SEER as a Sales Tool

How to use this number to help customers choose the perfect cooling system for their needs.

SEER ratings are an important part of the HVAC contractor’s sales toolbox. That's because few homeowners fully understand how best to use these numbers when evaluating cooling equipment. But those who do will be more likely to choose the optimal equipment for their homes.

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating attaches a numeric value to the efficiency of an air conditioner or heat pump. Higher numbers denote more efficient units, and, of course, lower electric bills.

Federal regulations that went into effect in January, 2015 set the minimum SEER for new cooling equipment at 13 or 14, depending on the region of the country. It's important to remember that those numbers are minimums: you can now get equipment with ratings as high as 26.

The question is whether a super-efficient unit makes sense for a given homeowner. While most homeowners want the extra comfort provided by an efficient unit, most will also want to justify the higher cost. Helping them do that is part of the consultative sales process.

The consultation starts with a Manual J Residential Load calculation to determine what size equipment the home needs. This is crucial: even an efficient air conditioner might end up running most of the day at high speed if it's grossly undersized, raising utility bills and shortening its lifespan. On the other hand an oversized unit will burn excess wattage by constantly switching on and off, and will be less effective at removing humidity from the home.

With the sizing done, the next step is to estimate payback periods for units with various SEER ratings. The answers will depend not just on the equipment but on how energy-efficient the home is and how often it will need to be cooled and dehumidified. Expect quicker paybacks in Miami's hot and humid climate than in Montana, where summers are short and dry. And the payback period will be shortest in well-insulated, draft-free homes with properly sealed ductwork.

How long of a payback period the homeowners will accept usually depends on how long they plan to stay in the home. For example, the difference between a 14 and a 20 SEER air conditioner might be $2500 for a 2.5-ton unit. If the more efficient choice promises a $500 annual energy savings and the homeowners don't plan on moving in the next five years, it's a great investment.

One of the most effective ways to help them see the potential savings is with a visual aid. Many contractors use an online tool such as Lennox's Energy Savings Calculator to show the comparative reduction in energy costs for minimum and high-SEER equipment. It won't calculate the exact savings for a specific home, but when combined with the homeowners' electric bills this tool makes it easier to explain the benefit of the upgrade.

Helping customers understand and use SEER numbers not only makes it more likely that they will choose the most appropriate equipment, it also enhances your reputation as a professional who puts home owners’ needs first.

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