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What is SEER and HSPF? Why They Matter

Published on: July 25, 2012

When it comes to choosing an energy-efficient system for an AC installation, air conditioner reviews suggest keeping two acronyms in mind: SEER and HSPF. Both terms provide industry-wide standards for measuring an HVAC system’s energy efficiency. As heating and cooling costs comprise around 50 percent of the average American household’s energy expenses, energy efficiency is the key to keeping your monthly utility bills under control.

SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The SEER ratio is a measurement of a system’s cooling output over the entire cooling season compared to the electrical power usage of the system. The cooling capacity is measured in British thermal units (BTUs) while the electrical energy is measured in watt-hours. Higher SEER ratings equal better energy efficiency and lower operating costs. Air conditioner reviews recommend using SEER ratings when making decisions about AC installations.

Since 2006, central AC installations in the United States are required to have at least a SEER rating of 13. Those with 14 and above are typically awarded an Energy Star label. A high SEER rating can save you as much as 30 percent on your home’s cooling costs. Air conditioner reviews typically feature systems with SEER ratings that range from 13 to 23.

Air conditioner reviews are also increasingly recommending AC installations that feature yet another acronym: ASHP. ASHP stands for “air-source heat pump.” Unlike conventional AC installations, an ASHP system is a combination heating and cooling system. An air-source heat pump uses the air outside as a heat source in the winter and as a heat sink in the summer. In the summer, an ASHP system works much like a typical air conditioner, pumping hot air outside through refrigerant-filled lines. In the winter, the system reverses, extracting heat from outside air and transferring it indoors.

Heat Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is similar to SEER, except that HSPF compares the heating output of a heat pump to the unit’s electrical usage over the heating season. It is a rating used specifically to measure the energy efficiency of ASHP systems. The higher the rating, the better the unit’s energy efficiency and the more money you’ll save. ASHP systems with an HSPF rating of 8 or higher are considered highly energy efficient.

While the acronyms that the HVAC industry uses can sometimes be confusing, learning about terms that measure the energy efficiency of forced-air systems can save you money. When it comes to purchasing HVAC systems to heat and cool your home, lower operating costs offer optimum savings over the long term.