Sorting Through the Acronyms

Understanding the different efficiency ratings

Acronyms galore! Know what different efficiency ratings mean so that you choose the system that is right for your wants and needs

Efficiency is important when it comes to determining the original cost of your HVAC system and calculating your potential energy savings over the lifespan of the heating or cooling system. A high-efficiency unit is going to cost more when you first purchase it, but you may recoup those costs over the life of the system, and then some, through efficient operation and utility savings. Learn more about the different efficiency ratings and how they impact the performance of your air conditioner, heat pump or furnace.

AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency):

In terms of furnaces, AFUE is the heating efficiency rating used. AFUE is an indicator of how much of the energy that is put into your furnace is converted into useful heating power throughout your home. Frigidaire furnaces reach up to 97% AFUE, nearly 100% efficient! When you are using less power to heat your home to the same level of comfort, you can potentially save money on your monthly utility costs. Furnaces must be rated at 80% AFUE, at the very least. Like cooling systems, even a minimum efficiency unit can be a significant upgrade to an old system. Furnaces manufactured within the last 15 years are from 60% to 70% efficient – which is significantly lower than units manufactured today.

Furnace efficiency is measured by AFUE

HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor):

HSPF is a measure of heating efficiency specifically calculated for heat pumps. This indicates just how efficiently your heat pump works to heat your home during a given season. Heat pumps are also rated by SEER, for cooling efficiency, but use HSPF instead of AFUE to calculate heating efficiency. Dual-fuel systems, that combine a heat pump and a gas furnace, will also include an AFUE rating because of the gas furnace component included in that packaged unit.

CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute):

CFM is a measure of airflow throughout your ducts. Your home will need a specific amount of airflow/duct space in order to properly heat and cool your home. That is why it is important that your contractor inspects all aspects of your heating and air conditioning system before installing a new unit. You may have to figure costs of duct work reconfiguration when you have a new system installed in your home. Although this may make prices a little higher, you will be thankful for the potential money-saving returns and increased home comfort.

BTUs (British Thermal Units) and Tonnage:

BTU is a measure of the amount of heat it takes to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit – the larger this number is, the more heating or cooling capacity you need. Tonnage is a ratio of capacity in relation to melting one ton of ice in 24 hours. BTUs determine a system’s tonnage rating. One ton is the equivalent of 12,000 BTUs. Air conditioners and heat pumps use both BTUs and tons to call out their capacity while furnaces are rated by BTUs only. Making sure your air conditioner, furnace or heat pump is properly sized to meet your specific heating or cooling capacity is crucial for peak performance over your system’s life. Your contractor will perform a Manual J load calculation to make sure you select the right capacity for your home.

BTUs (British Thermal Units) are a measure capacity of HVAC equipment

MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value):

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV, is used to rate an air filter’s effectiveness. The higher your filter’s effectiveness, the more particles that filter removes from the air. MERV ratings start at 1 and go all the way up to 16 – the higher the MERV rating, the more particles that particular filter is able to remove from the air. For example, a filter with a MERV rating of 1 will be able to filter out basic things like pollen and dust while a filter rated at 16 will be able to catch microscopic particles – down to the smallest virus.

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio):

SEER is a rating of air conditioner and heat pump efficiency. This ratio measures a unit’s cooling efficiency over a given season – the higher the number, the higher the efficiency. Currently cooling units must be rated at 13 SEER in order to be considered minimum efficiency. However, Frigidaire heat pumps reach 22 SEER while air conditioners reach an unprecedented 25.5 SEER – the highest SEER rating in the industry. Old cooling units may only be rated at 6 or 10 SEER, so upgrading to a new unit can be a significant improvement to the amount of money you spend during the summer on cooling costs.

EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio):

EER is like SEER except it does not measure a unit’s cooling efficiency over the course of a season. Typically heating and air conditioning equipment is rated by SEER, as opposed to EER. So, when looking for an air conditioner or heat pump, make sure to check the unit’s SEER.

Looking for a third-party review?

Because installation is so critical for heating and cooling performance, there are not an abundance of third-party reviews. It is tough to distinguish the equipment from the installation. Many times, a negative experience with a piece of HVAC equipment is a result of a poor installation job and not the quality of the equipment installed, but the brand will frequently take the heat. Make sure that when you are installing a new heating or cooling system, you take the time to find a contractor with an exceptional reputation for quality service and installation.