Heat pumps and air conditioners with efficiency levels of 14 SEER and 16 SEER are two popular choices. The 16 SEER models are more efficient but cost more. Is it worth paying more for a 16 SEER air conditioner or heat pump?
Here’s your definitive guide to settling the 14 SEER vs 16 SEER debate.
Just interested in certain topics? Use the Navigation Guide to select where you want to start your research.
What is SEER Rating? It’s Significance?
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It’s a rating of how efficient the air conditioner or heat pump will be over an entire season of cooling your home.
Because SEER strives to capture the range of efficiency throughout the season, it is measured in controlled temperature environments from 65 to 104 Fahrenheit. This is different than EER, the Energy Efficient Ratio, which only measures AC/heat pump performance at 95F.
The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit is.
If your top priority in choosing an AC or heat pump is energy efficiency, then a 16 SEER model is the obvious choice.
However, if you want the most cost-effective choice between a 16 SEER and 14 SEER AC, then more data has to be considered.
How Much More Efficient is a 16 SEER vs 14 SEER?
When you divide 16 by 14, the result is that 16 SEER is 1.14 more efficient – The 16 SEER air conditioner is 14% more efficient than a 14 SEER model.
If your cooling bill were $500 for the season with a 14 SEER AC, you’d cut it to $430 with a 16 SEER model and save $70.
But what’s important is to determine:
- How high your energy bill would be given the cost of electricity where you live
- The size of the AC unit
- How much it can be expected to run in your home
We cover all those as we go.
How to Calculate Energy Savings 14 vs 16 SEER
This is where the math comes in. And there are two ways to go about this: The long way and the shortcut.
If you enjoy math and want to understand how annual cost to run an AC is calculated, then join us on the journey below. Plus, there are a lot of additional topics than just figuring out energy cost of 14 SEER vs 16 SEER models.
If you simply want to know how much you can save with a 16 SEER vs 14 SEER AC where you live, go straight to our easy-to-use Pick HVAC SEER Savings Calculator. TWO NOTES before you go there:
- When you go there, remember to choose your state for electric cost and the town closest to you for annual hours the AC runs. If you know the cost of the energy you use, you can type it directly into the space after “Base on _____ cents/kWh.” You’ll get exact numbers when you do that.
- The Cost Calculator uses “tonnage” for AC size. See the chart below if you don’t know how many tons your unit is but you do know BTUs.
OK, if you’re still with us, here we go.
You’ll need to know:
- Your cost of electricity
- The size of your air conditioner or the size you need
- The average number of hours an AC runs where you live
1 – Your cost of electricity is displayed on your electric bill statement or can be found on your electricity supplier’s website.
On the bill, it might not be shown with a $ sign. In this bill, it is shown as part of an equation – the number of kilowatt hours multiplied by the cost of electricity to get the electricity fee:
So about 670 kWh (kilowatt hours) at about 9.7 cents each = $64.92.
2 – The size of your air conditioner can be found on the metal tag or label attached to its side or back.
Lennox heat pump – 13HPX -036-230-17 Label
Note the M/N, or Model Number, of this Lennox heat pump – 13HPX -036-230-17.
The 036 refers to the number of BTUs of heat the unit removes from your home each hour under average operating conditions. It stands for 36,000 BTUs.
For central ACs, the code might not have a 0 on the front – each brand is a little different. Ans the number might be embedded in a longer number. But here are numbers to look for:
- 18 = 18,000 BTUs = 1.5 tons
- 24 = 24,000 BTUs = 2 tons
- 30 = 30,BTUs = 2.5 tons
- 36 = 36,000 BTUs = 3 tons
- 42 = 42,000 BTUs = 3.5 tons
- 48 = 48,000 BTUs = 4 tons
- 60 = 60,000 BTUs = 5 tons
Your owner’s manual should also say how many BTUs your unit produces. Tons are mentioned above because dealers and sometimes manuals throw out the term, which relates to the old way of calculating heat by how much heat it took to melt a ton of ice.
Know the tons? If you only know how many tons your AC is, see the chart for the number of BTUs.
Don’t have a central AC? Then, the next step is to have an HVAC technician do a load test on your home to determine what size air conditioner you’ll need.
Compare 14 SEER vs 16 SEER in an Average City
The average number of hours an AC runs in Kalispell MT is about 200 per year. In Phoenix, AZ, it is 2,100. So let’s pick somewhere in the middle as “average.”
Air conditioners in Lynchburg, VA run just about 1,050 hours per year, and the cost of electricity there averages 11.71 cents per kilowatt hour.
Here’s how the equation works to find the difference in cost between a 14 SEER and 16 SEER unit.
The equation, which is explained step-by-step below, is:
BTUs ÷ SEER x Hours ÷ 1,000 x Electricity Cost = Annual Cost
The reason for dividing by 1,000 is to give us the number of kilowatt hours (kWh), not hours, since electricity is billed by the kWh.
1kWh = 1,000 watt hours.
For Lynchburg, VA, let’s compare two 36,000 (3 ton) ACs.
14 SEER model:
Step 1: 36,000 ÷ 14 = 2,571
Step 2: 2,571 x 1,050 hours = 2,700,000 kWh
Step 3: 2,700,000 ÷ 1,000 = 2,700 kWh or Kilowatt hours
Step 4: 2,700 x 11.71 (cents per kWh) = $316.17 annual cost to run a 14 SEER AC
16 SEER model:
We’ll do it in one step.
