New AC energy efficiency standards are coming in 2023, affecting central air conditioners and heat pump systems. The intended outcome of the new standards is positive in terms of lower energy costs and environmental benefits. However, these new requirements will also affect the availability and pricing of certain systems.
What are the New Requirements and When Do They Come into Effect?
Back in 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) published a new set of energy efficiency standards for heating and air conditioning equipment. These requirements will take effect on January 1, 2023. Soon, you will begin to see the impact the new standards will have on the central air conditioning products available to you.
The 2023 DOE standards require that all residential air conditioners and heat pumps manufactured in or imported to the United States on or after January 1, 2023, carry higher minimum energy efficiency ratings. These ratings are expressed in SEER, HSPF and EER. The goal of requiring higher ratings is to reduce air conditioner energy consumption.
About SEER, HSPF and EER
Before we cover more specifics, here is a brief overview of HVAC energy efficiency ratings. Every air conditioner or heat pump has a SEER rating, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the SEER rating, the less electricity the air conditioner or heat pump consumes.
Heat pumps also have a HSPF rating that signifies its heating efficiency. (In case you don’t know, the only difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner is that a heat pump is able to both heat and cool your home.) HSPF stands for Heating Seasonal Performance Factor.
Air conditioners also have an EER rating which stands for Energy Efficiency Ratio. EER is calculated in a nearly identical manner to SEER—BTU (British Thermal Unit) divided by WH (Watt-Hours). The primary difference lies in how SEER and EER are calculated. EER’s calculations are based on a constant outdoor temperature of 95° F, whereas SEER calculations are based on outdoor temperatures ranging from 65°F to 104°F.
In the northern and southern United States, SEER rating is the reigning standard for air conditioners. The southeastern United States is the only region where the DOE requires a minimum EER rating in addition to a minimum SEER rating.
Here’s How AC Energy Efficiency Standards are Changing:
Higher SEER, EER, and HSPF Ratings
The current AC energy efficiency standards, following the 2015 energy efficiency update, require split system central air conditioners to have a minimum SEER rating of 13 in the northern US and 14 in the southern US. A split system heat pump adheres to a national standard of 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF.
The 2023 standards will require a minimum SEER rating of 14 for all air conditioners installed in the northern US. In the Southeast and Southwest regions, the minimum SEER rating will depend upon the AC’s size. A split system air conditioner with a capacity (a.k.a. size) less than 45,000 BTU (=3.75 ton) will need to be at least 15 SEER. A system with a capacity greater than 45,000 BTU will need to be a minimum of 14.5 SEER.
Heat pumps, at least, will still have a nation-wide standard—15 SEER, 8.8 HSPF.
The minimum SEER and HSPF ratings for packaged air conditioners and heat pumps will remain unchanged from the 2015 standards.
New Test Procedures (SEER2, HSPF2, and EER2)
In addition to updating their energy efficiency requirements, the DOE is also making an upgrade to the test procedures that determine the SEER, HSPF and EER ratings. We’ll spare you the specifics (you can read more here if you’re curious), but the new test procedures are designed to be a more accurate measure of efficiency.
All HVAC equipment, regardless of its current efficiency rating, will need to undergo the new testing procedures to ensure compliance. Manufacturers are working to re-configure and redesign their equipment, where needed. Effectively, this means that all equipment – even packaged systems, whose minimum efficiency rating is not changing – may need a certain amount of redesigning to pass the new testing procedures.
In the table below that shows the 2023 AC energy efficiency standards, the SEER, HSPF and EER numbers were calculated using the old test procedures. This makes the ratings easier to compare with the 2015 ratings. The SEER2, HSPF2 and EER2 numbers were calculated using the new test procedure.
