How to hit 16 SEER Efficiency on a 14 SEER Condenser
How to achieve a Higher Efficiency (SEER) Rating on Cheaper HVAC Equipment. Air Conditioning Loophole?
I'm going to go ahead and dub this the Loophole 16 SEER product OR better yet the poor-man's (or woman's) 16 SEER. Put simply there are tricks available to take a 14 SEER rated system to achieve a 16 SEER AHRI system efficiency.
I've seen this many times and thought it would be a good idea to have a discussion about it. I'd really love some input from contractors on the topic. Consumers should be aware of this when buying and installing a new high efficiency HVAC system in their home. Namely it is the job of contractors to educate their customers when they are getting several bids where price differences can vary widely though on the surface the equipment looks to be identical. Yet beneath the surface the equipment is very different. Leaving customers puzzled or mad with no roadmap after receiving a "much lower" bid.
This distinctions here are important for consumers and contractors. When it is time for you to replace your HVAC system and you are looking for multiple bids ask for specifics in order to properly compare. Not all are 'apples to apples'. Not all '16 SEER' equipment was created equal.
How is this done?
Measurements of HVAC cooling efficiency is rated in SEER and EER. The higher these number the better. Much like MPGs on your car. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating and EER for Energy Efficiency Ratio.
Air Conditioning and Heating equipment manufacturers have figured out that by matching a 14.5 SEER condenser with complimentary products a 16 SEER AHRI rated system can be created. This is most often done by matching the condenser with a variable speed furnace AND a horizontal slab coil (often third party). Has anyone asked how mysteriously third party coils often reach higher efficiencies than manufacturer's spec.......?
Specific Examples of Loop Hole Equipment
Reaching 16 SEER in this context is based on all variables working together. That is to say, not all 14 SEER condensers can reach 16 SEER efficiencies. This depends on the complimenting products AND the size of the condenser. Many 5 ton condensers cannot hit 16 SEER even with variable speed furnaces and slab coils added.
Here are some examples of general match ups that reach 16 SEER.
Ruud 14.5 SEER Reach 16 SEER
Condenser 14AJM Coil Aspen Slab(third Party) Furnace RGPE 2 Stage 80%
Trane XB14 Reach 16 SEER:
Condenser XB14 Coil ADP Slab Furnace XC80
Compared to "true" 16 SEER Prices this typically causes a $750-$2,000 difference in sale price.
How did this type of HVAC equipment even come about?
The Genesis of this movement is probably a product of the tax credits made available in 2009. Remember the Cash for Clunkers campaign where if you bought a more efficient car you could get a tax benefit? There was a similar program for air conditioning. Qualifying systems reaching a minimum efficiency of 16 SEER could get a $1500 tax credit. This was great for many in the HVAC industry. Still, since the economy was depressed not everyone could afford a full priced 16 SEER. They were and are expensive for many consumers. Rising from the customer demand for a mixture of the specific 16 SEER efficiency at a lower price point came the popularity of the 14.5 SEER ac condenser match up where 16 SEER. Sounds perfect right? During this time (and probably since) 16 SEER has become a target for many consumers and contractors. A mindset has been built that if you want a high efficient HVAC system you need to at least purchase 16 SEER. Its not all bad but is a bit arbitrary I think.
So you must ask at this point. What is the problem with this... it sounds like a perfect solution? Low cost and high efficiency.
Why Does this Matter? Is loophole 16 SEER equipment even an issue?
I cannot argue the appeal of getting high efficiency equipment for a lower price but consumers MUST also consider additional variables when buying a new HVAC system. These include: installation quality, equipment/labor warranty, and comfort benefits. Not all air conditioning units are created equal. Some have shorter OR longer manufacturer warranties depending on the equipment purchased. Nor are all HVAC company installers created equal. A large portion of your system's TRUE efficiency is contingent on the quality of installation. This is where experience and training are key. When buying OR sell an HVAC system, additional questions should be asked to ensure customers are receiving the best quality equipment and installation that will keep them comfortable for the next 10-20 years.