14 SEER vs 16 SEER: Which AC SEER rating is best for you?

How much more efficient is a 16 SEER vs. 14 SEER air conditioner, and is it worth the added expense? We sat down with James Clark, HVAC Controls Specialist at Technical Hot & Cold to bring you the best comparison of AC seer ratings, benefits, and costs.

One of the most talked about features of an HVAC system is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. Every new air conditioner has one, and they offer a snapshot view of the unit’s efficiency.

If your home’s heating and cooling system is more than 15 years old, there’s a good chance the SEER rating falls between an 8 and 10. Today’s modern units offer SEER ratings of 13 to 26, which can lower your energy bill and decrease your carbon footprint.

What is SEER rating?

The rating of a heat pump or AC’s energy efficiency is calculated by dividing the system’s BTUs by the watts required and calculating the SEER. You don’t have to worry about determining the ratio yourself as most units have a yellow and black EnergyGuide sticker that displays the rating, such as a 14 SEER AC. 

All you need to keep in mind is that a higher SEER means a more efficient unit, cooling your home better and faster while saving you money on your electric bills. However, the higher efficiency comes at a cost.

The highest SEER AC of 26 is more expensive than a 14 SEER AC unit, for example. Part of choosing the best air conditioner brand is determining if you prefer value, energy efficiency, or quality from a unit.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the average electric bill in 2019 was $115 per month, down from previous years. Part of the reason for the drop is a combination of lower-than-average energy rates and lower consumption due to higher-efficiency HVAC units and home appliances. 

Areas with more extreme weather, however, can push the energy bill costs much higher than the average. Homeowners that battle scorching summers or frigid winters may consider a unit with a higher SEER rating.

Two of the most common are 14 vs. 16 SEER. The question is, how much more efficient is a 16 SEER vs. 14 SEER? Read on for a comparison of the two to determine if a more efficient HVAC system is worth the extra cost.

14 SEER vs. 16 SEER

Two of the most commonly purchased SEER rating options are a 14 and 16 SEER. Based on simple math (dividing 16 by 14 and getting 1.14), a 16 SEER AC should be approximately 14% more efficient than a unit with maximum efficiency of 14 SEER.

14 SEER vs. 16 SEER cost: Calculating Savings

If your monthly energy bill is $100, and you opt for a 16 SEER AC unit, you can potentially save $14 a month. Energy costs fluctuate across the country, so fill in your average monthly costs to determine a more accurate potential monthly savings.

Determining the energy efficiency and cost savings power of your AC unit involves more than reading the SEER rating off the EnergyGuide sticker. Consider these outside factors when evaluating how much energy your HVAC uses, whether you have a 14 or 16 SEER unit.

  • Quality of home insulation
  • Age of current unit
  • Quality of ductwork
  • Window and door insulation quality
  • Size of HVAC unit compared to home size
  • Frequency of routine maintenance

When replacing an antiquated air conditioning system with a new unit, it’s important to evaluate the efficiencies of a 14 SEER vs. 16 SEER. It’s also worth considering if the increased initial cost of the higher SEER rating is worth the investment.

Is 16 SEER that much more efficient for the cost?

To determine if the 16 SEER AC cost is worth the upgrade, compare what a unit’s price difference would be based on the rating. For example, a Goodman 3.5 Ton 16 SEER Air Conditioner (GSX160421) costs $1,912. The 14 SEER AC version costs $1,443. Installation cost is not included in either of these figures.

You’d spend $469 more for the 16 SEER AC. Based on the previous example of your electric bill being $100 per month, you could save as much as $168 per year when you run the more efficient unit.​ If you spend $469 more on the higher-efficiency unit, your break-even point for the extra expense is less than three years. Figuring that your AC should last around 10 to 12 years, it’s safe to say that 16 SEER is more efficient for the cost.

However, James Clark, HVAC Controls Specialist at Technical Hot & Cold advises homeowners who want to upgrade their systems to consider going for a higher rating of 17 SEER or more. 

“AC’s in the 14 to 16 SEER range won’t be much different from each other,” explains Clark. “When looking at 17 SEER and higher, you get advanced technology like two-stage compressors, fully variable compressors and variable speed condenser fan motors with additional controls that help protect the equipment in the case of refrigerant loss or major component failure.”

Which SEER rating is better?

According to Clark, the highest SEER rating available within your budget is the best. ENERGY STAR agrees, publishing recommendations for most efficient ACs and heat pumps that range between 18 and 24 SEER. Based on the recommendations, if you’re trying to decide between 14 SEER vs. 16 SEER, 16 is best — usually. In some cases, a higher rating may not be necessary.

SEER ratings for hot and cold temperatures

If you live in a more temperate climate zone, such as coastal California, the highest-efficiency system isn’t as critical as if you were living in a more extreme climate, like Las Vegas. The temperatures in the desert town can hit well over 100 in the summer and drop below freezing on some winter days. 

A high-SEER unit doesn’t need to work as hard to keep your home comfortable, saving you money on utilities and extending the life of the system if it doesn’t over-tax itself. 

However, it isn’t always as simple. You may find units with different SEER ratings, such as 14 and 16, that have the same EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio). ERR is the ratio of cooling power to watts required to maintain a particular temperature. 

Unlike SEER, which is an energy efficiency ratio developed over the course of an entire cooling season, EER is calculated under specific conditions. EER is calculated in an outdoor temperature of 95 degrees and an indoor temperature of 80 degrees with 50% relative humidity. If you live in a hot area, looking at EER may be more accurate when evaluating efficiency.

Brands that sell 14 SEER and 16 SEER units

Most HVAC manufacturers sell 14 and 16 SEER units. According to Clark, “The differences in pricing going from 14 to 16 SEER is relatively negligible, about 25% more in cost, with efficiency being gained in the coil design.” Some of the most popular brands that sell 14 and 16 SEER units include:

When shopping around for a new unit, compare SEER and EER ratings if you live in a zone with more pronounced temperature variations. Price out the difference in 14 SEER vs. 16 SEER cost for the unit and how long it would take in electrical bill savings before you see a return on your investment. 
If energy efficiency is a high priority, consider going higher than 16 SEER. Units in the 17 to 24 SEER range may have better-quality features in addition to high efficiency.