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14 SEER vs 16 SEER: Which AC Efficiency is Best for California?

This a great question–and it’s one we get a lot from California homeowners.

Our answer? Most of the time, homeowners will see higher comfort and lower energy bills with a 16-SEER AC system.

But keep in mind that it all depends on your home’s unique layout and cooling needs. At the end of the day, to get a true answer, you’ll need a professional to inspect your home and current cooling system before determining if a 16-SEER is truly a better option than a 14-SEER for you.

To help you prepare for your AC purchase, we’ll explain:

Need a professional’s opinion on which SEER rating is best for your home? Just contact True Home to schedule a free, no-obligation estimate for your AC installation. We’ll send over a licensed HVAC professional who will map out the upfront costs vs lifetime savings of AC systems with varying SEER ratings. Our goal is to help you make an educated decision that benefits your home and budget, not to sell you equipment you don’t need.

What is SEER and how is it calculated?

SEER is a rating system that is used to determine an AC system’s efficiency. The acronym stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The “ratio” refers to the cooling output of an AC over the course of a typical cooling season divided by its energy consumption (see below).

AC’s cooling output ÷ AC’s energy consumption = AC’s SEER rating

Every air conditioner is assigned a SEER rating that correlates with the equation above. AC SEER ratings can range anywhere from 10 to 25. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the AC (and the lower your energy bills).

According to Energy.gov, there are federally-mandated SEER minimums for different states and geographical areas. For example, California requires that all new ACs installed have a minimum SEER rating of 14 while other areas, like Minnesota, only require 13-SEER systems.

What’s the difference between a 14-SEER and 16-SEER AC?

The biggest differences between a 14 SEER and a 16 SEER AC are the:

  • Comfort levels
  • Upfront costs
  • Monthly energy savings

We’ll dive into each of these 3 factors below.

Comfort levels: 14 vs 16 SEER

Typically, a 16-SEER AC system provides better dehumidification, more even cooling throughout the home and can more precisely meet your set temperature compared to a 14-SEER system.

That’s because most higher-SEER units come with either two-stage or variable-speed technology.

This technology allows the air conditioner to precisely adjust its cooling output to match your cooling needs at any given time. Essentially, a 16-SEER AC is designed to run longer at lower speeds, which allows the system to provide higher levels of comfort to your home. While running longer may seem wasteful, the AC is actually using less energy by running at a much lower speed. Plus, longer cycles allow the AC system to extract more moisture from the air and provide even temperatures throughout the home.

On the other hand, a lot of 14-SEER units use single-stage technology (which means the AC can only cool at one speed: full blast). Single-stage systems can’t provide the same level of comfort because they cool the home in short bursts, which results in less dehumidification and uneven temperatures.

Of course, more advanced technology (two-stage/variable-speed) comes with higher upfront costs, which leads us to our next factor…

Most 16-SEER AC systems can cost anywhere from $300 to $500 more than a 14-SEER system in upfront costs. Note: This is assuming all other factors are equal (same size, brand, geographical area, etc.)

This is simply the cost associated with the unit itself (not installation labor) and is attributed to the more advanced technology that typically comes with a 16-SEER unit.

However, many homeowners decide to go with a 16-SEER system despite the higher upfront cost because they know they will save more (and potentially pay back the higher cost) over the lifetime of the system.

Let’s take a closer look at the energy savings for 14 vs 16 SEER.

Monthly energy savings: 14 vs 16 SEER

According to Lennox’s SEER calculator, a California homeowner with a 16-SEER AC will spend roughly 12% less per year on cooling costs compared to a 14-SEER AC.

According to the calculator, the monthly savings can add up to $645 over 15 years, which more than pays back the higher upfront cost of the system. In fact, some homeowners see even higher and faster payback periods.

The bottom line is that how fast you pay back the higher upfront cost of a 16-SEER AC all depends on your home and your cooling habits.

What’s even more important than SEER? The quality of the AC install

At the end of the day, a high-SEER AC system is only as good as the quality at which it was installed.

For example, a high-SEER AC can be installed incorrectly and consequently cause high energy bills every month, hot and cold spots throughout the house and high indoor humidity levels. Then all of the money you spent on a high-seer system goes right out the window.

That said, we suggest you take your time choosing the right HVAC professional to size and install your new AC. Our advice is to make sure the HVAC professional performs an in-home “load calculation” to properly size your AC system.

This is the first step to any quality AC installation, and unfortunately, it’s a step that many HVAC contractors skip. Instead of performing a load calculation, they might just replace your current system with one of the same size. However, there’s a chance that your system was sized incorrectly from the start, resulting in higher-than-necessary energy bills, lower comfort and a shortened system lifespan.

Aside from performing a load calculation, make sure that the HVAC contractor you choose:

  • Is licensed and insured in California
  • Provides upfront pricing, in writing, before any work is done
  • Has good reviews on sites like Yelp and Google
  • Provides a solid labor warranty on all AC installation

Need a quality AC installer? Trust True Home

At True Home, we are committed to providing in-depth load calculations for every AC installation we perform. This allows us to map out specific pricing for your replacement AC. Plus, our team will sit down with you and calculate the difference in upfront costs and monthly costs for a 14-SEER vs a 16-SEER unit. True Home is a premier Lennox partner, which means that we’re able to pass along great, exclusive deals on 14 and 16-SEER ACs to our customers. Plus, we offer 10-year parts and labor warranty on most of our AC installs.