You’re not sure if you’re going to buy a new heater or air conditioner quite yet, but you’re doing some research and exploring your options. As you look around at HVAC units, you keep seeing the same four-letter acronym: SEER. Each SEER rating has a number attached to it; yours is a 14. Is a 14 SEER rating any good?
A 14 SEER rating is considered energy-efficient for older units, as the standard SEER range is between 9 and 14. For newer air conditioners and heaters though, the baseline SEER is a 14 through 22, so a 14 would be quite low.
If you’re still not completely sure what SEER is or what the number means, this article will be your guide. We’ll explain in which instances a SEER rating of 14 is good versus when it’s not so good. We’ll also talk about whether you can raise the SEER number of your HVAC, so keep reading!
What Is SEER? What Is a Good SEER Rating?
Let’s take it from the top: what exactly is SEER, anyway?
SEER is an acronym that stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio. In other words, it’s how efficient your air conditioner, heat pump, or heater runs.
Back in 1987, the United States government had already established standards for SEER. That legislation didn’t go into effect until 1992. Since then, it’s been updated continually.
How do you calculate your air conditioner or heater’s SEER rating? It takes some numbers crunching. For example, let’s say your home is outfitted with a 5,000 British thermal unit (BTU) an hour air conditioner.
The AC’s SEER is 10 BTU. Each summer, you run the air conditioner for eight hours. If summer is 125 days, that’s 1,000 cooling hours overall.
By multiplying 5,000 BTUs an hour by eight hours per day and then 125 days, you get 5,000,000 BTUs a year.
Then you have to calculate how much electricity that would require. If you take your BTUs an hour and divide that by the SEER, you get the average power rating for your air conditioner. That would be 0.5 kilowatts (kW).
Assuming you’re paying $0.20 per kWh, then using your air conditioner with a SEER rating of 10 would cost you $0.10 an hour.
SEER Ratings – Understanding the Numbers
Today, all heaters, heat pumps, and air conditioners will include the SEER rating both in the online description and right on the box.
SEER numbers have only increased since they’ve been established in the late 1980s. Back then, a SEER rating of 10 was passable. By 2006, a SEER rating of 13 was the guideline. Several years later, in 2011, the standard was a SEER of 14.
The lowest SEER number is 14 and the highest is 22, at least as of this writing. As HVAC becomes even more energy-efficient, the SEER range will likely continue to go up over the years to come.
Is an HVAC Unit with a SEER 14 Rating Energy-Efficient?
Now that you understand more about SEER ratings, we can go back to your original question. Is a SEER rating of 14 energy-efficient?
That depends on the age of the unit. If your AC or heater is still stuck in the ‘90s, then the SEER range would have been 9 and up, with 9 being considered the least energy-efficient at the time. A SEER rating of 14 by comparison is not necessarily super-efficient, but it’s a lot better than a SEER of 9.
That said, older air conditioners and heaters are generally not energy efficient because that wasn’t a focus of the time. Older units require more power to turn on and continually run, so even an older air conditioner with a SEER rating of 14 is sucking up a lot of electricity.
If your air conditioner or heater is from the mid-2000s, it was around then that a SEER of 13 to 14 became the established baseline. Since that’s the lowest SEER of the time, then no, your HVAC unit would not be energy-efficient. In this case, as well, the unit’s age is working against it.
Okay, but what if you went to the store today and bought a heater or air conditioner with a SEER of 14? Today’s HVAC units are more energy-efficient than ever, so that energy rating should be fine, right?
While your HVAC unit will naturally use less power than one from 10 or 20 years ago, your air conditioner or heater with a SEER rating of 14 is not as energy-efficient as it can be. Remember, today’s HVAC units can be rated with a SEER of up to 22, which is almost 10 points higher than a 14.
Can You Increase Your HVAC’s SEER Rating?
You weren’t aware of what a SEER rating meant when you originally bought your heater or air conditioner. Your HVAC unit is a 14, and now that you know that number isn’t so good, you’d like to increase it. Can you?
Unfortunately, no. While it’d be great if there was some trick for boosting your air conditioner or heater’s SEER rating, it is what it is.
The only way to raise your HVAC’s SEER rating is to upgrade your equipment. If you’ve had your air conditioner for more than 15 years, it’s long since time for a new one. You can wait between 15 and 20 years for a new heater.
Even increasing your HVAC unit’s SEER rating from 14 to 20 will make a huge difference. The upturn in energy efficiency would be around 43 percent, which is an astounding spike.
Energy efficiency is not only great for our planet, but for your wallet as well. An air conditioner with a SEER rating of 14 requires 2,570 kWh of power if you run it for 1,000 hours and the unit produces 36,000 BTUs of power.
