As you look for a new air conditioner, the SEER rating is one quality you can’t ignore. A SEER rating measures air conditioner efficiency, and the more efficient the air conditioner, the less energy it uses to get the job done. Why should you care?

Well, for one thing, the SEER helps determine how much you spend on electricity each month. Energy saved is money saved, and sometimes, an updated air conditioner with a better SEER is worth it even if you don’t have issues with your 10-year-old unit.

But what is a good SEER rating? 

The short answer: it depends on your budget, your home, and what you’re looking for. 

What Does SEER Mean?

Understanding what SEER is will help you pick the best SEER rating for your home. 

To start, SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. As we said, it’s a measure of how energy efficient your A/C unit is. 

An easy way to think about it is like your car’s miles per gallon ratio. The more miles per gallon you have, the farther you get before you have to buy more gas. With SEER, the higher the rating, the longer your A/C will run on the same amount of energy. It’s more cooling for the same cost. 

It’s important to note that SEER is the max efficiency of your A/C—how it performs in optimal conditions. It can work at lower efficiencies at other times depending on factors like: 

  • Outdoor temperature
  • Thermostat settings
  • Sun exposure
  • Ductwork
  • Home ventilation
  • Size of home
  • Air filter quality
  • Mechanical issues

How Is SEER Calculated? 

The SEER of an A/C unit is calculated by testing the unit throughout “the cooling season” (summertime). The idea is to see how the air conditioner performs in a real case scenario. 

The unit’s thermostat is kept at the same temperature throughout outdoor temperatures ranging from 60 to 104 degrees. Then, the cooling output is divided by the amount of energy used (measured in watt-hours) to provide the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. 

What SEER Ratings Are Available?

To recap: the higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the air conditioner.

Modern A/C SEER ratings range from 13 to 22 on average, but the highest SEER rating currently available is 26. 

Now, just because a high rating is more efficient doesn’t mean that a 15 SEER is inefficient, for example. Many old models in houses have ratings of 9 or 10, so a 15 SEER is still a big improvement.

SEER Rating Requirements

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) creates energy-efficiency requirements for selling HVAC equipment, including a SEER minimum. The SEER minimum doesn’t affect anything you own, but it does mean you can’t buy a new A/C unit with a SEER below the minimum. Naturally, SEER requirements vary within the North and South regions of the U.S. to match average weather conditions. 

Right now, the minimum SEER permitted in the Northern U.S. is 13 and in the South is 14. However, the DOE has established new standards for 2023. At the beginning of 2023, the minimum SEER will rise to 14 in the North and 15 in the South.

Is a Higher SEER Rating Worth It?

A Higher SEER = Lower Bills

Since an A/C unit with a higher SEER is more efficient, it uses less energy to get the job done and means a lower electric bill for you each month.

You might point out that A/C units with higher SEERs are also more expensive, and you would be right. As a result, the higher SEER might not be worth it for you. We’ll dive more into this in the budgeting section below. 

High-Efficiency Is Better for the Earth

If you love to do what you can for the planet, it’s worth reminding you that less energy use also lowers your greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. In other words, investing in a high-efficiency air conditioner allows you to help reduce pollution and improve air quality.

A More Comfortable House

Part of what makes high SEER air conditioners more efficient is that they use a 2-stage or variable-speed compressor and a variable-speed blower that allows for multi-stage cooling. 

What does this mean in human speak?

Essentially, low SEER units only have one stage: on. They stay on until the air reaches your desired temperature, and then they turn off until the temperature rises, causing them to turn back on. Instead, a multi-stage cooling unit can work at full and partial capacities, so they cool your home more evenly without turning on and off repeatedly. 

In addition to saving energy, the multi-stage cooling (often found in a 16 SEER A/C unit and up) makes for a more comfortable home. It prevents random cold and hot spots and is better at removing humidity. In Southern states where hot summer days feel like walking through molasses, humidity control is a must.

A Quieter Home

Let’s face it—some A/C units start groaning loudly the second they come on. It’s not the worst thing once your ears adjust; still, another benefit of A/C units with a higher SEER rating is that they don’t always run at full capacity, so they tend to be quieter. 

Budgeting for an Air Conditioner With a High SEER Rating

You want the benefits of a high air conditioning SEER rating, but you’re concerned about the heftier price tag. We get it, so here are a few ways to bring that price down:

Tax Credits: In recent years, the government offered a $300 tax credit for purchasing a central air conditioning unit for your primary residence that meets specific SEER requirements. For split systems, the requirement was a SEER of 16 or higher. For package systems, it was a SEER of 14 or higher. These tax credits may be extended into future years by Congress. You can check for updates on the Energy Star website under Equipment Tax Credits for Primary Residences

Manufacturer Rebates: Shop around for a manufacturer that offers rebates. A rebate is money you get back after purchasing an item. Some HVAC stores provide cash rebates or utility rebates with select products. 

Calculate Your Long-Term Savings: We’ve said many times that a higher SEER can save you money on your energy bill, but how do you know if you’ll save enough to justify the price?

Fortunately, there are SEER savings calculators that can help you decide. All you need to know is your current A/C tonnage, current A/C SEER rating, and the new unit’s SEER rating (you can play around with this number to see different savings). 

The tonnage of your unit is a measure of its cooling power. If you don’t know your tonnage, you can look at the model number on the condensing unit outside your house. The model number is a string of letters and numbers; you want to look for an even two-digit number between 18 and 60. This is how the numbers correlate to tonnage:

  • 18 = 1.5 tons
  • 24 = 2 tons
  • 30 = 2.5 tons
  • 36 = 3 tons
  • 42 = 3.5 tons
  • 48 = 4 tons
  • 60 = 5 tons

While looking at your possible savings over time, remember to consider how long you plan to live in your house. If you plan to move soon, the investment may not be worth it.

Select the High SEER Reward With OpenHouse

OpenHouse Home Insurance offers several lifestyle rewards that lower your premium, including a reward for having a high A/C SEER rating. If you get an A/C unit with a SEER rating of 15 or higher, select this reward when building your policy to save.

So, What SEER Rating Should I Buy?

If your current air conditioner is over a decade old, no matter what SEER rating you get, it’ll be an upgrade. But that doesn’t mean you can’t want better for your home, wallet, and the environment. So, what is a good SEER rating for your home?

Our recommendation is in line with the U.S. Department of Energy. If you live up North, you should have at least a 14 SEER. If you live down South, up that number to at least 15 to account for hotter weather and humidity. 

Since your home’s size, ducts, and ventilation can play a role in whether an A/C unit performs at its maximum rating, it’s a good idea to ask an HVAC specialist for their recommendation for your home. If a 21 SEER will mainly perform at 17 in your home, you might as well get the 17.

And remember: whatever you decide, proper installation and routine maintenance will help your A/C perform at its max for years to come.