AC Energy Efficiency Standards Comparison
Current Standards (effective January 1, 2015):
|Split System AC|
|Split System AC|
|Split System Heat Pump||14||8.2||–||–||–|
|Single Packaged AC||14||–||–||–||11.0|
|Single Packaged Heat Pump||14||8.0||–||–||–|
|Space-Constrained Heat Pump||12||7.4||–||–||–|
|Small-Duct High-Velocity System||13||7.7||–||–||–|
*States of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, or Virginia, or in the District of Columbia
**States of Arizona, California, Nevada, or New Mexico
New AC Energy Efficiency Standards (Effective January 1, 2023)
|SEER / SEER2||HSPF / HSPF2||SEER / SEER2||SEER / SEER2||EER||EER2|
|Split System AC|
|14 / 13.4||–||15 / 14.3||15 / 14.3||12.2 / 10.2***||11.7 / 9.8***|
|Split System AC|
|14.4 / 13.4||–||14.5 / 13.8||14.5 / 13.8||11.7 / 10.2***||11.2 / 9.8***|
|Split System Heat Pump||15 / 14.3||8.8 / 7.5||–||–||–||–|
|Single Packaged AC†||14 / 13.4||–||–||–||11.0||10.6|
|Single Packaged Heat Pump||14 / 13.4||8.0 / 6.7||–||–||–||–|
|Space-Constrained AC†||12 / 11.7||–||–||–||–|
|Space-Constrained Heat Pump†||12 / 11.9||7.4 / 6.3||–||–||–||–|
|Small-Duct High-Velocity System†||12||7.2 / 6.1||–||–||–||–|
*Southeast includes: The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.
**Southwest includes the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico.
***The 10.2 EER (9.8 EER2) amended energy conservation standard applies to split-system air conditioners with a SEER rating greater than or equal to 16.
†The energy conservation standards for single-package, small-duct high-velocity and space-constrained product classes remain unchanged from current levels.
Varying Effective Dates by Region
In states belonging to the northern region (see diagram above), dealers can still install equipment after 1/1/23 that was manufactured prior to 1/1/23, if it was compliant with the current regulations at the date of manufacture. On a national level, the same rule applies to split heat pumps and packaged units.
However, in the South and Southwest regions, split air conditioners installed after 1/1/23 must comply with the new minimum efficiency standard, regardless of their date of manufacture. Equipment manufactured prior to 1/1/23 does not need to pass the new test procedure if the label on the equipment shows a higher SEER rating than the 2023 minimum standard SEER rating.
How Will the New AC Energy Efficiency Standards Affect You?
If you are a homeowner or property manager, the new requirements may not impact you right away. You will not be forced to upgrade your current air conditioner, even if it does not meet the 2023 efficiency standards. If you live in Florida and your 14 SEER (or less) air conditioner was installed before January 1, 2023, you may continue to use it.
Eventually, however, all of us will be affected by the 2023 standards. Some effects will be positive. For instance, more efficient air conditioners mean less overall energy consumption. This could result in significant energy cost savings and environmental benefits over the long term.
However, some effects will be a little less rosy.
You will probably first notice the impact of the 2023 standards on AC equipment prices. History tells us that whenever a change in energy efficiency regulations is instituted, prices on higher efficiency equipment tend to rise. After the last major efficiency upgrade, there was a price increase between 8-12%. for new equipment. The 2023 updates will likely follow a similar pattern.
Because the new testing procedures will affect all HVAC equipment, not just lower efficiency systems, we are likely to see price increases across all product tiers.
The first official estimates we have seen, state that new equipment will be 15-20% more expensive, on average, than current models.
It’s not a stretch to imagine such price increases, especially in the face of a market already strained by pandemic-related supply chain issues and material shortages.
Because all equipment manufactured after 1/1/23 must meet the new minimum efficiency requirements AND pass the new testing procedures, a significant amount of equipment will be rendered obsolete. Also, dealers will only be allowed to install certain equipment manufactured prior to 1/1/23 until the end of the year in some areas (see the heading “Varying Effective Dates By Region”, above).
Therefore, AC systems that do not meet the new regulations will not be available to you for much longer.
