in 1992, when the government implemented the efficiency standard at 10 SEER, the cost of the 10-SEER air conditioning unit dropped dramatically across the nation.”

The majority of contractor responses to the News’ poll support 12 SEER, including Andy Jellison of Copeland & Son Air Con-ditioning and Heating Service, who says, “The technology in our industry today is more than efficient to provide energy savings. The problem, we contest, stems from the lack of properly installed systems.”

Samuel L. Cole Jr., Cole Heating & Cooling, states, “I fail to see the need to force Americans to purchase more efficient and more expensive equipment. Our sales have shown us that the people who can afford the better equipment will buy it, and others will not.”

Steve Bukosky of wholesaler Gustave A. Larson Co. suggests an alternative. “A curve should be used. Smaller units could be 12 SEER. Larger units or houses or buildings using multiple units should be the highest SEER available.”

ARI hopes that the issue will be resolved and a rule published before the end of this year.

Mazurkiewicz is news and legislation editor. He can be reached at 810-296-9580; 810-296-9581 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/22/2001