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As Summer Heats Up, a Revised Efficiency Standard Brings Consumers Relief

New York, May 10, 2006

With the approach of summer and rising temperatures, many consumers may be considering whether to replace or update their home air conditioning units. An amendment to the federal government’s energy standards may impact buyer decisions this season.

A standard issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) earlier this year increases the efficiency requirement of residential air conditioning units and heat pumps by thirty percent. Applying to all units imported to or manufactured in the United States, the standard raises the minimum seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of these appliances to 13 SEER. The revision replaces the previous standard of 10 SEER which had been in effect since 1992.

Each SEER point represents a difference of approximately 10 percent in energy consumption; a higher rating indicates greater efficiency and translates into bigger savings in electric bills. SEER ratings of residential air conditioners and heat pumps currently available on the market range from 10 to 20+.

Though the initial cost of a 13 SEER unit is generally higher than a 10 SEER system, the improved efficiency of the higher rated system brings greater savings overall. According to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE), a 13 SEER system will pay for itself within 3.5 years. According to the DoE, the new regulation will save consumers one billion dollars during the next 25 years.

In addition to bringing consumers cool savings, the new standard may bring relief to the environment as well. The DoE estimates that the 13 SEER standard will help the nation to conserve 4.2 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUh) of energy by 2030—a sum equal to the annual energy use of 26 million U.S. households. The new standard will also contribute to a cleaner environment and improved public health by substantially reducing emissions of smog-forming nitrous oxides and other pollutants. Energy conserved through the use of the standard will also reduce pressure on utility companies, helping to prevent the need to build new power plants.

Central air-conditioning systems make use of an indoor coil unit and outdoor condensing unit. To function properly, the SEER ratings of both units must correspond. Consumers looking to upgrade their air conditioning system must replace both units if they hope to benefit from maximum efficiency.

"Homeowners will not achieve peak efficiency and comfort from their cooling system unless it is properly matched and installed,” said William Sutton, president of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). “Improperly installed systems may function, but not at peak performance, and could prematurely fail."

A member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute, ARI recommends that homeowners ask their air conditioning technician to provide an "ARI Certificate of ARI Certified-Performance." The certificate provides verification that the outdoor and indoor units are matched as an ARI Performance Certified system. ARI also suggests that consumers look for the ARI Performance Certified seal on air-conditioning systems—an indication that the product will perform to the manufacturer’s stated rating.

For additional information on SEER ratings and air conditioning tips, read ARI’s How to Keep Your Cool and Save Cold Cash—a consumer brochure that answers 42 questions about indoor comfort systems.

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