36,000 ÷ 16 x 1,050 ÷ 1,000 x 11.71 = $276.65 annual cost to run a 16 SEER AC
If you live in Lynchburg, you’d save $316.17 – $276.65 = $39.52 per year by choosing a 16 SEER model over a 14 SEER AC.
Is it worth it?
It depends on how much extra you pay for the 16 SEER model and how long you plan to live in your home.
Before we move to the Is a 16 SEER AC Worth the Extra Money question, perhaps you’d like to do figure your own savings.
And note, you can compare ACs with any SEER ratings using the equation above or on our Cost Savings Calculator.
OK, to do your own calculations, here again is what you need:
- 1The cost of electricity
- 2The size of your air conditioner or the size you need
- 3The average number of hours an AC runs where you live
Where can you find that #3?
On the Pick HVAC SEER Savings Calculator, of course! Choose our city or the city closest to you or with the climate most like yours. The average number of hours will be shown in the line “Based on ______ yearly cooling hours typical for”
14 SEER & 16 SEER AC, Heat Pump Cost
In general, we can say that a single-stage 16 SEER air conditioner or heat pump will cost $300 to $800 more than a single-stage 14 SEER unit. Difference is based on the brand and the size of the air conditioners.
To make your own determination, you’ll need to get estimates from local contractors to compare – cost of a 14 SEER vs 16 SEER AC or heat pump.
Here’s how to determine the payback period – how many years of lower energy costs it will take to recoup the higher initial cost.
Let’s say you’re considering a 16 SEER Trane XR14 AC vs a 14 SEER Trane XR13. The price difference is about $300.
Does it make sense to upgrade to a 16 SEER unit? It depend where you live. We mentioned Kalispell, Lynchburg and Phoenix.
The energy savings based on our Cost Savings Calculator on the upgrade would be:
- In Kalispell: $8.22
- In Lynchburg: $39.52
- In Phoenix: $71.48
The time it would take to recover the extra $300 (divide $300 by the savings) would be:
- In Kalispell: 36.5 years
- In Lynchburg: 7.6 years
- In Phoenix: 4.2 years
In Fort Myers, FL, where ACs run an average of 3,300 hours per year (!!!) according to the US EPA, the cost savings would be $118 per year. The payback period would be 2.54 years!
So you can see, the upgrade would definitely be worth it in Fort Myers and Phoenix. It would probably be worth it in Lynchburg if you had no plans to move.
It wouldn’t make any sense in Kalispell unless your goal is to cut emissions.
Which is Better for Indoor Comfort
Performance is the same, if they are both single-stage models. You won’t notice any difference in temperature balance or dehumidification.
However, some 16 SEER models are 2-stage air conditioners. There is a performance difference!
Two-stage compressors runs on slow, or 65% of capacity, most of the time. There are two advantages, discussed at length in our Central AC Buying Guide. They are:
- Better temperature balance
- More humidity removed
Running at the lower capacity means longer cycles, which is a good thing – slower, more even cooling and better dehumidification.
So, if you upgrade to a 2-stage model, you’ll have to do the math again, comparing the cost of the 14 SEER single-stage unit to the 16 SEER two-stage model, which might cost $500 – $1,200 more depending on brand and size. The payback period will be longer, so you will have to decide if having a more comfortable home is worth the higher cost.
14 SEER vs 16 SEER and YOUR Climate – What’s Better
In a few years, this debate will be 16 SEER vs 18 SEER because efficiency levels are rising each year. Plus, the DOE would like to raise the minimum legal standard, which is 14 SEER in the South and 13 SEER in the North.
It is likely that by 2025, 13 and 14 SEER units will be history – or rarely used because efficient units are in high demand and are becoming more affordable. Energy is cheap as we write this because the US is energy independent. If the cost of energy rises significantly, the demand for efficiency will be even higher.
Quick answer: The warmer your climate, the more efficient your air conditioner should be. You can’t go wrong with a 16 SEER AC. It is an environmentally responsible choice and a safeguard against rising energy costs.
What Brands Sell 14 SEER & 16 SEER ACs/Heat Pumps?
All brands sell 16 SEER single-stage and 2-stage air conditioners.
Some brands have stopped making 13 SEER and 14 SEER units.
Trane and American Standard : The least efficient Trane air conditioner is 14.5 SEER. Ditto for American Standard.
Rheem and Ruud: Their ACs start at 15.5 SEER!
Lennox: The efficiency leader makes a 13 SEER unit, but the next least efficient is 16 SEER. It’s likely that 13 SEER Lennox model is on the way out.
Those that still make 14 SEER air conditioners include:
- Carrier and Bryant
- Goodman, Amana and Daikin
- Heil, Day & Night, Tempstar, Arcoaire and Keeprite
- Armstrong and AirEase
- York, Luxaire, Coleman
“Sister brands” owned by the same corporation are grouped together. Their equipment is usually identical or nearly so.
We hope this has helped you decide between a 14 SEER and 16 SEER AC. There’s much more information in our Central AC Buying Guide and major brand reviews and guides! And if this information has been useful to you, consider sharing it with others.