If you’re looking into a more efficient way to cool your home, it’s time to see about SEER. You’ve no doubt heard SEER mentioned if you’re in the market for a new residential air conditioning system. However, you may have a few questions about how to use SEER to make your purchasing decision. First, SEER stands for (S)easonal (E)nergy (E)fficiency (R)atio. It is the ratio of cooling output that each air conditioner (AC) will produce throughout the course of a single cooling season divided by the energy it will use in watt-hours. A standard for quantifying capacity, the watt-hour is the measurement of power used during a period lasting an hour. All of this may seem confusing to you if you don’t have a background in heating and cooling. Luckily, the SEER rating system actually makes making your decision very easy because you can simply follow the recommended guidelines. Take a look at the basics of SEER ratings for air conditioning for consumers.

SEER Basics: Is a Good SEER Rating High or Low?

When it comes to SEER ratings, higher is better. A lower SEER score represents a lower level of efficiency. A higher SEER score indicates that a system has an efficient output that provides costs savings and consistent cooling. In fact, choosing a system with a higher SEER score will likely save you hundreds of dollars in energy costs each year. Over a lifetime of owning a system, the savings can be expected to reach thousands of dollars.

How Is SEER Calculated?

A SEER ratio is meant to cover an entire cooling season. To do this, testers use a constant indoor temperature against a variety of outdoor temperatures ranging from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For many people around the country, this accurately simulates a summer season.

What Is a Good SEER Score for a Home Cooling System?

The U.S. Department of Energy actually enforces minimum SEER requirements. However, they can look different by region. Throughput the American Southeast and Southwest, the minimum SEER score is 14. If you’re in the North, the cutoff score is 14. These requirements apply to all units manufactured before January of 2015.

Most air conditioners sold today have SEER ratings that range between 13 and 22. However, you can’t necessarily assume that the rating assigned to an air conditioner will be exactly the same performance level that you’ll get at your home. A number of different factors can actually skew your personal SEER rating in your home. Here’s a look:

  • The size of your home.
  • The size of each room in your home.
  • The number of windows in your home.
  • The condition of your ductwork.
  • The average daily temperature in your location.
  • Your installation technique.
  • Drafty, loose windows and doors.

Keep in mind that the SEER rating on a product represents the maximum efficiency level that can be delivered by that product. Consumers shouldn’t necessarily expect to get that level of performance 24 hours a day. A good way to understand what a SEER score really means is to compare it to the miles-per-gallon (MPG) measurement offered by modern cars. The MPG that a car manufacturer advertises is typically the maximum level of fuel efficiency that a vehicle is capable of achieving. However, factors that include driving habits, road conditions and vehicle maintenance can all impact the real MPG that a car achieves on a daily basis. It’s really important to make sure that you’re getting your AC system installed by a reputable company that does good work to ensure that improper installation doesn’t hinder you from seeing the maximum potential savings you could be enjoying. It’s also a good idea to conduct routine cleaning and maintenance to ensure that your system stays operating at maximum capacity for a lifetime of efficiency and savings. Of course, your system’s performance is just one piece of the puzzle. Conducting an energy audit that spots potential “leaks” where your cooling costs could be “flying out the window” is also smart if you’re motivated to save money while keeping your house at a comfortable temperature.

Making Your Decision: How a Low SEER Rating Impacts Your Cooling Experience

Looking at SEER ratings isn’t simply a matter of being picky. There’s a lot at stake for both your energy costs and comfort level when you purchase a product with a low rating. When an air conditioner has a lower SEER rating, you can typically expect some specific cooling characteristics. A lower rating often means that you’re looking at a single-stage air conditioner that is only capable or running at a single speed. Here’s a look at what that often means for cooling performance:

  • An air conditioner may frequently turn on and off during milder days.
  • Your home will have uneven cooling.
  • You may feel hot spots and cold spots within your home.
  • Your home will experience higher levels of humidity.
  • Your system will run for longer periods of time to overcompensate for its lack of performance.

Unfortunately, many people with air conditioners with low SEER levels find that their homes never get truly comfortable. While the temperature inside the home may be cool, the humidity levels in the home actually make conditions feel much hotter than they really are. What’s more, the lack of consistency from room to room makes it hard to know what to expect from minute to minute.

The Final Verdict on Cooling Your Home Efficiently: How High Should an Air Conditioner’s SEER Rating Be?

There’s no magic answer when it comes to choosing the right SEER rating for your air conditioning. The bare minimum is to follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s requirements for SEER minimums. That means purchasing a system with a SEER rating of at least 13.

Some people see paying more for a more efficient residential unit today as an investment in the future. While the cost that you pay for your air conditioner will stay frozen in time, energy costs are likely to rise with each year. That means that investing slightly more for your system at the time of purchase can ultimately save you money in the long term. However, you have plenty of wiggle room to play around with pricing as long as you meet the minimum regulated SEER rating required by the government.

There is a bit of a plot twist to be on the lookout for if you’ll be purchasing an AC system within the next few years. The U.S. Department of Energy is on the cusp of updating its minimum SEER ratings to stand at 14 and 15. In 2023, the new standards will go into effect. The updated SEER ratings are expected to help households around the country to collectively save between $2.5 billion to $12.2 billion during the next 30 years. There’s no rule against meeting those new guidelines early if you plan to have air conditioning installed before 2023. However, you may also want to get in under the mark before the 2023 deadline hits if you’d like to be able to choose a slightly less expensive system before the rules change.