Answers to Common Questions About 2015 Regional HVAC Efficiency Standards

There appears to be some concern about what is really going to happen when the new, residential unitary air conditioning efficiency regulations go into effect later this year so we put together a list of questions and answers to help HVAC contractors keep current on what they need to know about these new standards.

I heard the new regulations were being challenged in court.  Will they get thrown out entirely?

Although there are some legal challenges to the exact implementation date, the next round of efficiency standards for residential air conditioning is still expected to apply to air conditioners and heat pumps installed on or after January 1, 2015.  And, even if the challenges are successful in delaying the enforcement date by a few months, contractors should still try to become familiar with the structure of the new regulations because that is not likely to change.  For example, there will actually be three, new minimum efficiency levels with the new regulations because the standards for air conditioning are different for the three specified geographic regions.  For more information about the actual regulation you can click on the following link:

http://www.ac-heatingconnect.com/how-to-prepare-for-new-regional-efficiency-standards/

In 2005 there was a large build ahead of old, low efficiency systems.  Will there be a build ahead like this in 2014?

In 2005, there was a build ahead of 10 SEER systems just prior to the 2006 implementation date.  It is unlikely that there will be a build ahead of that magnitude since the move from 13 SEER to 14 SEER in 2015 will be less challenging than the 2006 move from 10 SEER to 13 SEER and the cost increases driven by the 2015 change will be much smaller.  Also, since 13 SEER AC systems can still be sold into the northern region, there is less stress about having unsalable, low efficiency inventory around after the new regulations go into effect.    

What product changes can we expect from these new regulations?

The most significant product change in 2015 will involve moving all split-system heat pumps in all regions to the new national heat pump efficiency minimum of 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF.  Since most, if not all U.S. manufacturers already have 14 SEER heat pump systems today, many are probably just refreshing their 14 SEER designs to optimize their product offerings for high volume.  Depending on the outcome of the legal debate mentioned above, contractors can probably expect to see the planned elimination of 13 SEER heat pumps from OEM lines and an increased offering of new, low cost, 14 SEER heat pumps which should be available on time for 2015 stocking programs.

Will the yellow “hang-tag” efficiency labels be changing with the new regulations?

Yes.  One consequence of the regional nature of AC standards is the change to the FTC energy guide label. This is the yellow label that is attached to the unit with SEER and HSPF rating of the unit shown in relation to the range of similar models. One change to this label is that it will not show just one rating point for split-system air conditioners and head pumps (i.e. systems that consist of an outdoor condenser and an indoor coil).  Split-system air conditioners and heat pumps will now be shown as a range representing the lowest and highest SEER ratings for all of the condenser’s certified coil combinations Consider a unit with rated efficiency that can range from 13-14.5 SEER depending on the selection of the indoor system, blower and coil combinations.   It is possible that this outdoor unit might have a suitable Indoor match which would allow it to be installed in all three regions.  In this case, it would become important to track both the outdoor and indoor model numbers and check the rated system performance for each installation to ensure it is compliant with the new regulations.

Are there any tools we can use to determine if the indoor and outdoor equipment is qualified?

One useful tool to determine the matched system performance is the AHRI directory which contains the database of all system performance certifications (http://www.ahridirectory.org/ahridirectory/pages/home.aspx).   By entering a few parameters like the outdoor and indoor model numbers you can determine the expected performance of the combination.  The ruling on enforcement method is still pending, but it would be prudent for contractors to prepare for the eventual regulation changes by becoming familiar with this directory since it is likely that contractors are going to be involved with the process of insuring that the equipment they are installing meets the minimum regulations.

Do we know how the DOE is planning to enforce the new regulations?

Although the specific roles and responsibilities of the contractor, distributor and manufacturer are not defined yet, it is likely that all parties will be involved with some aspect of enforcement.  In any case, contractors should be able to verify that the equipment being installed meets the minimum standards provided by the new regulations and also meets the expectations of the consumer.

