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  • Writer's pictureSeth Newsome

What is SEER Rating and What Does it Mean?

SEER ratings may seem like a trendy sales tool for A/C salesman, but they can make a big impact on your electricity or gas bill. But what are SEER ratings and what do SEER ratings mean? We explore this topic in detail and give you a foundation for buying a new energy-efficient A/C or heater.

what is seer rating
What is SEER rating and what does it mean for your home, bills, and health?

What are SEER Ratings?

You've probably heard the term from a crafty A/C salesman, service technician, or maybe Nolan Ryan [note: retired professional baseball player, not A/C salesman]. And much like the seemingly arbitrarily-derived "MPG" on your new Cadillac, SEER ratings seem to be just as elusive and difficult to comprehend for the average homeowner.

But rest assured, SEER ratings aren't that hard to understand, and after you've taken some time to peruse this blog post, you'll have a better understanding of what SEER ratings are and how they affect your home. In short, SEER rating stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. SEER ratings are calculated by taking the system's tonnage (in BTUs) and dividing that by its energy usage (in watts).

Doing that math gives you a number ranging anywhere from 10-ish to upwards of 20. As of this writing, the current government-mandated minimum SEER rating for Texas is 14 which, for many homeowners with older systems, could be a major upgrade and energy savings in itself.

What does SEER Rating Mean?

You've probably already gathered that SEER rating deals largely with your A/C and heating system's energy consumption which means you'll potentially save more money with a higher SEER rated system. (Note the italics in "potentially"--we'll get to that later.)

You may be able to better understand SEER rating with this analogy:

Consider a scenario where you need to travel to Fort Worth (or if you're not from Stephenville, pick any destination 60 miles from where you live). You've got two vehicle options to get there: a Lamborghini travelling at 90 mph or a Toyota Prius travelling the set speed limits. Both vehicles will get you to the destination. One will take probably 1/3 to 1/2 of the time (Lambo) at probably twice or thrice the cost in fuel while the other (Prius) will take a little longer but will cost a fraction in fuel. (Nevermind the fact that one costs your retirement savings as a downpayment.. We'll address that another day.)

In that example, both vehicles will get you where you need to go. One will get there faster, but at the expense of a lot more fuel (efficiency). The other will take a little longer, but won't burn nearly the fuel. Same goes with an air conditioner. A less efficient air conditioner will get you to 70 degrees but cost a lot more in electricity, more efficiency will get you to the same place but use far less.

Like we've already said, SEER rating can range anywhere from sub-10 in the case of a very old system to north of 20 for some of the most energy-efficient rigs on the market. It may seem on the surface that the higher the SEER rating the better no matter what, right? Well, that's where SEER ratings start to get a little more complicated for most homeowners.

Should You Buy High-Efficiency Air Conditioning?

what is seer rating
The struggle with buying a new air conditioner is whether or not to leverage high-efficiency against price and potential energy savings.

And this is where we address the "potentially" issue mentioned above.

The struggle with buying a new air conditioner is whether or not to leverage high-efficiency against price and potential energy savings. Efficiency comes at a cost, and in some cases that cost is very difficult to justify. Buying a new air conditioner or system is likely the most expensive single repair or replacement the average American homeowner will do during their lifetime, so it's a big decision.

While high SEER rated systems sound nice, they're likely not what you expect as far as affordability. Yes, you may save a few hundred dollars per month in energy costs, but is that worth spending $10,000, $15,000, even $20,000 on high efficiency equipment when the industry-average lifespan is estimated at 15-20 years? That's the question you have to answer.

Most HVAC sales and service companies probably don't offer much in the way of financing a big purchase which makes little sense considering that some systems cost as much or more than a vehicle. However, if you can find a company that can finance a major upgrade like this and potentially bundle additional home improvements in with it, then you may be in business.

Take this example: Your A/C is out and needs to be replaced. You can write a check for $15,000 to your A/C guy upon installation and hope to recoup that cost in energy savings over time (which is not only difficult to monitor but difficult to both quantify and accurately plan for). OR you could finance that purchase for about $300 per month on a 5-year note. That's where you can make some justifications for savings: $300 per month for an A/C, and you save $100-$150 per month in energy costs. Not a bad deal.

Note: All numbers used are for example purposes only don't quote us on these savings.

On the other hand, it may be more economical to stick with 14 SEER equipment. The energy savings you'd see from an older (dare we say "worn out") 10, 11, or 12 SEER system will be worth every penny without using your retirement as a downpayment on a 20 SEER luxury liner. Naturally, there are pros and cons to each on of those options, so speak to one of us to get the full scoop and make an educated decision.

Get the System You Want

No matter what camp you fall in, if you need an air conditioner then you need to get the right equipment from a company that not only stands behind their products but will be there every step of the way from compressor burn-out to installation and beyond. This is the exact mentality we maintain at Stephenville Heat & Air.

James has been in business for nearly two decades and combined, we have nearly a half-century of HVAC experience in service, sales, new construction, and personal customer relations. Get a quote on a new system today and find out about our flexible financing options. Need to speak with one of us, schedule an appointment, or request a service call? Call 254-965-4644!

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