The U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA have long had specific energy-efficiency requirements for all new air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, and other HVAC units. These requirements have been updated several times over the last few decades as advancements in HVAC technology have allowed new units to be more and more energy efficient. The requirements are set to be updated again beginning in 2023, and here is everything you need to know about the changes that are coming.
New Energy Efficiency Requirements
As part of its ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the Energy Department has announced sweeping changes that are set to go into effect beginning on January 1, 2023. These changes will increase the minimum efficiency requirements for all new air conditioners, heat pumps, and ductless mini-splits, and they also set out new guidelines in terms of how the energy efficiency of HVAC units is measured. Although the changes will affect the entire country, the requirements and timelines vary for different parts of the country.
The energy efficiency of all cooling units — with the exception of portable and window ACs — is measured in seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings. Heat pumps and ductless mini-splits have two different energy efficiency measurements since these units provide both heating and cooling. The cooling efficiency of these units is still measured in SEER, while the heating efficiency is measured in heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). The new laws will change both the minimum SEER and minimum HSPF, but for now, we will just focus on SEER.
The current energy efficiency requirements have been in place since 2010, which means that the majority of units in use in the country meet the current requirements. The only exception is for units that were installed before 2010 when the requirements were updated. However, it is estimated that approximately 70% of all units currently in use will not meet the new efficiency requirements. Still, this does not mean that you need to replace a unit if it doesn’t meet the new standards as they are only a requirement for new equipment installations.
Currently, all new cooling units in the northern U.S. must be at least 13 SEER. In the Southeast and Southwest U.S., the current minimum requirement is 14 SEER. These minimums will rise to 14 and 15 SEER respectively beginning in 2023. However, there are some differences in the Southeast and Southwest for split AC systems that we will cover in the next section.
In the Southeast and Southwest regions, all air conditioners and heat pumps installed on or after January 1, 2023, will have to meet the new minimum SEER requirements. In the northern part of the country, units that meet the old minimum efficiency requirements can still be installed until the end of 2023 as long as the unit was manufactured before the end of 2022.
The most important thing to understand about these changes is that it means all new air conditioners and other cooling units will be more energy efficient. If your AC was installed after 2010 and is 13 SEER, upgrading to a new 14 SEER unit will reduce your cooling costs by around 7%. However, if your current unit is 14 SEER or higher, then the changes won’t make any difference to you.
What Is SEER2?
Along with increasing the minimum energy efficiency requirements, the Department of Energy has also developed a new standard for measuring energy efficiency — SEER2. The SEER2 system was designed to more accurately measure the energy efficiency of all cooling units by changing the conditions under which the equipment is tested to better reflect actual operating conditions.
SEER is calculated by dividing how much energy a unit uses in an hour by how many BTUs (British thermal units) of heat it removed from the air in the same period. However, before SEER can be calculated, all new units are first subjected to rigorous testing to determine how much energy they consume under various conditions. Specifically, the units are run in various humidity levels and temperatures ranging between 60 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The new SEER2 system works in exactly the same way. The difference is that the new system increases the amount of static pressure that the unit is tested at. Static pressure refers to the resistance to airflow and is important as the higher the pressure is, the harder the HVAC blower will have to work to circulate air throughout the duct system. This in turn means that the air conditioner or other HVAC unit will need to run longer and use more energy to fully cool the home.
Under the old SEER system, the units were tested using a static pressure of 0.1 inches, while the new SEER2 system uses 0.5-inches of static pressure. This is an important change as few, if any, HVAC systems ever have a static pressure as low as 0.1 inches.
Issues like dirty ducts, air leaks, clogged air filters, and closed or obstructed vents can all contribute to increased static pressure. By testing the units at higher static pressure, the new SEER2 system should be able to more accurately estimate the energy efficiency and better reflect real-life operating conditions.
Under the new system, all cooling units in the northern part of the country will need to be 13.8 SEER2, which is the equivalent of 14 SEER. The new requirement in the southern half of the country is 14.3 SEER2, which equals 15 SEER. However, in the Southeast and Southwest regions, the new requirement is only for split air conditioners and heat pumps that are 45,000 BTUs or larger. For anything under 45,000 BTUs, the requirement is still 13.8 SEER2 or 14 SEER.
What Other Changes Are Coming in 2023?
There are also new minimum HSPF requirements for all heat pumps that will take effect in 2023, and these minimum efficiency requirements are the same throughout the entire country. As with SEER2, the government has also developed a similar new system for measuring HSPF. From 2023 onwards, all heat pumps will be measured using HSPF2.
Under the current requirements, all heat pumps must be at least 8.2 HSPF. Starting in 2023, this will rise to 8.8 HSPF or 7.5 HSPF2.
The Department of Energy has also announced that it will begin phasing out the use of R-410A refrigerant beginning in 2023 just as it did with Freon beginning in 2010. Virtually all air conditioners and heat pumps installed anytime from 2010 and onward use R-410A refrigerant. Under the new rules, all new air conditioners and heat pumps installed after January 1, 2023, must now use a refrigerant other than R-410A.
Nonetheless, older units can still be recharged with R-410A, and the manufacture and import of R-410A won’t be banned until 2033. This means that, as with the new minimum efficiency standards, this change won’t really affect you until whenever it becomes time to replace your current AC or heat pump.
If you have any questions about the new energy efficiency standards and what they mean for you, the knowledgeable team at Matheson Heating, Air & Plumbing has the answers you need. We are a full-service HVAC company specializing in the installation, repair, and maintenance of air conditioners, furnaces, ductless mini-splits, and other HVAC equipment. We also have licensed plumbers that install and repair water heaters, water softeners, sump pumps, and other plumbing appliances and fixtures for customers in Commerce and the surrounding areas. To schedule any HVAC or plumbing service, give us a call today.