Measuring the Efficiency of Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

A maytag heat pumpStory by Thomas Elzinga and Energy Star

If you are in the market for a new heat pump, or a new central air conditioner you might be wondering how to gauge which of the options a HVAC contractor gives you is the most energy efficient.

Heat Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is the most commonly used measure of a heat pump’s heating efficiency. The higher the HSPF, the more efficient the heat pump. In technical terms, HSPF represents the total heating output of a heat pump (including supplementary electric heat) during the normal heating season (in Btu) as compared to the total electricity consumed (in watt-hours) during the same period. In our cold climate this is the most important number we look for. All of CEC’s rebate programs we require a minimum HSPF of 9 in order to qualify.

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), is most commonly used to measure the efficiency of a central air conditioner. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the system. SEER measures how efficiently a cooling system will operate over an entire season. In technical terms, SEER is a measure of the total cooling of a central air conditioner or heat pump (in Btu) during the normal cooling season as compared to the total electric energy input (in watt-hours) consumed during the same period. This measure of efficiency is specific to the temperate climate in the middle of the U.S. For CEC rebate programs, we use this measurement as well and require a minimum of 14 for new heat pump systems.

Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is a measure of how efficiently a cooling system will operate when the outdoor temperature is at a specific level (95 degrees F). The higher the EER, the more efficient the system. In technical terms, EER is the steady-state rate of heat energy removal (i.e. cooling capacity) by the product measured in Btu per hour divided by the steady-state rate of energy input to the product measured in watts. This ratio is expressed in Btu per hour/watt.

The SEER rating more accurately reflects overall system efficiency on a seasonal basis and EER reflects the system’s energy efficiency at peak day operations. Both ratings are important when choosing a product.

For any questions on understanding how these ratings will apply to your home and CEC’s rebate programs please don’t hesitate to give us a call. For rebate information you can visit our website at