Are Higher SEER ACs Worth the Money?

One of the most confusing parts of buying a new air conditioner is understanding the SEER. The SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is a measurement of your air conditioner’s energy efficiency. This measurement is calculated by the total cooling output of your system divided by the total electric energy input, or Watt-Hours, required. So, in other words cooling power divided by electric power. The SEER rating/ratio is calculated over the entire cooling season as an average. It factors in a constant indoor temperature and then weighs that temperature against outside temperatures ranging from sixty degrees up to one-hundred degrees. By doing this range of temperatures they are able to calculate a typical season.

When you see a SEER rating on an air conditioner that SEER rating is that system’s maximum efficiency. If you went outside and checked the SEER on your current air conditioner it may say SEER fourteen. But, that fourteen rating is the maximum efficiency ratio and if your system is not tuned up every year and taken care of properly then you are most likely not at that SEER level. You will also not reach your maximum SEER rating if you are constantly changing the temperature throughout the day or even week. It is best to have one set temperature and stick with it. This ensures your air conditioner has a set target to reach and stay there.

In 2006 the United States Department of Energy, or DOE, required that air conditioners have a minimum of thirteen SEER. Then in 2015 another change was made by the DOE. This time they changed the minimum SEER from thirteen to fourteen, but only for specific states. This change focused on those states in the south east and south west of the country. This would include your hottest states in the Union including Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas. If you live in the northern part of the country though then your minimum SEER rating is still at thirteen.

Is It Worth the Money?

That is the question folks. Is it really worth the money to purchase a higher SEER system? Normally, when you are receiving quotes from an HVAC contractor there is pressure from them to buy the higher SEER models. But, before your buy you need to understand if it’s really worth the money or not. Of course, they will tell you it is, but let’s really look at it and determine how much you’ll save and if the higher SEER is for you.

First let’s consider the extra expense when purchasing a higher SEER model. It really depends on how much more efficient you want to get. If you move from a fourteen SEER up to a sixteen SEER then you are going to see an increased cost of about six-hundred to eight-hundred dollars. However, if you go up to the top tier models like a twenty-one SEER then you could see prices go as high as two-thousand or even three-thousand dollars higher than a standard fourteen SEER system.

Remember like we mentioned earlier, the SEER rating is the maximum efficiency of your air conditioner. That means it will NOT always be running at that SEER value. Over the years your system will become less and less efficient. That is just how things work. This could be due to wear and tear of your system, dust and grime on your evaporator coils, micro refrigerant leaks in the lines, and so many other variables.  You can minimize this degradation by taking excellent care of your air conditioner and ensuring all yearly maintenance is completed.

High SEER systems cost a lot more to repair then a standard system. If you have your compressor go out on your fourteen SEER system you could be looking at a three to four-hundred dollar repair. However, if your compressor goes out on a twenty-one SEER system then that could be a one-thousand dollar repair. There’s another downside here folks… A higher end SEER air conditioner uses what’s called a two stage compressor. This compressor allows the air conditioner to act like a larger or smaller air conditioner as needed. So, the compressor will switch stages depending on the demand of the temperature outside. While this sounds great, the downside is that these two speed compressors actually have a higher failure rate than a standard compressor. So, you could be looking at an expensive compressor repair sooner than you’d like.

All of the above being said, you will save money per month using a higher SEER system. Typically, these savings can range between fifty to eighty dollars a month. The question you have to ask yourself though is how often will you be running your air conditioner throughout the year? Will it be all year? Six months? Or, just a few months out of the year?

Let’s say for example you are running it for six months out of the year. Six months times eighty dollars a month equals out to four-hundred and eighty dollars in savings a year. So, now the question is how much more is the SEER system then your standard? Is it another two-thousand dollars? If so, then you it’s going to take you about four or five years to make up for that… and that is assuming you do not have a large part failure during that time.


As you can see from above it all relates to how often you are going to be running your air conditioner. If you are running it year round then that eighty dollars a month in savings sounds pretty good. But, if you’re only running the air conditioner for three months in the summer then it is definitely not worth your money to purchase a higher end system. The other factor to be taken in to consideration is the possible repairs. Yes, it’s a wildcard and you never know when it’s going to come up but a repair on a high SEER system can be quite pricey.

You will find that most people end up going with the standard fourteen SEER system. It is tried and true method and will cool your home. If you are in an extremely hot climate though, say like Phoenix, then you may consider purchasing a higher SEER system. When I say higher SEER system it doesn’t have to be a twenty-five SEER. No, it could even ben an eighteen. Just something a bit higher to give you that extra efficiency.