If you are looking to replace your current HVAC equipment, chances are SEER ratings have appeared a few times in your search. You might know that the seasonal energy efficiency ratio ratings refer to a heat pump's efficiency; however, you may not understand what it means for your heating and cooling needs. An inefficient system can drive up your energy bills and may not provide your home with enough comfortable air. SEER ratings can help you identify equipment options that meet your needs.

A higher efficiency rating isn't the only thing that you should consider when buying a new heat pump, but a system that is more efficient is going to be a better option for several reasons. If you are considering an 18 SEER heat pump versus one with a lower SEER rating, there are some things that you will want to know. Let's take a look at the difference between equipment with higher SEER ratings compared to those with lower ratings.

What is a seasonal energy efficiency ratio?

A seasonal efficiency rating scores the efficiency of a central air conditioner or heat pump. To calculate these ratings, manufacturers divide a system's output during a typical season by the energy it uses during that same season. Equipment with higher ratings indicates that the system will be more efficient. The U.S. Department of Energy requires that all manufacturers post the SEER rating on all new heat pumps and air conditioners. When you are shopping for a new unit, you will see a bright yellow energy sticker that details the energy ratings for the specific model.

National standards require all heat pumps and air conditioners to have a minimum rating based on geographic location. Equipment in cooler northern states must have a rating of 13 or higher. In southern states, where summers are warmer, HVAC equipment must have a rating of 14 or higher. Beginning in January 2023, the minimum efficiency rating for equipment will increase. So, if you are shopping for a new heat pump, is there a difference between a rating of 18 and 14?

What is a good rating?

When thinking about a good efficiency rating, you have to consider your unique situation. Every home is different, and everyone has different cooling preferences. For example, if someone lives in a large home in a hot, humid climate like Florida, a rating of 20 might be "good," while any other ratings could be less ideal. Your location and the size of your home will determine what a good rating is for your situation.

Units with a rating of 15 to 16 are considered reliably efficient machines. Heat pumps with ratings in the 20s are considered to be highly efficient. Typically, ductless mini-split systems receive the highest ratings in the upper 20s. Any unit will heat and cool your home to a set temperature no matter its efficiency rating. However, higher-rated systems can operate more efficiently and save you money. A unit with a rating of 18 might have a two-speed compressor and variable-speed blower to provide for a more consistent distribution of air and temperatures. Additionally, it may offer better humidity control and quieter operation. Units with a 14 rating meet the minimum efficiency rating but may lack more innovative features.

Efficiency is even more important with heat pumps, as they run all year long, providing heat and cool air. Additionally, heat pumps also run on electricity, which has proven to be a more expensive energy source recently. A unit with a higher SEER rating will prove more efficient and offer more comfort for lower energy costs. While a unit with a higher rating might be a little more expensive upfront, you could see energy savings by as much as 30 percent over time.