HVAC Efficiency Standards Are Changing in 2015 — What You Need to Know

Published on: October 21, 2014
AC unit outside with nice landscaping | AC Southeast®

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner or heat pump, get familiar with the current HVAC efficiency standards before you start shopping around. Knowing these standards will help you find the equipment that will keep you comfortable for the least amount of money. In the Southeast’s hot summers, finding efficient cooling equipment has a particularly high pay-off.

To reduce energy waste and pollution, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sets minimum energy standards for heating and cooling equipment in different regions of the U.S.

Heating and cooling technology is constantly developing in terms of both performance and energy efficiency. To reflect these improvements, HVAC efficiency standards rise periodically. On January 1st, 2015, they’re set to rise again.

These new standards will apply only to newly installed equipment. If your existing equipment isn’t up to par, you aren’t legally obliged to replace it. That said, you may want to upgrade your air conditioner or heat pump to cut down on energy bills. This is well worth considering if your equipment is more than 10 years old, the age by which most systems start showing wear and gradually dropping in efficiency.

Efficiency Terms to Know

The 2015 changes in HVAC efficiency standards affect air conditioners and heat pumps. In order to understand what’s changing, you’ll need to know how these systems are rated for energy efficiency. There are three terms to get acquainted with:

  • Seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) – Because it indicates cooling efficiency, this number is relevant to both air conditioners and heat pumps. SEER is a ratio of cooling output over electrical energy usage, so a higher SEER means a more efficient system. In 2014, 13 SEER is the lowest allowed.
  • Energy efficiency ratio (EER) – This number, calculated in a similar way to SEER, also tells you about a system’s cooling efficiency. Unlike SEER, however, it doesn’t account for weather variations over the season and is therefore considered less important than SEER. Even so, you’ll find this number listed in most cooling equipment specifications.
  • Heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) – This number indicates a system’s heating efficiency, so it applies only to heat pumps. HSPF is a ratio of heating output over electrical input, and as with SEER, a higher number means greater efficiency. The minimum HSPF in 2014 is 7.7.

What’s Changing in January

Thanks to advancing technologies, air conditioners and heat pumps will be expected to meet higher HVAC efficiency standards come 2015.

  • The new SEER – Systems installed in the South on or after January 1,  2015, must achieve 14 SEER or higher. This is a minimum and is slightly lower than the Energy Star requirement of 14.5 SEER. What’s more, many systems are available with even greater efficiencies, so you may want to look for 16 SEER or higher.
  • The new HSPF – In the South, newly installed heat pumps must reach 8.2 HSPF or higher. While this is slightly below the Energy Star requirement of 8.0 HSPF, you can easily find systems with an HSPF of 9 or higher.

EnergyGuide Label Changes

The yellow EnergyGuide label attached to all heating and cooling equipment will also change. Labels produced in 2014 show only single SEER and HSPF numbers. From 2015 on, the labels for split systems (those with a separate indoor and outdoor unit) will list a range of the lowest and highest SEER ratings achievable with each possible combination of indoor evaporator coils and outdoor condenser coils.

To achieve the highest efficiency, the outdoor and indoor units should be probably “matched.” This is why it’s rarely wise to upgrade only the outdoor unit rather than both units. You’re likely to end up with a mismatched system that will be less efficient and wear out sooner. Different combinations of outdoor and indoor units can match sufficiently, yet achieve different efficiencies. The new EnergyGuide labels reflect this.

Always Check the Specs

Heating and cooling equipment distributors have an 18-month grace period during which they can still sell systems that don’t meet the 2015 HVAC efficiency standards. It’s possible not every system advertised in your part of the Southeast will meet the new standards for the South. Check carefully before deciding on a new system.

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading to a more efficient air conditioner or heat pump, contact us at AirConditioningSouthEast.com. We can help you find a local contractor to guide you in finding the right model for your needs.