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New Efficiency Ratings (SEER2) – Getting it Wrong

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Bottom Line: The US Department of Energy (DOE) has new efficiency standards (SEER2, EER2, HSPF2), effective January 1, 2023. Unfortunately, these new standards mislead the public because they undervalue how critical you are as the HVAC professional, and why quality installation matters, as always.

Basically, DOE decided to change the test procedures to more accurately reflect how equipment is installed. This is boring, feel free to skip ahead to “What Changed.”

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (“EPCA” or “the Act”), sets forth a variety of provisions designed to improve energy efficiency and established the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products Other Than Automobiles. These products include central air conditioners and central air conditioning heat pumps. Section 310 of EISA 2007 established that the Department’s test procedures for all covered products must account for standby mode and off mode energy consumption. (42 U.S.C. 6295(gg)(2)(A)) For CAC/HP, standby mode is incorporated into the SEER and HSPF metrics, while off mode power consumption is separately regulated. This final rule includes changes relevant to the determination of both SEER and HSPF (including standby mode) and off mode power consumption.

PS. I tried to find an image of the new Energy Guide, but no luck.

What Changed:
The details to the efficiency calculation’s changes can be found here.  And, if you’re into differential equations… you’re going to love this.

Here is a brief summary of a few key elements:

  • Static Pressure: Forced air systems are tested with the indoor blower pushing against a prescribed static pressure.
    • Old Test Condition: Indoor blowers were typically tested at 0.10 iwc (although some were tested at 0.20 iwc and 0.30 iwc).
    • New Test Condition: Now indoor blower motors must push against 0.50 iwc.
    • Impact: Existing fan motors will use more watts to push against the higher pressure. This will decrease efficiency (due to increased watt draw). Larger fan motors may be used, these would use less wattage to achieve the same airflow. But this will impact the cost of the equipment. Ductless systems had an advantage before, they have a bigger advantage now.
  • Heat Pump Test Conditions: The coldest temperature at which a heat pump was tested. The values cited are for Zone IV, which represents the weather data used for AHRI ratings.
    • Old Test Condition: 17˚F
    • New Test Condition: 5˚F
    • Impact: Good news for cold climates; now rating data will provide heating capacity at colder temperatures. This will help with equipment selection.
  • Building Load Line Slope: This ratio represents the impact of electric resistance heat used with a heat pump as the outdoor temperature dropped. (Again, the values cited are for Zone IV, which represents the weather data used for AHRI ratings.)
    • Old Procedure:77
    • New Procedure Single Speed:15
    • New Procedure Variable Capacity: 07
    • Impact: In every instance, for all regional zones, the variable capacity equipment has a lower slope line which gives it an energy efficiency advantage.

Why It Matters:
Primarily it matters to equipment manufacturers and energy nerds like me (us?).

What To Tell Your Customers:
Nothing about SEER2, EER2, and HSPF2.  In terms of high-efficiency equipment, yes of course you speak to its value, but the new efficiency ratings, nope. Unless you enjoy watching people’s eyes glaze over or seeing them fade away as they lose interest in your conversation. In my opinion, this will be as important to them as when the EPA changed the fuel efficiency calculations for miles per gallon (MPG) calculations.  They did.  Twice, since 2008.  See?

Please tell your customers that YOUR team matters. High-efficiency boxes (aka, equipment) will underperform, underdeliver, and could have a shorter life cycle when incorrectly installed. It could also result in moisture problems affecting their health and property. That is why YOU matter!
Well, you matter if you design and install the equipment correctly.  You must ensure the equipment size meets the load (Manuals J® and S®), the ducts are sized for good airflow (Manual D®), and the equipment is installed correctly (QI 5 Standard). Otherwise, the high-priced high-efficiency equipment is just that: expensive. Your customer’s home needs quality installation so they will be comfortable, have lower utility costs, and enjoy a lengthy life cycle.

Need a simple way to demonstrate you installed the system correctly?  You need a Quality Installation Certificate!

Your customers may notice the funny new efficiency ratings (“What’s that two mean?”). Most won’t. If anyone asks, you can explain there is a new test procedure. But the thing that matters most is that the equipment is installed properly. An HVAC system is not like a refrigerator (plug it in and it works). It must be installed correctly as a complete system, and that is why you should be hired to install it!

I think it’s great that the new efficiency ratings more accurately portray the equipment’s energy usage. But emphasize that the system must be designed, and the equipment MUST be installed correctly!

Oh, and they need to hire you to do that.

Book Report:
I forgot to give you my list last month, so I’m rolling it in here.

  • Principles, Ray Dalio – The must read. Want to be ready for “another one of those”, rather than react differently to common situations? Read… this… book.
  • Dare to Lead, Brene Brown – This book tied for first. It is not for sissies. Once you read it, you will do things differently, get ready to rumble.
  • Start With Why, Simon Sinek – Second on the list. If you don’t know why you’re in business…figure it out. This book does not give you the answer, it helps you dig… to find your answer.
  • Think Again, Adam Grant – This is a tie for second. Great research. Great examples. Great read.
  • Zero to One, Peter Thiel – Another tie for second. Classic entrepreneur thinking. Strongly recommended.
  • The Richest Man in Babylon, George Clason – An old classic on money management basics.
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