The Truth Behind Efficiency Ratings: How Much Is Enough?

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Depends on How Fast You Want your System to Pay for Itself.

14 SEER, 80% AFUE, 90% AFUE – don’t get too confused by trying to figure out where all the numbers come from. All you really need to know is that these are relative measures of fuel economy—SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) numbers for air conditioners or AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) for gas furnaces.

In simplest terms, the higher the number, the more heating or cooling you’ll get for your energy dollar.

As you shop around, use the numbers, not vague terms like “high efficiency” or “super high efficiency,” to really compare systems. Any air conditioner or furnace on the market today can be called “high efficiency” compared to the equipment of just a few years ago. What was called high efficiency then—say 9 SEER for an air conditioner or 70% for

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a gas furnace—wouldn’t even be permitted on the market today!

Eventually, the more efficient unit will pay for itself through decreased utility bills. In the meantime, you’ll gain the added benefits of greater reliability and longer warranty protection. Another benefit of a higher efficiency unit is a lower life cycle cost, which is the total of the operating and maintenance costs over the life of the system.

Air Conditioners

In recent years, manufacturers of air conditioners and heat pumps have made dramatic progress in increasing the SEER of their units. As a result, it may make economic sense to purchase a new, more efficient unit now and immediately lower your operating costs.

13 SEER – The Minimum efficiency allowed today. Trade up to this level from your old system and you’ll probably be delighted at how much lower your electric bills are.

14-15 SEER – A popular choice and some of our most widely installed units fall into this efficiency range.

16-19 SEER – These ultra-efficient units are pushing the upper limits of what’s possible with today’s technology.

Gas Furnaces

If your present furnace is ten years old or more, it’s probably in the 60-70% AFUE range. In effect, that means you’re wasting 30 to 40 cents out of every dollar you spend for heat. By replacing an old, low efficiency unit with a new high efficiency model, more of the fuel you pay for is turned into heat.

78% – the legal minimum for new furnaces on the market today.

80% – another once-impossible degree of efficiency that means drastically lower gas bills than you probably have with an old furnace.

90% and up – currently the highest efficiency you’ll find