For decades, SEER ratings established the minimum efficiency requirements for residential heat pumps and air conditioners. However, as of 2023, SEER ratings have been replaced with new SEER2 standards. If you plan on installing new cooling equipment in your San Diego, CA home, it’s important to understand what this change means and how it affects you. Read on to find out more.

SEER Testing and Its Most Significant Oversight

SEER testing determines the seasonal energy efficiency ratio or rating of cooling equipment by measuring its output over a complete cooling season divided by the amount of energy it consumes. In theory, SEER ratings indicate how well heat pumps and air conditioners convert electric energy into cooling power. Thus, they serve as a guideline for minimizing carbon footprints and limiting operating costs.

Legislation to implement SEER testing was introduced in 1987, and mandatory SEER testing and labeling became a reality in 1992. Nearly 30 years later, SEER2 revisions address oversights in how SEER testing is performed. During SEER testing, heat pumps and air conditioners are run in a controlled laboratory setting. Although SEER has proven to be a fair gauge of how well energy is converted in these conditions, it does not offer a fair assessment of how well heat pumps and ACs perform when they’re actually installed in homes. SEER testing overlooked one of the most important factors present in real-world operating conditions: static pressure.

Laboratory testing of cooling equipment did not account for the increased energy demands imposed by HVAC ducting. Static pressure within HVAC air ducts requires more effort on the part of heat pumps and air conditioners, and more energy use. To resolve this oversight, SEER2 testing incorporates M1 blowers that place units under a comparable amount of pressure. As such, when shopping for a new heat pump or air conditioner, you’ll get a better idea of how well a unit will perform in your home by looking at its SEER2 rating rather than its SEER rating.

New SEER Labeling and What to Expect

As of 2023, all new heat pumps and air conditioners must undergo SEER2 testing and have SEER2 labeling present. Notwithstanding this fact, you may find some air conditioners and heat pumps that have both SEER1 and SEER2 labels. As the implementation of SEER2 ratings takes full effect, you’ll find fewer heat pumps and air conditioners that reference the older rating system at all. By law, any unit installed after January 1, 2023 must have SEER2 labeling as evidence of testing compliance. Many manufacturers are pulling products from shelves, subjecting them to the new testing requirement, and then labeling them as appropriate. Others are refining older AC and heat pump models to ensure that they’re functionally up to standard.

2023 SEER2 Rating Requirements for California

As with SEER ratings, SEER2 rating requirements are broken down by region. California is located in the nation’s southwest region. In 2023, the standard for minimum AC efficiency in California was raised from a SEER rating of 14 to a SEER rating of 15. This is the equivalent of a SEER2 rating of 14.3. All new air conditioners sold in California must have a SEER2 rating of at least 14.3.

The Introduction of SEER2 Isn’t the Only Change for 2023

As a California resident, it’s important to note that the introduction of the new SEER2 rating system isn’t the only change that affects residential cooling systems in 2023. There’s also the newly implemented phase-out of the R-401a air conditioner refrigerant known as Puron.

Although Puron has only recently replaced Freon or R-22, it’s been outmatched by several single-ingredient AC refrigerants in minimizing the environmental impact of residential cooling systems. While Freon was an environmentally dangerous hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), Puron is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) that can also have a cumulative impact on the earth’s ozone layer over time. It’s still perfectly legal to own an air conditioner that’s reliant upon R-401a, but you won’t find HVAC companies manufacturing new Puron-reliant units, and you’ll be hard-put to find these models for sale.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started an HFC phase-out plan in 2023 that aims to reduce the use of HFCs by at least 80% on or before 2045. Puron’s replacements are A2L refrigerants R-454B and R-32. These A2L refrigerants:

  • Cause absolutely no ozone depletion
  • Are more energy efficient than Puron
  • Are less toxic
  • Have a high refrigeration capacity
  • Are easier to both handle and recover

Given the vastly improved efficiency of these A2L refrigerants, pairing a high SEER2 rating with either R-454B or R-32 refrigerant will give you the greatest reduction in your carbon footprint and the most manageable home energy bills possible throughout the cooling season.

Qualifying for Tax Incentives for AC Efficiency Upgrades

With efficiency in mind, there’s good reason to shop for air conditioners and heat pumps that exceed the minimum efficiency standards for the southwest region. Not only will units with higher SEER2 ratings come with lower operational costs, but they can also qualify you for some pretty impressive tax credits.

Available under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, these incentives will pay up to 30% of the installation costs for any qualifying air conditioner or heat pump, or up to $600. For split system ACs, the minimum SEER2 rating for qualifying for this credit is 16. For packaged air conditioners, all equipment that’s ENERGY STAR-rated is qualified.

Why SEER2 Ratings Aren’t the Only Factor to Consider

Efficiency is a top consideration when choosing new cooling equipment for your home. However, it’s hardly the only consideration. Surprisingly, when it comes to reducing both your carbon footprint and your energy bills, correct AC sizing can actually be more important. Buying an air conditioner that’s too large or too small for your home, even if it has an impressively high SEER2 rating, will only lead to wasted energy and excessive spending over time. It can also result in indoor humidity problems, diminished home comfort, and a shorter life span for your cooling equipment.

Choosing a new air conditioner is about far more than matching BTUs with total square footage and looking for acceptably high SEER2 ratings. AC selection is a complex, highly involved process that considers a number of building and household-specific factors, such as the:

  • Number of residents
  • Number of windows
  • Window placement and sizes
  • Ceiling height
  • Amount of indoor space that’s actually used

This is why it’s important to always have professionals assist you in choosing the right AC or heat pump model for your home. We use the Manual J Load Calculation and sophisticated software to ensure that our product recommendations are spot on. This allows us to choose units for our clients that provide superior performance, modest operating costs, and the greatest overall value.

We proudly serve residents of San Diego, CA and the surrounding areas. We offer air conditioner, heater, heat pump, and ductless mini-split installation, maintenance, and repairs. Our clients can also count on us for superior ductwork, zoning, and indoor air quality solutions. To find out more about SEER2 ratings or to schedule an appointment, contact Friar's Heating and Air now.

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