Post: Pileiro’s Guide to SEER Ratings

If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system, you may see an unfamiliar acronym popping up: SEER. What do these four letters stand for, and what do they have to do with heating and cooling?

SEER is an abbreviation for “seasonal energy efficiency ratio.” It’s a standard first defined in 2008 by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. An air conditioner or heat pump’s SEER is an essential metric determining its efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy enforces specific minimum SEER ratings by geographic region to help homeowners save money on their energy bills and decrease their carbon footprint. In New Jersey, the minimum SEER is 13.

What Are SEER Ratings?

Essentially, a SEER rating operates on the same concept as a car’s MPG. The higher the number, the more comfort you’ll get from each dollar you spend on cooling your home. For example, an air conditioner with a maximum SEER of 20 uses energy more efficiently than an air conditioner with a 16 SEER rating. 

Your system’s efficiency can vary based on factors such as your home’s size and your ductwork’s quality. That means even if you have a newer unit with a higher SEER rating, you’ll still want to use other energy-saving tips during peak cooling season.  

How Are SEER Ratings Calculated?

SEER is the ratio of an air conditioner’s total heat removal over a typical cooling season – expressed in British thermal units – divided by the electrical energy it uses in watt-hours. 

An HVAC unit’s efficiency varies according to the ambient conditions, and the SEER calculation attempts to account for this by requiring a constant 80-degree indoor temperature with 50% relative humidity, and variable outdoor temperatures ranging from 65 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s a Good SEER Rating for Your Home?

The definition of a “good” SEER is relative to factors such as the climate where you live, your home’s square footage and what qualities you’re looking for in a new heat pump or air conditioner.

While the minimum SEER on the East Coast is 13, most homeowners opt to go a little bit higher if their budget allows. However, as you comparison shop for HVAC units, remember that any brand-new air conditioner or heat pump you buy will feel like a significant upgrade over your old system, especially one that has been limping along on its last legs for a while.

Is Higher Better?

If you are an environmentally conscious consumer, you will likely want to replace your old HVAC system with a new unit offering the highest seasonal energy efficiency ratio you can afford. While there’s no universal correct answer for every household, it’s a general rule of thumb that higher SEER numbers offer more benefits.

While they require a more significant upfront investment, air conditioners and heat pumps with SEER ratings of 16 and above can net you considerable savings on your energy bills over their lifespan, which means you can expect to recoup your initial expense as time goes by.

Higher Energy Efficiency

HVAC units with higher SEER ratings usually offer features like multi-stage cooling, which means the unit will stay on more frequently, rather than continually starting and stopping. Just like driving in stop-and-go traffic during rush hour is worse for your gas mileage, it is more efficient for a heat pump or air conditioner to run at a consistent, lower speed instead of cycling on and off multiple times throughout each day.

Greater Indoor Comfort

Buying an air conditioning system with a higher SEER ensures you and your family will be more comfortable in the sweltering summer months, especially as we continue to set new records for hot weather.

Units with higher SEER ratings typically come with a two-stage compressor and a variable-speed blower fan, which create a more consistent temperature and lower the humidity levels throughout your home. These benefits also require less energy than the standard air conditioning unit. An experienced HVAC technician can help you find the best choice for your home and budget. 

How to Find Your HVAC Unit’s SEER Rating

If your HVAC unit’s yellow-and-black Energy Guide sticker is still in place and legible, it should prominently feature your SEER number. Alternatively, your installer may have taped a list of the system’s specs somewhere on the appliance.

Some manufacturers also include the SEER rating on the data plate before the model number. You might look for something like “XC15” followed by a series of additional numbers and dashes. In this example, the SEER rating is 15.

If you’ve checked the HVAC unit itself and still see no indication of the SEER, you can look in your owner’s manual. Or, if you can find the unit’s model and serial number, you can contact the manufacturer to ask them to provide its SEER rating.

What Happens to Your SEER Rating Over Time?

Like all appliances, HVAC efficiency decreases as the unit ages. Due to cumulative wear and tear, an air conditioner you had installed five years ago will be less efficient than the current model year. 

You can protect your investment and prolong your HVAC’s lifespan with a preventive maintenance plan. However, in some cases, a brand-new heat pump or air conditioner is a better solution if you find yourself needing to call your local HVAC repair company to manage frequent breakdowns. If you’re replacing an older air conditioning unit with a more efficient one, you may qualify for a tax rebate, depending on where you live and what you have installed. You can use’s rebate finder to determine your eligibility.


As a homeowner, being proactive about upkeep is always a winning strategy to save yourself time and money in the long run and avoid unexpected equipment breakdowns that can leave your family sweating through a scorching summer day, forcing you to part with more of your hard-earned cash to repair. 

As your local Trane Comfort Specialist™, Pileiro Heating and Cooling adheres to Trane’s notoriously stringent quality specifications. Our techs commit to completing ongoing training and education to remain at the top of their profession. Whether you need 24-hour emergency service or you’re ready to learn more about buying a new, high-efficiency HVAC unit to fit your household’s needs and budget, contact us today.

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