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39 thoughts on “Answers to Common Questions About 2015 Regional HVAC Efficiency Standards

  1. WILL OUR INDOOR TEMPERATURE BE RESTRICTED DUE TO THE NEW
    LAWS? IN OUR NEW HOME WHEN IT IS OVER 104 OUTSIDE, THE THERMOSTAT
    STAYS AT 78 AND CAN NOT BE CHANGED FOR HOURS. WE CAN’T CONTROL THE
    INSIDE TEMPERATURE TO THE SETTING THAT WE WANT.

  2. I have been told that the condenser coil is leaking in my outside unit . It is a 13 seer split system and I live in NC. I have been given differing opinions about the repair and/or replacement requirements due to the new up grade requirement to 14 seer. Can my outside unit condenser coil (only) be replaced with another 13 seer coil? Or even another whole outside unit that is 13seer? Someone suggested that replacing the outside unit with 14 seer rating will not match up with the existing, under the house unit and that the whole system will have to be replaced. How do I know which is correct?

    • In your situation, if the indoor unit is good, you might replace the outdoor unit only. The efficiency regulation requires that the new outdoor unit should be rated as 14SEER on its hang-tag. If you are only replacing the outdoor unit make sure to check that the current system and new system are using the same refrigerant. However, there could be other reasons why you would replace the whole system and not just the outdoor unit. Below are three major reasons;
      1. The indoor system is very old and will need to be replaced in the next few years. On average, HVAC systems in the US are replaced when they are approximately 14 to 16 years old, more or less depending on the run time e.g. shorter in the south and with a heat pump that runs year round
      2. Matching a 14SEER outdoor with an old indoor coil is allowed but the system will not be as efficient as a full 14SEER system (new indoor and outdoor)
      3. If you have older R22 refrigerant, which is now restricted by EPA, you should consider full system replacement.

      • Thank you for responding. All this is confusing partly because I was told that “matching” couldn’t be guaranteed and therefore permits would probably not be issued”. I do know that I have a 410A system but that it could use R 22 also (which I don’ want). Can a replacement condenser coil only be put in the outdoor unit? The whole system is barely 6 years old. I have been told that even if a new outdoor unit could be installed it would not be covered under standard warranty Thanks for your time and information again,

        • It is usually possible to replace the coil on the outdoor unit or the whole outdoor unit. You might want to get the job quoted both ways though and ask about the warranty differences if you go either way. You might also get several quotes from different contractors to get their opinions on this.

  3. I just had a new heat pump installed. I was told it had a SEER rating of 16. Much to my dismay, there is no energy guide label anywhere on the unit. Isn’t this required by law? I asked the installer and he acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. He finally said they probably removed it. Huh? How do I find out for sure what the SEER rating is? Many thanks

    • Hope – the tag that shows the SEER rating is on the outdoor unit and does not appear on the indoor unit at all. If the outdoor tag is missing you can call the manufacturer and give them the serial numbers on both the indoor and outdoor units and they can tell you what your system SEER should be for that combination of indoor and outdoor units. There is also a way to look it up on the AHRI site but you still need to model and serial numbers to do that. Hope this helps to answer your questions.

  4. I know that the new standard is very vague on partial changes, but what if you were to install a 15 SEER Heat Pump with a new Coil to match to an existing furnace? The new HP and Coil itself will not reach 14 SEER or an 8.2 HSPF. Whether it is alone or matched with a single stage furnace, the AHRI Certificate will be listed as “discontinued”. What is acceptable to change out per the standard? Do you have to replace the entire system to comply with the standard? As a 16 SEER 2 Stage will still not hit the HSPF rating needed. Need to find something in writing to ensure compliance! Please help, thanks!

    • Dan,

      You are absolutely right; there is still a lot of ambiguity about partial replacements with this regulation and further, at this time there are also no final rules on enforcement. Our current interpretations are based on the October, 2014 recommendation of the industry stakeholder’s working group and these indicated that replaced components should be part of an approved combination that meets the federal minimum in the region it is installed.

      So, since your gas furnace and air handler are still working you do not have to replace them. However, it appears you want to replace both the outdoor unit and the indoor coil. Since you are changing both, it is our understanding that you would be required to use an outdoor AC unit that is matched with an indoor coil and both are part of an approved combination on the AHRI directory that meets the standard in your region.

