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SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Buyers typically use this rating as a benchmark for understanding how efficient an air conditioner is, with higher scores representing greater performance. Much like car mileage, however, a rating’s real-life ramifications depend on the conditions in which you use the machine. In other words, an air conditioner’s rating represents its maximum performance.

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What Are SEER Ratings?

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Buyers typically use this rating as a benchmark for understanding how efficient an air conditioner is, with higher scores representing greater performance. Much like car mileage, however, a rating’s real-life ramifications depend on the conditions in which you use the machine. In other words, an air conditioner’s rating represents its maximum performance.
 
In the American Southwest (including Phoenix, Arizona), the U.S. Department of Energy mandates that new air conditioners have SEER ratings of no less than 14. This makes new air conditioners automatically much more efficient than old ones, which typically have air conditioning SEER ratings of 8 or 9. 
 
SEER ratings for AC go all the way up to 20 for those with a particular penchant for efficiency.

Calculating SEER Ratings, Explained

There’s no perfect SEER rating for every home. Rather, choosing the right SEER rating depends on several factors. Here’s a rundown on how we calculate it in the HVAC industry.

Step 1: Calculate Your Yearly AC Usage

Follow these steps to determine how many watt-hours a given air conditioner uses.

First, multiply your air conditioner’s size by 12,000.

An air conditioner’s size is typically referenced in tons. Each ton represents 12,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) or cooling power. What’s a BTU? Well, it’s simply the amount of energy used to raise a pound of water by a single degree Fahrenheit.

Next, take that number and divide it by the air conditioner’s SEER rating.

This will give you the amount of Watts your air conditioner uses per hour to achieve its stated output.

Finally, multiply that number by 2,600 (the assumed hours of operation in a year).

This is the average number of hours people use their air conditioners in Phoenix.

Once you complete the above steps, you’ll know roughly how many Watt-hours of electricity your air conditioner will use in a given year.

Step 2: Convert This Into Dollars and Cents

Energy usage figures are nice to know and all but you’re probably more concerned about what it equates to in dollars and cents, right? Here’s how you figure that out.

Multiply the figure you achieved in the previous step by the average kWh cost in Phoenix. Find the most up-to-date figures here.

Remember that you’ll need to divide the figure you ended up with after Step 2 by 1,000 to arrive at kWh instead of just Watts per hour.

Step 3: Compare Various SEER Ratings to Make a Decision

Compare air conditioners with various SEER ratings to find the sweet spot. You’ll want a unit with enough efficiency savings to justify the added cost of higher SEER ratings. Calculating the air conditioner’s “payback period” (which we’ll explore in the next section) is one way to figure out whether its higher cost is justified. Generally, an air conditioner’s cost rises roughly 10% alongside every single-point SEER rating increase.

Calculating the Payback Period

The “payback period” in SEER rating parlance refers to the time it will take for you to recover the added cost of a more efficient air conditioner. It’s an essential figure when considering whether to spend the extra money. Calculating an air conditioner’s payback period is relatively easy.

Say you want to compare an AC with a SEER rating of 15 with another ranked 20. The difference in cost should be within the ballpark of $1,000 since air conditioners with SEER ratings of 20 generally include features like dual stages and variable-capacity compressors (more on this shortly).

To get a rough estimate of the payback period, you’ll need to take the added cost ($1,000 in this case) and divide it by the difference between what you’d spend to run either unit for a cooling season. If you live in a cooler climate, you may find that this difference is negligible. In our example, you might only save $50 annually with the 20 SEER air conditioner. At that rate, it’d take you a payback period of more than 17 years to recoup your upfront added cost of $1,000 so you could safely say it’s not worth it.

Warmer climates like Phoenix are where you’ll really notice a faster payback period. An air conditioner with a SEER rating of 20 might save you $300 on your bill yearly, in which case you’d recoup your funds in just four years.

Interpreting SEER Ratings at Face Value

Here’s a rundown of what you can generally expect as your air conditioner’s SEER rating increases.

13-16 SEER

At the bottom end of this range (13 SEER), you’re meeting the bare minimum efficiency requirement throughout much of the United States. This is still quite efficient compared to older units, which often had SEER ratings as low as 8 and 9. Closer to the top of the range, nearing 16 SEER, you’re doing fairly well. Air conditioners in this range generally have two capacities – low and high – that can activate depending on your thermostat settings.

17-20 SEER

At American Home Water & Air, we offer air conditioners with SEER ratings as high as 20. At the upper end of that range, you’ll enjoy features like variable-capacity compressors that can pinpoint and deliver the exact capacity your air conditioner needs to sufficiently cool your home. These systems are highly-optimized and can be well worth the cost under the right circumstances.

Other Factors Impacting AC Efficiency

Your air conditioner’s SEER rating isn’t all that matters when it comes to efficiency. Here are some other important factors.

Insulation

Poor insulation can force your air conditioner to run for longer periods in order to make up for the cool air that escapes. If you’re switching to a higher SEER air conditioner because your electricity bills seem too high, this is something you should have a professional look into first.

Ductwork

Faulty ductwork is another potential source of leaks you should look out for. Older ducts can leak as much as 30% of the air flowing through them. Once again, your air conditioner will have to run much longer in order to reach the desired temperatures.
 

Your Thermostat Habits

Turning your air conditioner on and off frequently or setting it to run when it’s cool out will also make it more inefficient.
 

Your Service Routine

Regular maintenance is a crucial part of air conditioner efficiency. Dirty air filters in particular can restrict airflow, forcing your air conditioner to pump harder in order to achieve the desired cooling effect. Change your filters monthly and make sure you have a professional take a close look at your air conditioner twice annually.

Still Confused About SEER Ratings? Contact AHWA!

If you’re unsure about the right SEER rating in Arizona for your home, give us a call. Thousands of Phoenix residents have done just that over the years. Here’s why.

Anytime Service

HVAC system emergencies don’t only happen during business hours. Whenever you need us, we’ll be there to lend a hand.

Expert Technicians

We hire the most adept and professional HVAC technicians in Phoenix. Our technicians will help you calculate the right SEER ratings for your AC, then install a high-quality unit for you.

The Right SEER Ratings, Guaranteed

You can trust our staff to calculate the right SEER ratings for your needs. Thousands of positive reviews over the years confirm our commitment to quality service and making things right.

We Love What We Do

We’re passionate about providing the highest quality HVAC service in Phoenix, Arizona. We strive to not only provide service to our customers but educate them on best practices as well.

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COVID-19

The well-being of our employees and customers is a priority for us during these tough times; therefore, AHWA is taking extra precautions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a safety measure, all AHWA employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms will be required to self-isolate. Also, all technicians visiting customers’ homes will be equipped with gloves and masks. We hope this won’t impact our service and we will remain open for business until further notice. Thank you for choosing American Home Water and Air!