On January 1, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) raised the minimum energy-efficiency standards for all new air conditioners and heat pumps. In addition, the DoE has also mandated new testing requirements for all new cooling equipment. Both of these changes are set to have a major impact both on the HVAC industry as a whole and on consumers. Today we’re going to discuss exactly what the new standards and requirements are and also provide an overview of what you can expect from these standards and how they will affect you whenever it comes time to purchase a new central cooling unit.
Understanding the New Energy Efficiency Standards
The DoE has long mandated that all new HVAC units installed in the U.S. must meet specific requirements in terms of energy efficiency. The energy efficiency of central cooling units like air conditioners and heat pumps is rated using SEER, or seasonal energy performance ratio. Heat pumps also have a separate measurement that rates their heating efficiency, and this is done using the HSPF, or heating seasonal performance factor scale.
Both the minimum SEER and HSPF standards increased at the start of 2023. The previous minimum in Texas and the rest of the Southern U.S. was 14 SEER, and this has now increased to 15 SEER. The minimum in the northern part of the country also increased from 13 to 14 SEER.
While the minimum SEER requirements are different for separate regions of the U.S., the minimum HSPF requirements are the same across the country. The previous minimum was set at 8.2 HSPF in 2015, but it has now risen to 8.8 HSPF.
In addition to increasing the minimum efficiency standards, the DoE has also created the new SEER2 and HSPF2 scales. While all new units must now be tested and measured using SEER2 and/or HSPF2, the old SEER and HSPF scales will also continue to be used for the foreseeable future. In fact, all new units are required to list both the old SEER/HSPF and the new SEER2/HSPF2 ratings. This is important as it ensures that you can easily compare the energy efficiency of your current unit to any new units you may be considering.
Both SEER and HSPF are determined by testing new units to estimate how much total energy they would use in one heating or cooling season compared with how many BTUs (British thermal units) of heating or cooling they produce. The main difference between the old scales and the new SEER2 and HSPF2 measurements relates to what conditions the units are tested under. Specifically, the amount of resistance to airflow there is in the ductwork system when the units are being tested has increased. This was done in order to make the testing more accurate by better simulating the actual conditions a unit would operate under in the real world.
The issue is that the old SEER and HSPF scales were found to not be that accurate in terms of estimating energy usage. Most HVAC systems have fairly high static pressure or airflow resistance in the ductwork. By increasing the amount of airflow resistance during testing, the new measurements should better reflect real-world operating conditions. As a result, SEER2 and HSPF2 should make it so that you can more accurately estimate how much energy any new unit will use.
Improved Efficiency and Lower Energy Costs
The fact that the minimum energy efficiency requirement for all new cooling units is now higher than the previous standard is definitely a good thing as it means that any new unit will likely use less energy than your current unit. For every additional SEER value, the overall energy efficiency increases by around 7%. This means that upgrading from a 14 SEER to a 15 SEER unit of the same size should see your cooling costs decrease by at least 7%. In all likelihood, your energy savings will be even higher as the energy efficiency of any HVAC unit tends to decrease as it ages.
If your current AC or heat pump was installed before the start of 2015, your savings could be even greater. This is because the minimum efficiency standard back then was only 13 SEER. If your unit was installed before 2006, upgrading to a new unit may lower your cooling costs by 35% or more as then the minimum was only 10 SEER.
More Accurate Energy Usage Estimations
Whenever you need to replace any HVAC unit, it is always a good idea to compare your various options to help find the best unit for your budget and your home. The best way to do this is to calculate your estimated yearly energy costs for different units, and this can be done by using SEER and/or HSPF. Calculating your estimated costs can then help you to decide which unit provides the best value for the price. The fact that the new SEER2 and HSPF2 measurements are more accurate means you can now get a clearer picture of approximately how much you can expect to pay in energy costs for various units.
Higher Costs for New Cooling Units
Unfortunately, not all of the effects of the new energy efficiency standards and testing requirements are positive. Due to the new testing requirements, it is estimated that all new units will now cost somewhere between 15% and 25% more. The differences will generally be greatest in the lower-rated units since they now have to be more energy efficient. However, if you were to replace an old 16 SEER unit with a new unit that has the same rating, it is likely that the price difference between the new unit and what you paid for the old one won’t be all that much.
The increased energy efficiency requirements also mean that HVAC manufacturers have had to make some changes to the way that new units are designed and manufactured. As a result, new units will typically require a bit more maintenance and may also be more expensive to repair should they have any issues.
The good news is that the energy savings you will get from upgrading to a new unit should help to offset these higher costs. The other important thing to keep in mind is that the increased standards mean that upgrading to a new air conditioner or heat pump will help to improve your home’s overall energy efficiency and thus lower your carbon footprint.
Dallas’ HVAC Experts
If you’re looking to upgrade to a new air conditioner, heat pump, or another HVAC unit, you can trust the team at On Time Experts to help. Our certified HVAC technicians specialize in installing, repairing, and maintaining all types of heating and cooling units, including air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces. If you’re looking to improve your home’s indoor air quality, we also offer duct cleaning and whole-home air purification services. Our team of licensed plumbers can assist with drain cleaning, water heater, and filtration services, as well as any plumbing installations or repairs. Give us a call today if you have any questions about the new energy-efficiency standards or need to schedule any service.