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

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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