Is Your HVAC System Energy Efficient? The Answer in 2023 May Surprise You

With energy costs and climate concerns always in the news, you may be paying more attention to how all the products in your life impact your wallet and the environment. Your HVAC system is high on the list of things that affect both. So you may be wondering: is your HVAC system energy efficient?

It turns out the answer to this question has changed. As of January 1, 2023, there are more stringent minimum efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps. So an HVAC system that was considered energy efficient in 2022 may no longer be officially energy efficient in 2023.

Advancements in energy efficiency technology are great. But it doesn’t feel great when your home or your appliances have “fallen behind” these advancements. So today, we’ll cover the following: 

The New HVAC Efficiency Requirements

What is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio?

How the New HVAC Efficiency Requirements Affect You


The New HVAC Efficiency Requirements

The U.S. Department of Energy meets once every six years to assess the energy usage of various household appliances and to decide whether these appliances must run more efficiently.

In their 2017 assessment, the DOE decided to require a 7% increase in efficiency from residential and light commercial air conditioners and heat pumps.

A 7% boost in efficiency translates to a one-point increase in the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). At the time of the DOE’s 2017 assessment, the minimum SEER for air conditioners and heat pumps was 13 in northern states and 14 in southern states.

The DOE ruled that by January 1, 2023, the SEER for newly manufactured air conditioners and heat pumps must increase by one point. The new minimum would be 14 in northern states and 15 in southern states.

Now, six years later, the new SEER minimum requirements have officially rolled out.

Thus, when it comes to air conditioners and heat pumps, the definition of “energy efficient” has changed. If your air conditioner or heat pump is rated with a SEER of less than 14 (if you live in the northern half of the U.S.) or 15 (if you live in the southern half), it’s no longer considered energy efficient.

Another SEER-related change for 2023 is that the new SEER standard is called SEER2. That’s because the DOE also rolled out a new testing procedure for determining the SEER.

The new test more accurately mimics the real-world conditions where air conditioners and heat pumps are installed. The test increases external static air pressure, or air resistance because all air conditioners and heat pumps encounter resistance as they push air through a home or building.

What is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio?

The SEER is the rating that determines whether you can call your air conditioner or heat pump energy efficient. So what is this metric, anyway?

The SEER measures the cooling ability of an air conditioner or heat pump. To calculate the SEER, the unit’s cooling output (in BTUs) is divided by the amount of energy (in watt-hours) that the unit requires to run.

Another way to describe the SEER: it compares the heat removed from a space to the energy used in the process.

Ideally, an air conditioner or heat pump will cool a space well using the least amount of energy possible. So the higher the SEER, the more efficient the unit.

Or, more simply put, the higher the SEER, the better.

An acceptable SEER ranges from the DOE minimum – currently, that’s a 14 here in Pennsylvania, but older equipment will have a lower SEER – all the way up to 28 for some advanced air conditioners and heat pumps. A higher SEER doesn’t mean that a product produces “more” cooling. Rather it means that the product produces cooling more efficiently, using less energy.

The highest SEER ratings represent the best energy efficiency technology available today. For example, Lennox offers an air conditioner among its Ultimate Comfort line with a SEER of 28. This product and others like it are Energy Star certified for meeting rigorous performance standards and preventing greenhouse gas emissions. Energy Star is a program from the DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency that helps consumers save on utility bills, improve their indoor comfort, and reduce their environmental impact.

How the New HVAC Efficiency Requirements Affect You

Here are three things you need to know regarding the energy efficiency of your HVAC system in 2023:

  1. You don’t have to replace your HVAC equipment.

If you’re here in Pittsburgh, the new minimum SEER for your air conditioner or heat pump is 14. (If you’re in a southern state, it’s 15.) If you’ve invested in a quality HVAC system or replaced one in the last few years, there’s an excellent chance yours already has at least this SEER level.

But if your air conditioner or heat pump doesn’t meet the minimum SEER, you don’t have to run out and buy a new one. You can continue to use yours until it reaches the end of its lifespan. Homeowners are not required or expected to replace HVAC equipment that is outdated by efficiency standards. As long as it runs, you’re free to use it.

  1. But an HVAC replacement can pay off for you.

New energy efficiency standards aren’t the only thing the government rolled out in 2023. They also introduced incentives for consumers to adopt these standards.

So if you’re thinking about replacing your air conditioner or heat pump anyway, you can get a federal tax credit for doing so. 

The federal tax credits cover all sorts of energy efficiency upgrades for your home. They apply to various appliances and include a percentage of the product cost as well as the installation cost. They even help you pay for any electrical panel upgrades you may need in order to run your new appliances.

Regarding HVAC-specific incentives, the federal tax credits are especially beneficial if you buy a new energy-efficient heat pump. Heat pumps are also referred to as mini-splits or ductless heating. With the new tax credits for these products, you can get a discount of up to 30% on the purchase and installation costs. Here’s a helpful calculator for estimating how much you can save with these new laws.

Have concerns about heat pumps in cold Pittsburgh winters? We hear you. We discussed heat pumps in a previous post that explains ductless air conditioners too.

One last word about cost savings here: if you install an energy-efficient HVAC system, you save money even if there were no such thing as tax credits. Energy-efficient heating and cooling allows you to use less fuel, your equipment to work less hard, and your HVAC investment to last a lot longer. Here’s another fun calculator for estimating your savings with Energy Star products.

  1. Repairs for less efficient HVAC equipment will eventually be a challenge.

For HVAC manufacturers, the DOE’s new efficiency standard is a huge change. It means that the air conditioners and heat pumps they produce as of January 1, 2023, must perform at the new SEER minimum level.

HVAC manufacturers have known this since 2017, so over the last six years, they’ve been making equipment that’s compliant and phasing out equipment that isn’t.

The same is true for HVAC contractors and installers. They’ve been building their inventory of air conditioners and heat pumps that meet the new SEER minimums.

This means that as less efficient air conditioners and heat pumps age and require replacement parts, compatible parts will become harder to find and more expensive to get.

Most quality HVAC installers will still have a healthy inventory of older HVAC models and replacement parts available for you. But as time goes on, even the best and largest contractors will have dwindling supplies of equipment and parts that are no longer manufactured.

Eventually, if your routine HVAC tune-ups require parts that are too scarce or pricey, you’ll want to replace your lower-efficiency air conditioner or heat pump with a new, high-efficiency one.


At Kowalski Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing, we’re excited to make your HVAC system as energy efficient as it can be. Our estimates are free and custom to your home. Give us a call at 724-745-7404, or text us at 412-952-5923. You can also contact us via our website at any time. We’ll come to you, and we’re excited to answer all your questions. We look forward to serving you!


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