      However, you may still be allowed to install “legacy” equipment which was manufactured prior to 1st Jan, 2015. We are currently in the “sell through period” which will last until 31st July 2016. During this period, legacy 13 SEER outdoor AC units manufactured (built prior to 1st Jan 2015) can be installed in the south and southwest. This sell through period was created to deplete legacy equipment inventory in the channel but it is unclear how the sell through period applies to indoor coils. Your OEM system manufacturer might also provide additional insight into this matter for your particular coil so you might want to check with them for advice.

      Unfortunately, we might not have clear guidance until the enforcement regulations are released. We will continue to monitor the regulatory activity and update this website as we learn more.

      Chandra

      • When I look at cased coil units, they don’t give any seer rating. They just say that the unit will be matched to any seer rating you require. If you have a 13 seer condenser they will they will match it and if you have a 14 seer condenser they will match that. It doesn’t indicate any great change to the cased coil unit like overall physical size and it sounds like valving or fittings or whatever is changed to suit the required seer rating. Just what is done to change seer ratings. In my situation I have a 5 ton13 seer condenser and a damaged 5 ton13 seer cased coil. I want to replace the cased coil with a new 5 ton13 seer cased coil. I am in Florida.

        • Hello Fred,

          Thanks for your question. This is a fairly common situation so maybe the following will help you and others visiting this site.

          Firstly, let’s clarify the definition for capacity (Tonnage or BTU/Hr). The capacity or tonnage of the unit is how much cooling or heating that unit can provide. For example, if you have a 750SqFt home you need less cooling capacity than a 5000SqFt home. Other things that affect capacity are the age of the home, its insulation, the R-value of doors/windows and its geographic location, etc. In your case, it is probably most important to get the right capacity so you will have to probably need to get a 5Ton coil to match your 5Ton outdoor unit unless something has changed in the capacity requirements for your home. If you undersize the indoor coil, your system is probably not going deliver the cooling you need for the hottest days and the system will also be imbalanced and may not run properly. Your contractor can also do some calculations to make sure your unit is sized right.

          SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is a ratio of how much energy is required to produce the required cooling over a typical season (i.e. the cooling output divided by the total electric energy input during a typical cooling season). Higher SEER ratings mean higher efficiency. Today’s systems in the U.S. have SEER ratings which range from 13 SEER to the mid 20’s. This ratio is also used to define the efficiency rating of the system comprised of both the indoor and outdoor units together. Even though an outdoor unit has a SEER rating assigned to it, in reality, the SEER rating can only be defined by that unit when rated with a particular indoor coil. These matched ratings are then documented and maintained by an industry group called AHRI (American Heating and Refrigeration Institute).

          The SEER rating of the indoor coil does not “necessarily” have to match the SEER of the outdoor unit as one coil can be matched with different components to deliver more or less SEER. For example, if the contractor uses a 13 SEER matched coil with your 13 SEER outdoor, the resulting efficiency will be approximately 13 SEER. However, if the contractor uses a 14 SEER coil the resulting SEER might be a little higher than 13 SEER due to the increased heat exchanger area on the new coil. In most cases, the higher SEER coils are larger in size (due to more heat exchanger coil surface area) and might also have different types of expansion valves and/or higher efficiency blower motors.

          Contractors are usually expected to ensure that the right unit is installed in your house. They should know the federal and local requirements for your area and should be able to answer questions about these regulations. Florida and other states and municipalities might also have local requirements and permits so you should ask your contractor about these as well as the federal standards affecting your installation.

  5. WILL THERE BE ANY CHANGES TO THE SIZE OF THE AIR CONDITIONERS OR HEAT PUMPS AS A RESULT OF THE IMPLEMENTAION OF THE HVAC EFFICIENCY STANDARDS WITHIN THE THREE GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS?

    • Thanks for the question. There is usually a size increase for both the indoor and outdoor equipment (height or width or both) due to increases in heat exchanger coil surface area required to achieve higher efficiency. The increase is greater when you go from an older model system (e.g. 10 SEER or less) to a new system (13 SEER or 14 SEER or greater). If you are just going from a 13 SEER to 14 SEER the size increase may not be that much (maybe 1 to 2 inches) for most systems but this varies depending on the brand of equipment you are using and comparing.