We expect manufacturers will cut off production of soon-to-be-obsolete systems far ahead of the January 1st deadline. Distributers will try to sell off their inventory to make room for new equipment that meets both the new efficiency requirements and carries the new SEER2, HSPF2, or EER2 rating. So, HVAC equipment that does not meet the new standards will be largely unavailable by the fall.
As a Homeowner or Property Manager, What Action Should I Take?
Start by considering the age of your current air conditioner. The standard warranty for an air conditioner is anywhere between 5 to 10 years and the average lifespan of an air conditioner is 8-12 years.
Here’s another, if not more important factor to consider: just how energy efficient is your current air conditioner? If you currently own, for example, a 10 SEER air conditioner, did you know that upgrading to a 15 SEER unit can save you up to 33% per year in electricity costs? Your yearly savings by upgrading to a 20 SEER air conditioner could be up to 50%! Besides these savings, other new features built into these new, higher efficiency units will provide a tremendous home comfort boost.
However, upgrading to a higher efficiency air conditioner or heat pump will not make sense for everyone. If you’re a seasonal resident, residing in Southwest Florida only during the cooler winter months, then a 14 SEER or less system might adequately serve your needs. Purchasing equipment adherent to the 2023 standard would provide only minimal benefit. So, if you are thinking about replacing your current air conditioner, you may want to purchase a less expensive 14 SEER system now, while the inventory still exists. Waiting until next year will force you to purchase at least a 15 SEER system, with a higher efficiency rating than would benefit you, at a higher cost.
If Your Air Conditioner or Heat Pump Is Due for Replacement, Consider the Following Options:
Purchase a new system now that meets the current minimum efficiency standard. If you act soon, you can buy a 14 SEER system before this lower-cost option is no longer available.
- Upgrade to the new 2023 standards-compliant equipment now. Purchasing a more energy efficient air conditioner or heat pump ahead of the January 1st deadline will allow you to avoid the imminent price increases on this type of equipment. Plus, year-round residents can already start enjoying the benefits of high-efficiency equipment, like reduced energy costs.
Wait to act until after January 1, 2023. This decision will allow you to select from the newest products and reap any benefits from up-to-date technology. However, be aware that 2023 standards-compliant equipment will come with a higher price tag.
The Benefits of Hiring a Licensed Contractor
One more word of advice. No matter how you decide to handle these new 2023 AC energy efficiency standards, whether you upgrade your equipment now or in the future, always remember to hire a licensed contractor for your AC replacement.
A licensed HVAC contractor has the skills, knowledge, and experience to advise you on the optimal air conditioner or heat pump choice for your home. A contractor can provide you with a higher grade of equipment than your local home improvement store offers. They will install your new unit correctly, the first time, and handle all the necessary county permits for you. Choosing a reputable contractor also means that they will be available for future service and maintenance to keep your system operating efficiently.
Contact Kobie Complete for More Information
If you have any questions about the DOE’s 2023 AC energy efficiency standards, please contact the experts at Kobie Complete Heating & Cooling, Inc at (941) 474-3691. We are your trusted local HVAC company, ready to provide guidance on your home comfort decisions.
“Appliance and Equipment Standards Rulemakings and Notices”, U.S. Department of Energy, https://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance_standards/standards.aspx?productid=48&action=viewlive, Accessed 12/29/21.
“2017-05-26 Energy Conservation Program: Energy Conservation Standards for Residential Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps; Confirmation of effective date and compliance date for direct final rule.”, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, May 16, 2017. https://www.regulations.gov/document/EERE-2014-BT-STD-0048-0200, Accessed 12/29/21.
“Efficiency requirements for residential central AC and heat pumps to rise in 2023”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=40232, Accessed 11/10/21.
The SEER2 Guide, Johnstone Supply, https://seer2.com/about.html, Accessed 5/18/22.
“2023 Regulatory Requirements Guidebook”, Johnson Controls, https://www.johnsoncontrols.com/-/media/jci/campaigns/2022/doe/jci-doe2023guidebook.pdf, Accessed 5/19/22.
Last Updated: May 23, 2022