14 SEER vs. 16 SEER: Which is Best For a Home Air Conditioner?

Our home air conditioners get plenty of use for much of the year in Arizona. It makes sense that we should want an efficient, well-performing system to keep us cool during our scorching summers.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, air conditioners use about 6% of all electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost to homeowners of about $29 billion.

To save energy and money, you need to choose the best air conditioner for your home and comfort level, but it’s not always clear how to select the right one.

One of the things that should factor into your decision is the SEER rating.

What is SEER?

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it’s used to indicate an air conditioner’s efficiency and performance. The SEER rating reflects how much energy an air conditioner will use over one year.

The energy efficiency of air conditioners has increased dramatically in the past decade.

Generally, the higher the SEER, the less energy you’ll use for cooling your home.

Cooling systems generally fall into three categories based on their SEER rating:

  • Baseline efficiency: 13-16 SEER
  • Mid-efficiency: 16-18 SEER
  • High-efficiency: 20+ SEER

In 2015, the Department of Energy set different minimum SEER standards for northern and southern states. In states with long, hot summers, including Arizona, new air conditioners must have a minimum SEER of 14.

That means any new air conditioning unit you buy now will have a SEER rating of 14 or higher, which is far more energy-efficient than an older unit you may currently have.

As of January 1, 2023, the minimum SEER rating of new air conditioners sold in Arizona and other southern states will rise to 15, and in northern states, it will increase to 14. The Department of Energy estimates that the new standards will save U.S. homeowners a total of $2.5 billion to $12.5 billion on energy costs between 2023 and 2052.

Some older air conditioners have a SEER rating of only 8 or 9, so any unit you buy today will cost you significantly less to operate than an older system. Your older system may also have deteriorated over the years, making it even less efficient than its low SEER indicates.

An air conditioning unit must have a minimum 14 SEER to qualify for an ENERGY STAR designation, so whether you choose a 14 or 16 SEER system, you should be able to purchase an ENERGY STAR model.

The advanced technology used to produce units with a higher SEER rating does come at a price. These more efficient units will generally have a higher upfront cost than air conditioners with a lower rating.

However, a higher SEER rating also means less energy use, less money spent to run the unit, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

What SEER rating is best for your home?

The efficiency of any new system you install will depend on many variables, including the size of your home and how well insulated it is, the condition of your ductwork, how well the air conditioning system is maintained, and other factors.

Your desired comfort level, how low you set your thermostat, and how much you run your air conditioner also factor into choosing the ideal SEER rating for your home air conditioner.

Another consideration is whether you plan to sell your home in the next year or so.  If so, you may not be in your home long enough to see maximum benefits from the increased energy savings of a higher SEER unit.

A Chas Roberts air conditioning pro can help you evaluate the available options and choose a unit with the best SEER rating for your needs.

14 SEER vs. 16 SEER

You should be aware of several differences between 14 and 16 SEER-rated air conditioners.

  • There’s a difference in energy efficiency levels between 14 and 16 SEER.

According to the Kobie SEER Energy Savings Calculator, a 16 SEER unit uses about 13% less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as a 14 SEER unit.

So for every $100 you’d pay to cool your home with a 14 SEER air conditioner, you’d save $13 with a 16 SEER, making a 16 SEER unit more cost-effective to run.

  • 14 SEER units generally have a single-stage compressor, while 16 SEER units often have a two-stage compressor.

A two-stage compressor lets the 16 SEER unit adapt to the conditions in your home, while the single-stage compressor in the 14 SEER unit either runs at full speed or shuts off.

In addition to increased energy efficiency, a 16 SEER unit’s two-stage compressor allows for longer run times and keeps the temperature in your home more consistent.

  • Although Arizona summers aren’t as humid as summers in some other states, the longer run times of a 16 SEER air conditioning unit with a two-stage compressor make it better at reducing the humidity in your home.
  • Another benefit of a 16 SEER unit with a two-stage compressor is that it may also have two-speed condensing fans and blowers, adding to the benefits of the two-stage compressor.
  • Air conditioning units with two-stage compressors are often quieter than those with single-stage compressors and fans, because the two-stage compressor units can run at a lower speed.
  • To receive a federal tax credit, you’ll need to purchase a minimum 16 SEER-rated split system air conditioning system.

Conclusion

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to determine whether a 14- or 16- SEER rated air conditioning system is best for your home. You’ll need to consider various factors when making that decision.

You’ll have to balance out the amount of money you’ll spend for a new unit vs. the energy savings for a higher SEER-rated, more efficient air conditioner while considering your home and its needs.

You should consult an HVAC professional to discuss the available options and help you make the right choice.

Chas Roberts is the oldest and largest residential HVAC company in Arizona and has been family-owned and operated for over 75 years.  We have the best-trained technicians in the industry.  Contact us for affordable, reliable service.

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