If you take that 2,570 kWh of electricity and multiply it by the average cost of power per kWh–which is $0.1319, then you’ll spend $338.98 a year.
An air conditioner with a SEER rating of 20 that also uses 36,000 BTUs and runs for 1,000 hours would require 1,800 kWh of power. By doing the same math as before, you’d spend $237.42 in electricity for the year.
The first year of switching from a SEER 14 air conditioner to a SEER 20 AC, you’ll save $101.56. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot of money now, but year over year, the savings will increase.
Over 10 years, you’d save more than $1,014, and over 20 years, it’d be well over $2,000.
Can You Make Your HVAC More Energy-Efficient?
Just because you can’t raise the SEER rating of your air conditioner or heater doesn’t mean the unit has to operate at a loss. These tips will make your HVAC more energy-efficient so your monthly energy bills aren’t a continuous drain on your wallet.
Don’t Skip Preventative Maintenance
While you can clean the exterior of your air conditioner or heater and maybe change some filters (more on this in a moment), most of the cleaning of these HVAC units should be left to professional technicians.
Please pick up the phone and call your technician (or email them) at least once a year to schedule your HVAC unit’s preventative maintenance. You’ll reduce the rate of premature breakdowns, and you could boost the energy efficiency of your air conditioner or heater by as much as 45 percent in some instances.
Get Your HVAC Retrofitted
We won’t pretend that a new air conditioner or heater is inexpensive; these units can cost thousands of dollars. If replacing your HVAC units isn’t quite within your budget right now, then perhaps retrofitting them is.
Retrofitting simply means upgrading old parts with more efficient components. If you do this strategically, focusing on the economizers or compressors, then your HVAC units might be more energy-efficient even if they’re older.
FYI, for retrofitting to increase your HVAC’s energy efficiency, you would have had to have taken very good care of your air conditioner or heater over the years.
This goes back to what we talked about in the paragraphs above. Air conditioners have filters that must get replaced about once per month. The longest you can go without a filter change is 90 days.
When the filters are dirty, the accumulation of dust and debris makes your air conditioner work harder. The AC pulls more power, and your electricity bills go up as a result.
You might be able to reduce your HVAC energy usage by a modest 15 percent just by making it a habit to change the filters.
Resize the Ducts
Here’s another project in the vein of retrofitting that you might consider if you can’t spend money on a new heater or air conditioner right now: get your ductwork resized.
The size of your home’s ductwork is a major influence on how efficient your HVAC is.
When the ducts are too large, you don’t get as much of that hot or cold air. This requires your HVAC units to work longer and harder to ensure your home is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Too-small ducts can choke off airflow, again restricting the ambient temperature in your home and forcing your HVAC units to do more.
When evaluating your ducts, don’t feel like you have to keep them. You might decide to make the switch to a ductless mini split system, which is a heater and cooler that’s highly energy-efficient since it ditches the ducts.
Watch Where the Outdoor Unit Goes
The positioning of your outdoor HVAC components, such as with an air conditioner, is very important. Compressors should usually go on a concrete slab, be that one you bought or poured yourself.
For energy efficiency, you also want to keep the outdoor components away from direct sun. The sun exposure causes the HVAC unit to overheat. If it’s an air conditioner, then it has to work that much harder to overcome the heat and reduce the temperature in your home.
Select a shaded spot for the outdoor compressor, be that under the protection of an awning or even a tall tree.
Maintain Your Yard
You might wonder what yard maintenance has to do with the energy efficiency of your HVAC unit, but it turns out, it’s a lot!
When your backyard is a literal jungle, then all the plants and overgrown brush that surround the outdoor compressor can get into it and clog it up. The perimeter of plants can also create moister conditions.
Trim back greenery and remove plant debris from the outdoor HVAC units at least once per month.
Insulate Your Home
Our last tip for more energy efficiency from older HVAC is this: if you can set aside some room in your budget, get your home insulated.
Insulating the basement, attic, crawlspace, and similar rooms benefits your home in a multitude of ways. Air won’t leak through openings in these rooms, which makes your HVAC units work harder.
The insulation also helps the home maintain its temperature better so your air conditioner and heater can get a much-needed break.
On top of that, it’s harder for critters to get into an insulated home since the insulation acts as an extra barrier to entry. Some types of insulation have sound-dampening properties as well so life inside your home might be more peaceful!
HVAC units like heaters and air conditioners are assigned a seasonal energy efficiency ratio or SEER rating that tells you how well your units work. In the early days of SEER, a rating of 9 was low, so a 14 would have been pretty good.
As the years have gone on, SEER ratings of 14 became the baseline, with a SEER 22 the highest potential rating an air conditioner or heater can achieve.
Although you can’t change the SEER rating of your HVAC units, you can maintain and retrofit them so they’re more energy-efficient. You can also upgrade to a newer unit!