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By Tom Moor
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Posted 9/5/23

When it comes to buying cooling equipment, you have choices. That includes choosing how energy efficient your next air conditioner is, which is determined by its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER rating. You’ll be faced with a specific decision – selecting a 14 SEER Vs. 16 SEER air conditioner, or perhaps a unit with an even higher SEER rating.

If your home’s air conditioning system is more than 15 years old, there’s a good chance the SEER rating falls between 8 and 10 which is incredibly inefficient. Today’s modern units offer SEER ratings of 13 to 26, which can lower energy bills and decrease your carbon footprint. So whether you choose a 14 SEER or 16 SEER AC system, it’ll be much more efficient than your current unit.

Let’s compare the different SEER ratings to help you determine the energy efficiency of your next air conditioner.

What Is SEER rating?

The energy-efficiency rating of a heat pump or air conditioner is calculated by dividing the system’s BTU (British Thermal Unit) by the watts required to reach the desired setting. 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, which will cool your home quicker and more efficiently to save you money on your electric bills. However, the higher efficiency comes at a cost. For example, the highest SEER AC of 26 is more expensive than a 14 SEER AC unit. Part of choosing the best air conditioner brand is determining if you prefer value, energy efficiency, or quality from a unit.

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

New HVAC Regulations on SEER Ratings

The federal government recently increased the minimum SEER ratings for all states, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

In northern states, the minimum SEER rating on a new air conditioner increased from 13 to 14. In southern states, it changed from 14 to 15. So if you live in the South or Southwest, a 14 SEER-rated air conditioner is no longer an option.

Meanwhile, split system heat pumps require a minimum SEER of 15 and an HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor) of 8.8. Conversely, a packaged heat pump mandates a minimum SEER of 14 and an HSPF of 8 in all regions of the country.

14 SEER Vs. 16 SEER

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

14 SEER Vs. 16 SEER Cost: Calculating Energy 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 of your air conditioner involves more than reading the SEER rating on the EnergyGuide sticker. Consider these outside factors when evaluating how much energy your HVAC system uses, and whether you are better off with a 16 or 14 SEER AC unit.

When replacing an antiquated air conditioning system with a new unit, it’s essential to evaluate the efficiencies of a 14 SEER vs. 16 SEER system. 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 Energy Efficient for the Cost?

To determine if a 16 SEER AC unit 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 $2,256. The Goodman 14 SEER AC version costs $1,838 as of July 2023. Necessary accessories and installation costs will add to the total bill.

With the Goodman brand, you’ll spend up to $438 more for the 16 SEER AC. Based on the previous example of your electric bill being $100 per month, you could save about $150 per year when you run the more efficient unit.​ If you spend more on the higher-efficiency unit, your break-even point for the extra expense is less than three years. Figuring that your AC system 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 in Michigan, advises homeowners who want to upgrade their air conditioning units to consider going for a higher rating of 17 SEER or more.

"ACs in the 14 to 16 SEER range won’t be much different from each other," Clark said. "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?

The highest SEER rating available within your budget is the best. ENERGY STAR agrees, publishing recommendations for the most efficient air conditioners and heat pumps that range between 18 and 24 SEER. Based on the recommendations, if you’re deciding 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 AC 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 degrees in the summer. If you live here or in other hot regions of the country, you can benefit from a high-SEER air conditioning unit that 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, an energy efficiency ratio developed over 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 the 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. Some of the most popular brands that sell 14 and 16 SEER units include:

When shopping for a new unit, compare SEER and EER ratings if you live in a zone with more pronounced temperature variations. No matter the SEER rating you choose, be selective with your HVAC installation company. If an HVAC system is too large or small for a home, the SEER rating is irrelevant.

Price out the difference in 14 SEER vs. 16 SEER cost for the unit and how long it would take in energy 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 have improved features and higher efficiencies.

FAQs on 14 SEER Vs. 16 SEER AC

Is it worth going from 14 SEER to 16 SEER?

It is worth switching from a 14 SEER to a 16 SEER air conditioning system, especially if you live in a hot region of the country. Switching to a 16 SEER-rated unit can save you about $14 a month on your energy bills.

What is the best seer rating?

The best SEER rating is often based on several factors including budget, climate, and how often the system is used. Typically, a 14 to 16 SEER air conditioner is ideal for homeowners in northern states, while a 15, 16, or higher SEER AC unit is recommended for people who live in the South and Southeast.

Is 14 SEER AC good?

If you live in a northern state and are on a budget, a 14 SEER air conditioner is a good choice. They cost less than 16 SEER central air conditioners and are 20-30% more efficient than AC units manufactured just 15 years ago.

How long does a 16 SEER AC unit last?

How long a 16 SEER AC unit lasts depends on the climate you live in, the unit’s usage, and maintenance history. In general, expect your 16 SEER air conditioner to last about 15-20 years.