What is a SEER Rating?

SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is a measurement of efficiency for your air conditioner and heat pump. This number 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.

Air conditioners today can be purchased with a thirteen SEER all the way up to a twenty-five SEER. However, if you were to purchase an average air conditioner today you would most likely receive a unit between fourteen and eighteen SEER. This is the range that most folks are used to today.

Pros & Cons of Higher SEER Systems

The higher the SEER rating the more efficient your air conditioner is and the less you have to pay in monthly cooling bills. That being said, it is difficult to determine just how much you will save with a higher SEER system then a lower end one. There are still many factors to consider when looking at your energy bills. How insulated is your home and attic? Is warm air getting in through your windows and other areas? How much do you pay per kilowatts for your power? All of these factors can add or subtract the amount of savings that you’ll see with a higher SEER system.

Along with a more energy efficient system you also get a more stable and comfortable temperature with higher SEER systems. A lower end air conditioner are typically single stage systems and can only run at a single speed. With a single stage system your compressor will turn off and on during moderate temperatures. This results in extra energy costs and also in hot and cold spots throughout your home.

Whereas, a higher end SEER system will have a two stage or variable speed compressor that is automatically adjusted as needed. This allows the system to function like a five ton air conditioner on demanding days and a two ton system during light days. You also get a variable speed blower motor. This ensures that you are getting the maximum efficiency but also that your home will be comfortable during those hot summer months. If you live in a very hot climate such as Arizona then you might consider getting a higher SEER system just for the extra comfort.

The other thing to consider here is that while a higher SEER rating means a more efficient system it also means a much higher upfront expense. Yes, a higher rated SEER system such as one in the twenties is going to cost you a lot more upfront then a standard rated system of fifteen or sixteen. This is where you will need to decide on what you want. Do you want that large upfront expense and cheaper monthly energy bills? Or, do you want a cheaper system but higher month to month bills?

For some folks who can’t decide this there is always the compromise of a middle of the road system. Say for example that I’m looking for a new air conditioner and I don’t want the bare minimum fourteen SEER, but I don’t want to go crazy either and get a twenty-five SEER. In this case, I would look at the sixteen to twenty ranged SEERS. This gives me a fairly efficient system for not near as much cost as a twenty-five SEER. Just keep in mind that a higher SEER system can cost thousands more.

Is It Worth the Money?

That is the question folks. Is it really worth the money to purchase a higher SEER system? Well, to be honest with you, in most cases it’s not. Let’s take a look at why:

A higher SEER model can sometimes cost TWICE as much as a standard thirteen or fourteen SEER model. Some contractors will try to say that a higher SEER model will pay for itself after only a few years, but will it really?

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.

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… remember that two speed compressor we talked about earlier on higher SEER systems? Well, the 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 twenty-one or 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 I mentioned earlier folks you are going to find that most people throughout the country are using between a fourteen to sixteen SEER system. This is just your normal range. The sixteen SEER gives folks a bit of an efficiency upgrade without costing an arm and a leg. In most cases a sixteen SEER system will only be another eight-hundred dollars or so when compared to a fourteen.

All that being said though, if you are in a hotter climate and you are running your air conditioners almost year round then a higher SEER system may make sense for you. You get that extra savings per month and the constant comfortable temperature.

Ultimately, the final decision is going to be up to you. Do you want that higher upfront cost and potential savings down the road, or do you want to go with the traditional fourteen SEER systems?