We’ve heard it before. You should go for 14 SEER because it guarantees more savings over the life of the appliance. Fair enough. But, what about the extra upfront costs.
Perhaps the 13 SEER unit costs $1,500 upfront, whereas the 14 SEER option is $1,800. Is it better to pay the extra $300 and wait to recover the amount over the air conditioner’s life? Or should you opt for the less efficient AC to save the $300 upfront?
It’s never as straightforward as many people think. So let’s get into the details of SEER ratings to help you make an informed decision.
What are SEER Ratings?
SEER Ratings are efficiency ratings for air conditioners. The term stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (or Ratio).
The ratio of the amount of heat (in BTUs) the air conditioner can eliminate from the given room over a given period to the amount of electric energy (in watts) it would consume over the same duration. Thus, the calculation tells us how much heat the appliance can remove per unit time.
Thus, a 15 SEER air conditioner removes 15 BTUs of heat for every watt consumed while a 22 SEER unit removes 22 BTUs for every watt consumed.
However, there are two things to keep in mind;
- SEER is a seasonal average: The “S” in SEER stands for “Seasonal.” It tells us that SEER is the average performance of the air conditioner’s entire cooling season in a year.
- SEER is a measure of peak performance: If an air conditioner is rated 20 SEER, it means that, at its best, the appliance can remove 20 BTUs for every watt consumed.
Comparing 13 SEER vs. 14 SEER Air Conditioners
So, you’re faced with two options – a 13 SEER air conditioner and a 14 SEER unit. Which one is better? Which one should you purchase?
There are multiple factors to consider. First off, concerning energy efficiency, a 14 SEER air conditioner is better than a 13 SEER unit.
From the explanation above, we can deduce that a 14 SEER air conditioner extracts 14 BTUs of heat for every watt of electricity it draws. Meanwhile, a 13 SEER unit only removes 13 BTUs of heat for every watt. It’s a 1.0-watt difference. But it still means that the 14 SEER AC is superior.
Potential Energy Savings
So, perhaps you’re wondering how much energy you can save by choosing a 14 SEER air conditioner over a 13 SEER unit. Of course, this will depend on the size of the air conditioner.
Assuming that you’ve got your eyes trained on a 24K BTU air conditioner, you’ll consume 24,000/13 = 1,846.15 watts per hour using a 13 SEER air conditioner. Meanwhile, a 14 SEER model would draw 24,000/14 =1,714.29 watts.
So, the difference between the two is 131.86 watts per hour. So, opting for a 14 SEER 24,000 BTU air conditioner instead of a 13 SEER rated AC of the same size would save you 131.86 watts per hour, or roughly 132 watts per hour.
Remember that the figures are slightly higher for larger-size air conditioners and lower for smaller-size air conditioners. For instance, you’d save about 260 watts if using a 48,000 BTU air conditioner, assuming the same SEER options. Meanwhile, the difference when running a 12,000 BTU air conditioner is about 65.94 watts per hour.
Potential Cost Savings
You can go ahead and calculate the cost difference of running the two air conditioners. We know that the average cost of electricity in the US is currently 13.76 cents/kilowatt (1000 watts). This translates to $0.1376/kilowatt.
So, here’s the cost difference for running the difference AC sizes, assuming that the average home runs the AC for eight (8) hours per day and that the average cooling season lasts 125 days (1,000) hours – these are the industry standards.
For the 12,000 BTUs AC;
- Cost difference per hour = 0.1376 x 0.06594 = $0.009072/hour
- Cost difference per day (8 hours) = $0.009072/hour x 8 hours = $0.07258/day
- Cost difference per season = $0.07258/day x 125 days = $9.0729/year
For the 24,000 BTU AC;
- Cost difference per hour = 0.1376 x 0.13186 = $0.01814/hour
- Cost difference per day = $0.01814/hour x 8 hours = $0.1451/day
- Cost difference per season = $0.1451/day x 125 days = $18.1439/year
For the 48,000 BTU AC;
- Cost difference per hour = $0.03628/hour
- Cost difference per day = $0.2902/day
- Cost difference per season = $36.2878/year
So, it’s easy to see that you stand to save significantly by choosing a 14 SEER air conditioner over a 13 SEER unit. The actual cost difference varies depending on the total run time. For instance, if you typically use your AC 10 hours a day for 150 days in the year, you can save even more by opting for a higher-efficiency (SEER) air conditioner.
The same applies to climatic conditions. For example, people in the southern states or hotter nations where the sun is up for the better of the year may need the AC for more than 200 days of the year. Thus, energy efficiency differences and related cost savings are more pronounced for homes in these areas.
On the Flip Side
Unfortunately, buying an air conditioner isn’t just about potential future savings. You must also consider several other factors, including upfront costs – and that’s where things begin to go haywire.
Higher-efficiency air conditioners typically cost more than lower-efficiency models. However, the price difference isn’t uniform as appliance prices also depend on multiple other factors such as the projected lifespan and quality of the parts, to name just a few.
However, keeping all the other factors equal, a 14 SEER air conditioner will be more expensive upfront than a 13 SEER unit.
So, say the difference is about $200, which is highly plausible. Does it make sense to pay the extra $200 upfront for the energy-saving potential of the 14 SEER air conditioner? Let’s go back to the projected energy savings above to determine how long it takes to break even.
Assuming a price difference of $200, it takes;
- The 12,000 BTU AC 200/$9.0729 = 22 years to break even
- The 24,000 BTU AC 200/$18.1439 = 11 years to break even
- The 48,000 BTU AC 200/$36.2878 = 5 ½ years to break even
Given the figures, you may be tempted to buy a 14 SEER model over a 13 SEER option when shopping for a 48,000 BTU air conditioner. But, would you be willing to wait 22 years for the 12,000 BTU air conditioner to break even or 11 years for the 24,000 BTU AC to break even?
Speaking purely from an economic standpoint, it’s a massive gamble. The air conditioner may not even live long enough to see 22 years. If this happens, you would never recover your investment.
However, not everything is strictly about economics. Sometimes we buy superior items just because we feel better having superior items. As we’ve seen, a 14 SEER AC is superior to a 13 SEER AC. Additionally, many people buy more energy-efficient appliances out of the recent environmental degradation concerns. So it’s another good reason to buy 14 SEER over 13 SEER.
14 SEER air conditioners are more energy-efficient than 13 SEER models. So, if you’re purely motivated by energy savings, then a 14 SEER unit is the automatic choice. However, keep in mind that the cost difference is minimal.
For an average 24,000 BTU air conditioner, you only save about $18 per year. Therefore, if you’re concerned about the economic benefits, the two options, i.e., 13 SEER and 14 SEER, aren’t very different.