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What is an Air Conditioner’s SEER Rating? A Complete Beginner’s Guide

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If you’re shopping around for a new air conditioner or heat pump in the New Jersey area, you’ve no doubt heard the term “SEER” a few times.

You know it’s related to energy efficiency, but you can’t quite wrap your head around it completely. 

No worries! We’re going to help you out. Here’s your complete beginner’s guide to SEER where we’ll answer questions like:

  • What is a SEER rating?
  • What is the range of SEER ratings?
  • What should my air conditioner’s SEER rating be?
  • How much money will I actually save with a higher rated SEER A/C?

What is a SEER rating?

SEER is an acronym meaning Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. That’s a fancy way of telling you how energy efficient an air conditioner is.

Think of it as the “Miles Per Gallon” (MPG) of an air conditioner, except it’s measuring how efficient it is at using electricity to provide cooling.

Key Point: The higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient an air conditioner is and therefore the more money you’ll save through lower electricity bills.

What is the range of SEER ratings?

SEER, like MPG, is always improving as technology improves, so there’s no absolute maximum SEER rating. But here are some benchmarks that you should be aware of as you’re shopping around:

  • Older air conditioner (8-10 years old) SEER ratings: Around 8-10 SEER (Your air conditioner is probably about this efficient.)
  • Minimum SEER rating based on current federal standards: 13 SEER (You can’t buy an air conditioner with a SEER rating lower than this anymore.)
  • Most efficient SEER ratings: 20+

What should my air conditioner’s SEER rating be?

There’s no right answer for this other than “it depends on your budget.” Higher SEER air conditioners cost more. But they also can lower your electric bills and save you money in the long run.

So what SEER rating you get depends on how much upfront cost can you afford right now to get more long-term savings.

How much money will I actually save with a higher SEER rated  A/C?

This depends on a variety of factors, but to give you an estimate, use this a helpful annual energy savings calculator from NATE.

We’ll give you an example of how the tool works. Let’s assume you are:

  • Upgrading from an 8 SEER to a 15 SEER
  • Getting a new, 4-ton unit (tonnage is the size of your AC and describes its cooling ability. You may need a professional air conditioner contractor to determine what tonnage you need.)
  • Being charged an electric rate of $0.080 per kilowatt by your utility company.

Here are your estimated savings per year:

Use these estimated savings to determine how long it will take to “break even” when purchasing a higher rated air conditioner. 

If you want a more detailed calculator where you can change more variables (like your electric rate per kilowatt), use this SEER savings Calculator (excel file) from Energy Star.

If you have any nagging questions about SEER or air conditioners in general, ask one of our experts online. They’ll be happy to help!