The US Department of Energy is paying ever-increasing attention to the efficiency and environmental impact of HVAC systems, and you may be too.
During warmer months, we all appreciate the comfort that home air conditioning units provide. There is no better feeling than walking inside your home and being welcomed by a wave of cool air. However, this comfort may come with a cost.
Chemical refrigerants used in air conditioners turn into harmful greenhouse gasses if they leak during repair or disposal. Running an air conditioner uses energy that is often powered by fossil fuels, contributing to global warming. Home heating units also use high levels of energy to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.
As a homeowner, a low-efficiency unit can cause your electric bills to skyrocket.
With increasing energy costs and consumer awareness of the environmental impact, energy efficiency is an essential factor when considering purchasing a new air conditioner or other HVAC units for your home.
The US Department of Energy is also raising its standards when evaluating the efficiency of air conditioners and other HVAC systems. As of January 1st, 2023, new minimum efficiency requirements are being introduced, primarily based on a measurement called the SEER rating, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio.
This article will help you understand the SEER rating and other ways that HVAC systems are rated for energy efficiency. You’ll also be more informed about how these regulations will impact your choices when looking to add or upgrade the HVAC systems in your home.
Understanding Energy-Efficiency in Air Conditioners
Simply put, an HVAC unit is energy-efficient when it uses a lower amount of electricity while still offering a comfortable home temperature.
You may be familiar with ENERGY STAR labeling, which can be found on many major home appliances. Looking for this label is a great start when searching for an energy-efficient unit.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has strict guidelines for measuring the efficiency of air conditioners and other HVAC systems. Units can only use this label if they meet these requirements.
For an air conditioner to have an ENERGY STAR label, the unit must use at least 8% less than conventional units, and the most energy-efficient air conditioner on the market uses up to 30% less energy. There are also measurements for heat pumps so that you can be confident that you are lowering your energy usage all year long.
To determine energy efficiency for HVAC units, there are three main types of classifications used by the U.S. Department of Energy:
An ENERGY STAR-labeled air conditioner or heating unit will have a SEER rating, EER rating, HSPF rating, or any combination of the three. Understanding these ratings is key to understanding the upcoming changes to efficiency standards for HVAC systems.
Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)
The Energy Efficiency Ratio, or EER rating, measures AC unit efficiency and can be found on the datasheet of any air conditioner. Most often, this rating is used for assessing energy efficiency for window units and other small air conditioners. Testers evaluate efficiency in a set environment when using this measurement method.
The following three components are designed to create an ideal testing environment:
- An outdoor temperature of 95°F
- An indoor temperature of 80°F
- 50% relative humidity level
Once these levels are in place, the tester will measure energy consumption by seeing how many watts of electricity are used when the unit is running. The tester will also look for the manufacturer-provided useful cooling capacity, which is commonly seen listed as BTUs. An EER rating is then calculated by dividing the BTU rating of the AC unit by its wattage consumption. As an example, a small window unit may typically have an 8000 BTU rating and use 800 watts of power, resulting in an EER rating of 10. The average EER rating for portable units is 8.5.
For an AC unit to be considered energy-efficient, the minimum EER rating is 11. When you are looking to purchase a smaller portable AC unit, it is best to look for a higher rating to ensure that your AC is energy-efficient.
Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)
We know that in a real-world scenario, the temperature outside isn’t constantly 95°F. The EER rating is a great place to start but doesn’t tell the whole story. Because of this, a more comprehensive method was introduced called the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER rating.
Unlike EER, SEER rates how energy efficient the air conditioner would be over an entire season. Using a range of outdoor temperatures from 60°F to 100°F with a constant indoor temperature, the SEER rating measures how efficiency varies. To account for these variables, testers use a more complex equation to calculate the final SEER rating.
You now know just how much that air conditioning unit is costing you to run.
Just as with the EER rating, the higher the SEER, the more energy-efficient the air conditioner is. An AC unit with a higher SEER rating also typically functions differently than a less efficient model, using variable speed compressors and variable speed blowers, rather than single components. With fewer starts and stops, it uses less energy and runs smoother.
Knowing the SEER rating is just one tool in your toolbox when considering purchasing a new air conditioning unit. Energy efficiency can also be impacted by the size of your home, your current ductwork, and other factors. An HVAC professional will consider all of this, plus the SEER rating, to help you choose the right air conditioning unit for your home.
Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)
There are also ways to measure the efficiency of heating units so that you can ensure that you are heating and cooling your home in an energy-efficient way all year long. The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, or HSPF, calculates the energy efficiency of heat pumps.
The HSPF is calculated in a very similar way to a SEER rating, comparing the energy used in kilowatts per hour and the heating capacity of the unit in BTUs, measuring these components over the heating season. Just as with EER and SEER, the higher the rating, the more energy efficient the unit is.
New Regulations for HVAC Systems
There are multiple ways that heating and cooling systems are regulated to ensure that they are efficient and safe for the environment. Environmentally harmful refrigerants are no longer allowed to be manufactured or used, there is increasing legislation around how air conditioning systems are recycled, and there are requirements for the energy efficiency of HVAC units.
In the US, regulations already exist that place a minimum SEER rating for residential air conditioners and heat pumps. The Energy Independence and Security Act requires a SEER rating of at least 13 SEER in Northern states and 14 SEER in Southern, Southeastern, and Southwestern states.
