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Air Conditioner Unit Ratings (AC)

Learn More About Air Conditioner Ratings (AC)

Central air conditioning units are rated for efficiency using the "seasonal energy efficiency ratios" or SEER. The higher the SEER number the more efficient the unit is and the better job it does of cooling your home for with less energy. Less energy used means fewer dollars spent on energy bills which is of course a good thing.

Like most energy appliances air conditioners have made great strides over the last several years. In the late 1980's the average SEER rating for an air conditioner was around 6.0. In 1992 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who regulates the minimum SEER rating of new air conditioners in the United States mandated that all units sold must have a 10 SEER rating or higher. Today the minimum level allowed to be sold is 13 SEER and manufacturers offer high efficiency units ranging from 16 SEER all the way to 20 SEER!

It is important to note that there is a difference between the air conditioner size (or capacity) and it's efficiency rating. A 3 ton air conditioner (36,000 BTU/hr) which is 8 SEER will cool at roughly the same rate as a 3 ton air conditioner with a 12 SEER rate. When we talk about efficiency we are really talking about the amount of energy used to create the 36,000 BTU/hr. To put it another way, SEER is similar to the MPG rating your car has while the size of the AC unit is similar to the amount of horsepower that your car has.

Here is a simplified look at SEER efficiencies:

  • A 8 SEER unit would use twice as much energy as a 16 SEER unit would for the same cooling.

  • A 12 SEER unit would use 1 1/4 times as much energy as a 16 SEER unit would for the same cooling.

So, the 8 SEER unit will use significantly more energy than the 16 SEER model. The next question is what that means from a practical point of view. In other words, how much money did I save with the higher efficiency air conditioner?

Now for the more complex version:

Let's take a test case and look at the dollars and cents. Assuming a 3 ton or 36,000 btu unit will run for approximately 4 months, on average 8 hours of the day, with a kilowatt hour cost of $.07.

8 SEER Model

36,000 BTU/hr X 960 hours / 8.0 SEER = 4,320,000 X $.07 = 302,400 / 1000 watts/KW = $302.40 to run per year.

16 SEER Model

36,000 BTU/hr X 960 hours / 16.0 SEER = 2,160,000 X $.07 = 151,200 / 1000 watts/KW = $151.20 to run per year.

Over the life of the air conditioner (15 years) this could add up to quite a sizable amount of money. Particularly as energy prices seem to be going up and up. However, this also illustrates that getting rid of a functioning ac unit with an 8-10 SEER rating for a brand new high efficiency model will not save money in the short term. For another look at potential savings of higher efficiency ac units take a look at the savings calculated by York.

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