Here in the South, there are few things more certain than a hot summer. And we Mississippians have come to rely on having reliable air conditioning. During the warmest months, our AC units kick into high gear, spinning the electric meter faster and faster, increasing our electric bills and, with it, demand on the electrical grid.
According to Entergy, about 55 percent of average Mississippi consumer’s utility bill comes from heating and cooling. But as concerns have grown about the increasing demand on the infrastructure and environmental concerns, government agencies have been paying attention. A few decades ago, the government began to push for new standards designed to increase the efficiency of AC units.
Often unnoticed by homeowners, these steadily-increasing requirements affect us all in the form of higher initial prices for new units, but could be dramatically offset by better energy efficiency (translation: lower energy costs) in the long run.
You probably have heard you’re HVAC tech refer to something called a “SEER” rating. SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) measures air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency, which is calculated by taking the cooling output for a typical cooling season, and dividing it by the total amount of electricity required during the same period. In short, a higher SEER rating should equal greater energy efficiency. Theoretically, a more efficient unit should be better at cooling your house quickly, then shutting itself off, while running more efficiently during run times.
On January 1, new rules from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) required that all air conditioning units installed in the Southeast must have at least a 14 SEER rating. For the first time, the country has been divided into three regions, each with different standards. Of course, the 14 number is the minimum allowable SEER number; many units have a much higher energy efficiency rating, which should result in lower bills. If you have an older unit, your SEER rating could be much lower, costing you more in electricity.
“The new guidelines will have a greater effect on the southern states because they have a longer cooling period during the spring and summer,” said Doyle James, president of Aire Serv, which along with other heating and cooling companies has been trying to educate consumers about the new standards. “In a typical summer, the southern states have more cooling degree days, or days where homes and businesses will use the air conditioning systems for longer periods to cool buildings.”
There is some good news for consumers who may be in need of a new unit. Entergy, for example, offers a rebate to consumers (up to $500) for consumers who install a new unit with a more energy-efficient model, and you should also look into possible tax rebates and incentives. To find out more, you can call Entergy at (844) 523-9980.
Here are a few more things to think about, courtesy of Entergy:
- Replace old equipment while it’s still in working condition, especially if it’s more than 10 years old.
- Buy ENERGY STAR certified equipment for improved comfort, reduced energy use and energy savings.
- Replace both the indoor and outdoor units to ensure they are properly matched to last longer and be more dependable.
- Ask a participating contractor to perform a load calculation to determine the proper equipment size for your home.
- Make sure your installer is qualified. Improper installation can lower efficiency by up to 30 percent and potentially reduce the life of your equipment.
Of course, if you can stand it to nudge your thermostat up a couple of degrees in the summer, your AC won’t have to work so hard. And taking advantage of programmable thermostats and similar technologies can help keep waste to a minimum.
So before you write that check to replace the noisy monster spinning away outside your bedroom window, taking some time to do your research could have implications well into the future.