My day job is running a business that deals in heating and air conditioning on the wholesale level. What that means is that if you call someone to your house or business to fix the heating or air conditioning hopefully I would be the person to sell the technician the new part or piece of equipment that would fix your system. I am a middle man - and a damn good one, I might add.
Not many outside the world I operate in know or understand what the term 13 SEER means. Let's just say that the government is involved and that means you will pay more. Everyone understands that.
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. It is a way that the government and manufacturers rate air conditioning equipment. Currently 10 SEER is the minimum requirement. In other words, if your air conditioner dies, the replacement unit will be 10 SEER or greater. Starting in January of 2006, the minimum efficiency unit that can be manufactured is 13 SEER - to save energy, of course.
It sounds simple, but it is a total and complete boondoggle and the consumer is going to take it in the you-know-what. That's you, by the way.
Some definitions before the meat of the post:
Most single family homes (and lots of apartments, hi-rises and other structures) here in the Great Midwest have these two main parts in their air conditioning system:
Condenser - what most people refer to as their "air conditioner" - that unit with a fan that sits outside your house.
Evaporator - this sits on top of your furnace. The warm return air from your house is blown through your furnace, over the evaporator and is cooled and sent back into the house.
Air conditioners are sized by "tonnage". One ton of cooling is 12,000 btu per hour. BTU is short for British Thermal Unit. A (rough) rule of thumb that is used to size air conditioning systems is 600 square feet per ton of air conditioning. If you have, say, a 2,000 square foot house we would probably recommend a 2.5 or 3 ton unit, depending on some other factors - there is lots more involved, but we will keep it simple.
Lets now say that it is February 2006 and you need a new 2.5 ton unit for your house. As of today, the 10 SEER condenser is basically a 2' x 2' x 2' cube. The new 13 SEER unit Measures 2.5' x 2.5' x 2.5'. A little more unsightly, but acceptable. You have to understand that to make these units more efficient, they have to use more surface area - making the unit larger. This applies for not only the condenser, but the evaporator as well. Speaking of the evaporator, let's take a look at that.
If you have an older unit, chances are it is 10 SEER or less - and small. Since the new units are larger, you will need more labor to install the new evaporator - you will need some sheet metal work. What if your unit is in a closet? You will have to have the drywallers out there to make that bulge look nicer. Oh, by the way, if the increase in labor isn't enough, the new 13 SEER units cost about 30% more than the old ones.
The payback in energy savings for these higher efficient units is estimated to be a minimum of ten years and (more realistically) twenty years at most. Twenty years! And that isn't even figuring your extra sheet metal and/or drywall work! Here in Wisconsin we only run our air conditioners for three months out of the year (tops).
So where does this leave you? If you are thinking about replacing your central air conditioning unit DO IT NOW!!! If not, be prepared to pay more later - a lot more, courtesy of your federal government.
The current situation is this - we wholesalers are allowed to sell everything we have. There are plenty of the 10 SEER units to go around - for now. If this summer is hot, it may get very interesting. All of my contacts agree that all of the major A/C manufacturers are going to gear down production of 10 SEER in August or September (you can't just flip a switch, the lines have to be converted). They will be gearing up 13 SEER production around October. So there may be a gap if it is hot in August or September of not much available product out there, driving the price even higher. I don't think that will happen, but it is possible. That is the doomsday scenario for the consumer and winning the lotto for guys like me. Hey, it's nothing personal, just business.
Update: Welcome Dangerous Logic readers - hope you like what you see here. And thanks to Chris for the link.