One of the most important and least understood features of any HVAC system is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. Every AC system has this figure prominently displayed and yet many people don’t understand what it means. A frequent debate is the comparison between 14 and 16 SEER AC ratings and which is best for cooling. In this article, we will take a closer look at SEER ratings to help you make informed decisions.
What is a SEER Rating?
A SEER rating is calculated by the division of the system BTUs by the watts that are needed to reach the desired level of performance. There is no need to calculate this ratio yourself and the details are on an EnergyGuide sticker where the SEER rating is displayed. All you really need to know is that lower SEER ratings are bad and higher numbers are better.
When a system has a high SEER rating it will perform more efficiently, which will lower your energy bills with no loss of performance. As you can imagine, this makes systems with a higher SEER rating more expensive. But, with the energy savings, it’s easier to get a faster return on your HVAC investment. The trend up until recently was lower average utility bills caused in part by energy efficiency improvements in HVAC technology and other appliances. Although this tends to be forgotten with the recent hikes in global energy prices. That said, you can still expect to pay more in areas that experience extreme weather changes throughout the year. So, if you have hotter summers and colder winters, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to the SEER ratings of HVAC systems.
The Annual Loss of Energy Efficiency
Heating and cooling equipment tends to have a useful lifespan of approximately 15 years. Well maintained systems to be closer to that age before they really start to show signs of serious problems. After an HVAC system is installed it will lose efficiency every year and this can be offset to a certain extent with regular maintenance. But, eventually, the system will become expensive to run and the frequent repairs may be costly. Many modern systems have 13-26 SEER ratings to lower the energy bills. The two most common choices are 14 or 16 SEER rating units and choosing between them can be a challenge.
14 Seer vs 16 Seer: Which is Best?
This may seem like a strange question, because as we said earlier a higher SEER rating means that the equipment is more energy efficient. But, there are other factors to consider before you make a final choice. The difference in energy efficiency between a 14 and 15 SEER rated system may not be worth the extra purchasing cost. There may even be other factors, such as insulation levels, air leaks, and more that can make a more dramatic difference in energy consumption. Let’s take a closer look at a direct comparison between 14 and 16 SEER rated systems.
When it comes to raw data, it’s easy to see that a 16 SEER rating is better than a 14 SEER rating. All you need to do is divide 16 by 14 and you will get 1.14. This means that a 16 SEER rated system would be around 14% more energy efficient than a 14 SEER rated system.
To put this into perspective, imagine that your monthly energy bill is $100 and you installed a 16 SEER rated system. In this scenario, you would potentially be saving $14 per month more than you would with a 14 SEER rated system. Of course, this is a very simplified example because energy costs tend to fluctuate and you would need to input the energy prices in your area to get an accurate result.
5 Key Factors to Consider
As we mentioned earlier there are five other factors to consider that will affect the amount of energy that any HVAC system will consume. They are:
- The age of your current HVAC system.
- The integrity of the ductwork system.
- The size of the HVAC system.
- The home insulation levels
- The frequency of HVAC maintenance.
If the age of your system is approaching 15 years or older and the ductwork is in poor shape, it’s a good idea to consider an upgrade. But, it’s equally important to check the home insulation levels and to seal up any air leaks in your home. These are passive ways to prevent the loss of treated air which will drive up your home energy bills. Consider regular essential maintenance before the start of each heating and cooling season to improve performance and energy efficiency. Finally, if you’ve inherited an HVAC system and it cannot seem to cool or heat your home it may be undersized. An oversized unit is also a problem because it can change the temperature too quickly leading to short cycling issues.
Choosing the Right SEER Rating
As you can see there are a number of factors to consider before you make a final decision on a SEER rating for your new HVAC system. The higher initial purchasing price can be worth the investment, but the difference between 14 and 16 SEER ratings is fairly minimal. If you look at an HVAC system with a SEER rating of 17 or higher, you will get access to more advanced technology, including variable compressors, two-stage compressors, variable speed fan motors, and extra functionality. These features can improve performance, energy efficiency and even protect the system against component failures and refrigerant loss. That said, in many cases, a SEER rating higher than 16 may be overkill, and investing in other technologies, such as a smart thermostat, zoning systems or a heat pump may make better financial sense.
Before you choose between a 14 or 16 SEER rated system input the energy prices for your area to see home much you could save. Extrapolate that figure over 12-15 years of ownership to see how much you could potentially save and how fast you could recoup the initial investment. Remember that well maintained systems perform better for longer and they consume less power. So, you should factor the cost of regular essential maintenance into your ongoing operating costs.
If you want to schedule some essential maintenance or you’re considering an HVAC upgrade, contact your local heating and cooling specialist.