What HVAC Energy-Efficiency Ratings Mean

Are you comparing the efficiency ratings of new heating and cooling systems? Perhaps you want to check the rating on your existing HVAC equipment. Either way, you can find the efficiency rating and projected annual operating costs by checking the yellow Energy Guide label on the side of the unit. Here’s more information about the different ratings you might see and what they mean. 

What Is a SEER Rating? 

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a measurement of air conditioning efficiency. The SEER rating represents the cooling output of an air conditioner over an entire cooling season, divided by the amount of energy consumed during that period. A higher SEER rating indicates better energy efficiency and lower energy bills. 

Today, the minimum SEER rating for new air conditioners is 14 SEER in the northern U.S. and 15 SEER in the southern U.S. This is an increase from the previous minimum requirement of 13 SEER in the north and 14 SEER in the south, which was in effect from 2015 to 2022. This change reflects the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) ongoing efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

These days, high-end air conditioners boast ratings of 26 SEER or higher, offering amazing energy savings. However, impressive SEER ratings usually come with a higher up-front cost. This means you should consider both the initial investment and the potential for long-term savings when choosing a new air conditioner. 

What Is an EER Rating? 

While SEER ratings get more attention, cooling systems have another efficiency metric you should know about. It’s called EER, and it stands for Energy Efficiency Ratio. This conveys the performance of an air conditioner under specific operating conditions. The EER rating helps you understand whether the system will keep up with demand on the hottest summer days. 

Currently, only the southwest region has a minimum EER rating of 12.2 EER for residential central air conditioners. Peak ratings top out at about 14 EER. Consider that SEER and EER typically correspond, with higher ratings indicating better overall performance. 

What Is an HSPF Rating? 

Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) ratings are measurements of the energy efficiency of air-source heat pumps when in heating mode. HSPF is a ratio of the total heat output in British Thermal Units (BTUs) during the heating season to the amount of electricity used in watt-hours. A higher HSPF rating indicates a more efficient heat pump. 

The minimum HSPF rating for new heat pumps is 8.8 HSPF, an increase from the previous minimum of 8.2 HSPF. By requiring higher minimum HSPF ratings, the DOE hopes to encourage the use of more energy-efficient heating systems in homes and businesses throughout the U.S. You can always settle for the minimum, but you may want to consider a high-end heat pump with a rating of 13 HSPF or higher for the best performance. 

What Is an AFUE Rating? 

Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings are another measure of heating system efficiency, but they apply to furnaces and boilers. AFUE is a ratio of the annual heat output to the energy consumed during that period. The higher the AFUE rating, the more efficient the heating system. 

In 2023, the minimum AFUE rating for new gas furnaces changed to 81. Previously, the south and southwest had a minimum of 80 AFUE, and the north required ratings of 90 AFUE or higher. While you aren’t required to install anything above the minimum, you’ll save on your heating bills by choosing a furnace rated 95 AFUE or higher. 

What Is an ENERGY STAR® Rating? 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the ENERGY STAR program in 1992 to help homeowners and businesses identify the most energy-efficient products available. HVAC equipment, appliances, water heaters, light fixtures, office equipment, electronics and building products that meet or exceed specific criteria can earn ENERGY STAR certification. 

ENERGY STAR-rated products go above and beyond the minimum requirements to save energy and reduce emissions without sacrificing performance or features. You can also look for the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient designation, which recognizes the top performers in energy efficiency and innovation. The EPA is currently overhauling the qualification requirements in the wake of the new minimum HVAC efficiency standards. 

Install an Efficient HVAC System 

For help deciding which HVAC energy-efficiency rating is right for your budget, turn to Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning. We can assess your situation and help you make an informed decision. Rest assured that we offer a range of products from today’s top brands, all of which meet or exceed the minimum efficiency requirements for 2023. We’re so confident you’ll be satisfied with our services that we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee! For more information or to schedule a free HVAC installation estimate, please contact a Service Experts office near you

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