An HVAC Hot Take: The Truth About High SEER Systems

So, if you’re reading this I’m guessing you’re considering replacing your old HVAC unit sometime soon, and you’re trying to figure out if you should spend the extra money to buy a higher SEER system. My short answer is NO! The reason I do not push high SEER equipment is for three reasons: the initial cost, the comfort, and the repairs.

According to several Georgia-based studies, the average energy savings of a 17-SEER vs. 14 SEER air conditioner is about $66 per year. The average life span of an air conditioner in Georgia is between 10-12 years. So, let’s say you maximize the life of your air conditioner and you get 12 years out of it; if you buy a 17-SEER system as opposed to a 14-SEER system, you would see an energy savings of nearly $800 which sounds good. It sounds good until you realize that the 17-SEER system costs nearly double what a 14-SEER system will cost, and if the 14-SEER system costs $5,000, are you really wanting to spend $10,000 (average price of a 17-SEER 3-ton System) to save $800? Of course not.

Now, even my bigger competitors are starting to admit the truth on energy savings. But they still want to sell you and your family the 17-SEER system because they have to pay for the naming rights to minor league baseball fields “care” about your family’s comfort. They say that the 17-SEER system is more comfortable, and to that there is a nugget of truth. The higher SEER systems incorporate variable speed motors that do regulate the temperature of your house better. And my larger competitors will have all this explained to you by a salesman working on commission who needs you to buy the 17-SEER system because boat payments can be expensive only has your best interests at heart. However, my take is I’m way more comfortable with that extra $5,000 in costs staying in my savings account and not depreciating in my furnace! Can I get an a-men on that?!

But the biggest reason I do NOT push high SEER equipment is a dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about – it’s gonna break. Just count on it. I guarantee it. See, the manufacturer gives a 10-year warranty on parts, but after your labor warranty is up you will pay for labor, and in this business, labor is not cheap! It is my opinion after years of industry experience that higher SEER equipment has a higher propensity to fail. There are 3 main reasons for this: the first being that there are more components on higher SEER equipment, and that just means more things that can break. The second reason is low voltage circuitry. Often HVAC equipment is placed in inhospitable environments such as a dirty crawl space, or a hot/freezing attic. In high SEER systems there are more modules, relays, and low voltage circuitry in these units that do not survive well in the areas that builders place HVAC equipment. Lastly, the technology is currently outpacing technicians in the field. Seriously. Technicians who have over 20-years in the field are encountering new technologies that render their experience useless because they’re unfamiliar with the new technologies!

In closing, a high SEER residential HVAC system isn’t worth the additional costs, the propensity for a breakdown on high SEER systems is greater due to the additional components and finding a technician that can diagnose and repair a high SEER system can be difficult. Recently I moved into a brand-new house that is double the size of my old house. I have two band new 14-SEER (base SEER systems) and my energy costs are equal to that of my old house that had only ONE AC system! The energy savings from a new 14-SEER system are awesome; no need to double the cost of an already expensive project!