  6. How does this new rule affect repair on older units. They need to replace the inside unit on my Heat and AC and I am in Florida.

    • As we understand it, the new DOE efficiency standard discussed in this article applies to whole system replacement or the partial replacement of the outdoor units and does not affect other repairs, including the replacement of the indoor coil. However, Florida might have other rules not covered in this article. You should check with your contractor regarding these state rules.

      • Hi Chandra,

        Thank you for providing all of this great information.

        In your above reply, you state that the DOE standards apply to “whole system replacement or the partial replacement of the outdoor units”. What do you mean by “partial” replacement?

        I live in Texas and my old (2002 SEER 10) air conditioning system, (outdoor compressor/condenser and indoor evaporator on furnace/blower), is having some serious problems. My compressor failed and my indoor evaporator coil is leaking, both need to be replaced. Does the compressor repair/replacement meet the definition of “partial” replacement of the outdoor unit? Thus, the whole system has to be replaced and in compliance with the DOE standards.

        Thank you for your time and help.

        • Hi Rob,

          When we refer to the term “partial replacement”, our definition is when either the outdoor condensing unit or the indoor air handler / coil are replaced individually. When both indoor and outdoor units are replaced at the same time it becomes a “full system” replacement. In your case, replacement of both (full system replacement) sounds like what you are facing and would be subject to the new DOE regulations. Replacing just the compressor within the outdoor unit is still viewed as a “repair” and would not be subject to the new ruling. However, you would still need to fix the leak on the indoor coil. Also, the article describes the federal minimums but there might be additional local regulatory requirements for your area. A good quality, local contractor should be aware of these requirements, along with being able to explain your replacement options.

          Chandra

  7. I just had two air conditioners put in my home in Florida.(May 13th 2015)They replaced older units. I found out through conversation installers that the minimum seer was 14 as of Jan 2015. Both units are only 13 seer. Was it legal for the company to sell and install a 13 seer on an existing home in Sarasota co Florida in May of 2015???

    • Any 13 SEER air conditioners manufactured before 1/1/15 can be installed in 14 SEER regions until 7/1/16. This grace period was provided to allow existing inventory to move through the channel.

  8. My current unit is working fine and I don’t want to have to replace if it doesn’t need it. Will I be forced to replace my unit to the new standard and if so what is the deadline? I leave in condominiums.

    Thanks,

    • Hi Jackie – This DOE AC and heat pump efficiency regulation only affects new systems and replacement systems whch are being installed after 1/1/15. It does not affect older, existing systems at all. This regulation should not affect your existing systems until they need to be replaced.

  9. In Louisiana, on new construction on HVAC,,, can we still use 13 seer on new houses until they are all gone are do we have to install 14 seer on new houses. I’m getting 2 different answers. Fixing to start two hundred new houses and builder wants 13 bc of price. Can anyone help,, Thx

    • As we understand it, for this DOE regulation, if the 13 SEER units were manufactured before 1/1/15 then you can install them as long as the inventory lasts but not after 6/30/16 (18 month grace period). You can’t install any 13 SEER units built after 1/1/15 in cany case. I am not familar with the state and local building codes in your area (differnt regulations entirely) but sometimes those can have higher efficiency minimums for equipment used in new construction. So you should probably check those as well. Your local equipment OEM’s dealers and distributors should be able to help with this. Good luck with your project. Good to hear about people building new homes again!

  10. Thanks for the info. I live in NC. How does this new requirement affect existing units? I have a unit with 12.5 SEER. If it breaks down, would I be required to purchase a new 14+ SEER unit, or would I be able to repair my existing unit?

    • Hi Randy,
      The federal regulations for minimum efficiency apply to new equipment installations only and not repairs of existing equipment.

  11. Thanks for that helpful information. My husband and I just bought a new construction home to be built this past weekend. The builder says the home could be completed as early as mid-September. When I asked about getting the 14 SEER AC units per the new Florida building code they said they cannot guarantee we would get that right now because of the grandfather clause that they get to use their supply of 13 SEER units they already have. However, they said they can put on the contract that we want to upgrade to a 14 SEER unit for $750 more. The builder has no idea how much 13 SEER units they have stocked up so we either have to take the risk and hope we get the 14 installed or have peace of mind and pay the $750 extra. What do you suggest we do? Would it be worth it to upgrade it and know our new home is all per code?