However, these regulations are changing. As of January 1st, 2023, the EPA’s new minimum rating and testing requirements will go into effect. Most HVAC equipment, including all newly installed home AC units and heat pumps, will have to meet the updated standards. It’s estimated that 70% of existing products will no longer meet these guidelines.
The Department of Energy has concluded that though the current SEER method accounts for seasonal temperature changes, it does not simulate the effects of ductwork and external static pressure on HVAC systems. The goal is to evaluate efficiency in a way that best reflects real-world conditions. Once tested using the new requirements, HVAC systems will be labeled with SEER2, EER2, and HSPF2 ratings, denoting the more comprehensive measurement of energy-efficiency standards.
Additionally, heat pumps will go through a nationwide upgrade, but split-system air conditioners will be upgraded by region. As old equipment is phased out, home builders and HVAC contractors in Northern states will reference a unit’s date of manufacture, while those in Southern states will determine SEER rating compliance based on the date that they are installing the unit.
Changes in SEER ratings will also apply to single-packaged units, evaporator coils, and gas furnaces.
Air Conditioner Condensing Units
The SEER2 regulatory changes go into effect on January 1st, 2023. Air conditioner condensing units will have to meet the Department of Energy’s SEER2 rating minimums and M1 testing requirements.
At that time, all newly installed cooling units will also have to meet regional standards.
In Northern states, the minimum level of energy efficiency for an air conditioning unit will increase from a 13.0 to a 14.0 SEER rating. Any 13.0 SEER-rated air conditioner that was built before January 1st, 2023, will still be able to be installed on or after January 1st.
In Southern states, the minimum level of energy efficiency will increase from a 14.0 to a 15.0 SEER rating. Unlike in the Northern states, any air conditioner that does not meet the new requirements cannot be installed on or after January 1st, 2023.
Single-Packaged Units and Mini-Splits
Single-packaged air conditioning and heating units are less affected by the 2023 SEER changes. The current minimum efficiency ratings for these units are 14.0 for SEER and 8.0 for HSPF. The minimum for these ratings is not changing.
With the updated testing methodology, newly manufactured units will be rated by SEER2 and HSPF2 standards. In 2023, the SEER2 minimum will be 13.4, and the HSPF2 minimum will be 6.7. With the new rating system, these are new numbers, but still the same level of efficiency as before.
Mini-Split Air Conditioning products and Mini-Split Heat Pump products will have to comply with the new HSPF2 and SEER2 rating and testing standards. Like air conditioner condensing units, the efficiency levels depend on the region in which the unit is installed.
As of January 1st, 2023, split-system heat pumps will also have to comply with regulations similar to air conditioner condensing units.
The new efficiency standard for split systems will increase from a 14.0 SEER rating to a 14.3 SEER2 (equal to 15.0 SEER) and 7.5 HSPF2 (equal to 8.8 HSPF). Single-instillation heat pump units are subject to less strict guidelines and can remain at 13.4 SEER2 (equal to 14.0 SEER) and 6.7 HSPF2 (equal to 8.0 HSPF).
These units will have to be tested using the new methodology, but unlike air condensing units, existing heat pumps with a 14.0 SEER rating can still be sold and installed in all regions after January 1st, 2023.
New SEER2 Ratings: What Does It Mean for Homeowners?
The new SEER air conditioner and heating unit standards don’t require you to make any immediate changes. These federal regulations go into effect in 2023 but only apply to new HVAC units being installed. With the differing regulations by region, contractors in Northern states can also still sell units that have been manufactured before January 1st, 2023.
That being said, if your current AC or heating unit is old, it is still worth considering upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient unit.
There are many benefits to having a more energy-efficient heating or air conditioning unit. Units with a higher SEER rating will lower your energy costs, are better for the environment, and with advanced technology, your home’s temperature is regulated more evenly and efficiently. Tax incentives and rebates are also often offered for homeowners purchasing more energy-efficient appliances.
Costs for these new units are estimated to be as much as 15-20% more in 2023 than units on the market now. The new regulations require changes in how units are manufactured and manufacturers will have to develop new methods to lower energy usage.
Even though this means a higher upfront cost, with lower energy bills, a more reliable unit, and potential government incentives, purchasing a high-rated SEER air conditioner unit or heat pump may be a smart choice for your home. There are also financing plans available to help you spread this cost over time and make purchasing a new unit more accessible.
On the other hand, though a low SEER rating has benefits, it is only one component to consider when purchasing a new unit. If you purchase a new HVAC unit this year, you will be able to buy a unit that adheres to current regulations, but after January 1, 2023, HVAC companies will no longer be able to install units that don’t meet the updated standards. Purchasing in 2022 may mean a lower upfront cost while still increasing efficiency when replacing your old unit.
It’s a lot of information, and there are many choices available to you. An HVAC specialist is the best person to advise you on all the things to think about, whether you are in the market for a new system today or might be installing one in the future.
In 2023 the Federal Government is imposing new efficiency standards for air conditioning and heating units installed in the United States.
The government regulates efficiency by using three types of ratings - SEER, EER, and HSPF. In 2023, the SEER rating, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, will be updated to SEER2. EER and HSPF measurement methods are being updated as well, and all are core components of how units will be regulated in 2023.
Energy-efficient air conditioning and heating units can help lower your energy costs, provide a more comfortable living space and benefit the environment. When considering purchasing a new air conditioner or heat pump, it is important to understand what a SEER rating means, as well as many other factors that impact energy efficiency. Our experts are here to answer any questions you might have about energy efficiency regulations and to guide you in choosing the right unit for your home, so contact us today for more information!