Understanding SEER

Ensuring you choose what you want and need when purchasing an HVAC system

In the last 15 years, the heating, venting and air conditioning industry has exponentially changed. Advancements in technology have allowed these systems to get quieter, extremely efficient and more powerful. 15 years ago it was common to see 10 and 12 SEER systems installed, now you cannot get your hands on them if you wanted to. SEER stands for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio”. This is a measurement of a heat pump or air conditioner’s cooling capacity to the power input. Currently, in 2019 the national standard of minimum efficiency is 14 SEER. However, very soon that is actually going to be changing to a minimum of 15 SEER. As of right now in terms of ducted systems options for SEER ratings range from 14 to 21 SEER. But what makes these systems achieve a higher SEER rating? Well, the answer is technology. When purchasing a new system three types of systems exist.

  • Single Stage – This means the condensing units (outdoor unit) compressor only has one level or speed of operation. This means anytime the system kicks on to cool the system it is running at 100% capacity. The most energy is used within an AC system when the unit kicks on, that being said follow up with 100% of running capacity. It is not hard to see why this is the least efficient option. Single stage system is going to be between 14 and 16 SEER. One big positive to single stage systems is that they tend to be the hardiest of all the options. With less moving parts and less technical parts, a lot less exists to cause problems in the system. Also, these tend to be the cheapest option.
  • Two Stage – This type of system has a compressor that can work at two levels. Typically 70% and 100%. It allows the system to choose what the home needs depending on the climate. In the hot of summer days, it will kick on and provide all of the power to achieve your comfort needs. But on those mild days or if you live in a more mild climate it will use that lower stage in order to save energy. These systems tend to be found in the 16 to 18 SEER range. When it comes to cost they tend to be a little more costly than a single stage system. But remember this is a system you will be paying less to operate.
  • Variable Speed – When looking for something super-efficient, a variable speed system is the way to go. These compressors work very differently in order to perform home comfort. These systems operate at a range from typically 25% all the way up to 100%. These systems try to run as long and continuously as possible. By being smart enough to only use what it needs, variable speed systems will in a lot of cases run at around 30%. What this causes is less on and off power usage and significantly less power use when the system is running. Variable speed systems are the most expensive without a doubt, but when changing from an old 10 SEER to something like an 18 SEER variable speed unit very significant energy saving can be a result. One downfall of this type of system is with all the technical parts and technology that make these systems so smart and efficient make it a risk to issues. The best way to avoid any system issues is to be sure that you have a company installing it that understands this technology. Things like being sure your current ductwork can handle a variable speed system are crucial for long term life of the unit.
    With all this being said each type of system has specific key things that will fit different goals of a buyer. When deciding what is going to be the best fit for you, a few things to consider could be.
  • Is this a rental property? – If so single stage systems are probably going to be the best option. It will have the lowest initial cost, efficiency speaking if you are renting the home you probably do not pay the utility bills anyway. Also not knowing what is going on in the home when it comes to pets and even just how clean whoever is living there has a factor in the long term longevity of the system.
  • Budget – This is an obvious one, anytime we purchase anything it is in human nature to consider cost factors. Two-stage systems do offer a bit more of an efficient system while not breaking the bank like a full-blown variable speed system. While still being a good bit more efficient and in a lot of cases a little more quiet of a system. Also when dealing with cost when buying a new system remember, most legitimate company’s offer a range of financing options that might help cash flow out and allow a person to get a little nicer of a system.
  • Efficiency and total home comfort– If this is your main goal a variable speed system might be the thing for you. When in the buying process if you need a very silent unit or looking for the best home airflow comfort look no further. With the capability to run for extended periods of time keeping temperature and air flow constant while being the most efficient you can buy.
  • How long do you plan to own the home? – If a homeowner plans on selling a home in say two to three years you may want to look at a less expensive lower SEER system. However, say your Dad built the home you live in and you plan to live in that home for years if not the rest of your life You may want to look at a higher SEER two stage or variable speed system.

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