    • There is no problem with “codes” for this job. If they have some 13 SEER units build before 1/1/15 then they will probably use those without issue. If they run out of 13 SEER they will have to install 14 SEER per the new regulation. If you pay extra I would pay to get up to 16 SEER with capacity modulation for better comfort. If not, I would just go with whatever they have to install. 14 SEER is probably not worth $750 in my opinion, but you can check the savings in your area using this calculator – Savings Calculator

      Chandra

      • Is it legal for a landlord to contract a 15 year old heat pump and ac split in Georgia .This unit is pulling 10,000kw a week since he changed the unit .He said its a new unit but that’s because he thinks we are stupid.

        • Hi Deb – national DOE efficiency regulations today only cover new equipment as far as we know. Used equipment, and repairs of old equipment are, for the most part not covered by efficiency regulations. I hope this helps answer your questions.

    • The key questions to ask are which region you are in, when was the 13 SEER system built and whether it was a heat pump or straight AC. You can still install a 13 SEER unit anywhere in the US if it was manufactured before 1/1/15. If you are in the North DOE region you can continue to install 13 SEER AC systems even if they were manufactured after that date and there is not yet a date for phasing those units out in the North. However, no heat pump systems built after 1/1/15 can be installed anywhere in the US as all new heat pump units must be at least 14 SEER. If you are in the South or Southwest DOE regions you can only install 13 SEER units (AC or heat pumps) built before 1/1/15 and you can continue to do this until the 18 month grace period is over on 6/30/16. After that date everything in those regions must be 14 SEER irrespective of when it was built. Also, the Southwest has an EER minimum in addition to the SEER minimum so if you are in that region you will need to watch for the EER rating as well. It is not clear how the availability of 13 SEER units built before 1/1/15 will play out but there are certainly some in the channel for the 2015 cooling season. It is likely that this availability will drop significantly as we move closer to the 6/30/16 date when they can no longer be used (except in the North). I know this is confusing. There are many other articles on this site which might provide more background on this topic (maps, definitions, etc.) and the site is searchable by key words.

  12. Does this regulation also apply to 13 SEER R22 dry ship units? Will 13 SEER R22 dry ship heat pumps be completely eliminated, no longer allowing R22 heat pump systems to have the heat pump only replaced?

    • Robin,
      The new efficiency standards going into effect on 1/1/15 do not really address any questions about refrigerants directly. However, we believe the new regulations will have some indirect effects on demand for R22 dry charge systems since almost all of the dry charge units today are 13 SEER and there will be restrictions on where 13 SEER can be used after the regulations change. Based on what we have heard from the DOE, there is an 18 month grace period, ending on 6/30/16, to install products built prior to 1/1/15. Any system built after 1/1/15 must meet the new efficiency standards for affected regions. Under these new efficiency standards, all heat pumps must be 14 SEER or higher for all regions, irrespective of the refrigerant used, after the 18 month grace period. All unitary split AC systems in the South and Southwest regions must also meet the 14 SEER or higher standard but they only have to be 13 SEER or higher in the North region, also irrespective of the refrigerant. Thus, it would appear that after the grace period, R22, 13 SEER, dry charge unitary split AC systems will only be allowed in the North region. There is nothing pending to our knowledge that will restrict the ability to install those last remaining R-22, dry charge 13 SEER AC models into the North but we do know that all the other regions and all heat pumps for all regions must be 14 SEER. After the grace period, any dry charge units for those regions and any heat pumps for any region must be 14 SEER, irrespective of refrigerant used. The question remains as to whether there will be any interest in 14 SEER dry charge units which might meet the minimum SEER level for all heat pumps and for the AC systems in the South and Southwest regions or whether that is even possible.

      I hope this answers your questions. We will continue to monitor this situation as new information becomes available so please check back from time to time for updates.

  13. great info. but if they realy want go green.make condenser unit solar and air handler as well.you ask how I have answer.its no brainer

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