Understanding 14 SEER vs. 17 SEER isn’t always straightforward for non-HVAC professionals. Many consumers have a tendency to focus on upfront costs, underestimating the degree to which a more efficient unit might lower their energy bill. In this post, we’ll take a close look at the difference between a 17 SEER and 14 SEER HVAC system. 

If you’re a consumer, this article should help you decide between the two. Professionals will also find this piece helpful for establishing some explanations about SEER ratings that the average non-HVAC tech will understand.

14 SEER vs. 17 SEER: The Basics

SEER, if you don’t already know, stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. An air conditioner’s SEER rating is an objective measure of how much energy it uses to meet its cooling output. 

Throughout all of the United States, new air conditioners must have SEER ratings of no less than 13. Air conditioners in Phoenix and other warm southern or southwestern regions must be rated no less than 14. The upper end of the range varies by manufacturer but generally hovers around 20-21. The U.S. Department of Energy oversees minimum rating requirements. 

Older air conditioners have SEER ratings well below 10 so modern air conditioners that meet even the minimum requirements will offer substantial energy savings.

Because SEER is a standardized rating system, air conditioners with higher ratings are objectively more efficient.

Difference in Efficiency Between 17 SEER and 14 SEER HVAC Systems

One very important thing to tell customers about SEER ratings is that they’re calculated based on optimal conditions and use. If they don’t take proper care of their air conditioner, for example, the unit may deliver its full efficiency potential.

With that in mind, a 17 SEER air conditioner should be roughly 18% more efficient than its 14 SEER counterpart. That represents the cost savings you (or your client, if you’re a professional) would experience with the higher-efficiency unit.

Is the Extra Upfront Cost Worth It?

This is a question you’ll inevitably hear from clients. An air conditioner’s cost typically rises by about 10% per SEER point. This added cost is often quite justified in warmer, more AC-intensive environments because the efficiency pays for itself in short order. 

For example, spending $500 extra on an air conditioner that saves you $200 in electricity costs per year is a pretty good deal; within less than three years, you’ll have recouped the added cost and the unit will actually begin paying for itself.

The length of time it takes for this to happen is known as the “payback period” and it’s a very important figure to drive home to your clients if they’re hesitant to spring for a more efficient unit.

In my experience, this usually results in a “lightbulb” moment for clients in which they realize that air conditioner efficiency is about more than just protecting the environment.

A 17 SEER Air Conditioner Makes a Home More Comfortable, Too

In addition to saving consumers money, air conditioners with higher SEER ratings can also make a home much more comfortable. The same technology that boosts efficiency can enhance comfort. That includes features such as 2-stage compressors and variable-speed blowers. These make for a fine-tuned cooling experience. 

Air conditioners lacking those features run at full capacity throughout the cycle, which doesn’t regulate humidity and interior temperatures as well. Homeowners may notice hot and cold spots throughout the house.

When you combine the enhanced comfort of a higher SEER air conditioner with its long-term costs savings, the proposition typically becomes irresistible.

The Bottom Line

Federally-enforced regulations mandate that all new air conditioners have SEER ratings of at least 13. In particularly warm states like Arizona, the minimum rating is 14.

These minimums mean that modern air conditioners are substantially more efficient than those produced 10 of 15 years ago, which had a SEER rating well below 10 or even 6 in some cases.

That said, consumers with the means to buy an even more efficient air conditioner will reap the rewards in terms of energy cost savings and enhanced comfort. If you’re an HVAC professional, it’s important to make both of these perks clear as many consumers mistakenly believe efficiency is merely about protecting the environment. On the contrary, more efficient air conditioners can quickly pay for themselves and leave more money in homeowners’ pockets each year.

Fellow HVAC professionals – what’s your take on all this? Do you ever have difficulty explaining the benefits of a higher SEER air conditioner to your prospective clients? How have you typically dealt with it? Leave us a note in the comments!

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