13 SEER vs 16 SEER: Estimating Air Conditioner Efficiencies For Minneapolis Homes

As you may already know, a higher SEER means a more energy efficient air conditioner. And you may also know the higher the SEER, the higher the A/C’s price tag.

But now you’re wondering: Is a higher SEER unit worth the higher upfront cost?

We get this question a lot. Since 13 SEER is the federal minimum efficiency requirement for new air conditioners, many homeowners wonder if they should go with the minimum requirement or with a higher SEER unit.

We’ll show you if it’s worth it by comparing 13 SEER and 16 SEER A/Cs as an example.

Compared to a 13 SEER system, the 16 SEER system could save you about $570 over 15 years (the typical lifespan of an A/C). However, those savings are just a rough estimate. How much you REALLY save depends other factors like: 

  • The correct size air conditioner you need
  • The number of stages your A/C has
  • “Matching” your indoor and outdoor units
  • The quality of your home’s ductwork

We’ll quickly discuss those factors later in the article. But just as a rough estimate, we’ll show you how to see if those 15-year savings make up for the expensive install cost of a higher SEER unit...

How to compare SEER efficiencies

To find out if a higher SEER A/C is worth the higher investment up front, follow these 3 easy steps:

Step #1: Find out the price of each SEER unit

For this step, you’ll need to contact a certified air conditioning expert for an accurate cost for each SEER A/C. There are so many factors to take into account that it’s impossible to give you an accurate cost here.

When you’re getting price estimates, make sure both A/Cs have equivalent features (like # of stages) and are the same size (same # of tons). This means you’re comparing apples to apples.

You’ll also want to account for rebates. For example, a 16 SEER air conditioner in Minneapolis qualifies for a $450 rebate with Xcel Energy, so you can also subtract this from the purchase cost.

Step #2: Subtract the difference in price

Once you get a quote on the install cost of two separate SEER units, subtract the prices from each other to find the difference in cost.

Equation example: 16 SEER total cost - 13 SEER total cost = Difference in price

Step #3: Subtract the difference from the lifetime savings

Then, take the difference of the two SEER units and subtract it from the 15-year savings. Your A/C contractor can provide you with these savings, or you can calculate it yourself (skip to the end of the article to learn how).

Equation example: 

Difference in upfront price - Lifetime energy efficiency savings = Actual difference in price between the two different SEERs

If the actual difference in price is less than or equal to 0, it’s worth getting the higher SEER unit because of the energy savings and rebates will make up the cost difference.

Consult a professional as you choose a SEER

Of course, the SEER rating alone won’t tell you exactly what A/C you need for your home. Like we mentioned earlier, there are still many other factors to consider like…

  • The correct size air conditioner you need (measured in tons, which a professional can help you calculate)
  • The number of stages your A/C has (i.e., single, double or variable speed)
  • “Matching” your system (making sure your indoor and outdoor units are compatible)
  • The quality of your home’s ductwork (i.e., no leaks)

You need a professional to take into account these different home factors. An air conditioning technician will perform a series of calculations to help you determine what size and type of air conditioner best fits your needs.

Want a trustworthy A/C expert’s advice?

Contact On Time Service Pros for an air conditioner install estimate. We’ll take into account all of the factors that affect SEER to give you an accurate A/C recommendation that matches your home and budget.

How to calculate SEER 15-year lifetime savings

If you’re curious how to calculate the 15-year lifetime savings for a particular A/C system, we’ve included some of the math here.

First, using the following equation, we need to calculate a SEER unit’s annual cost of operation:

(Btu/Hr / SEER) x (Cooling load hours / 1000 watts) x $/kwh = Annual Cost of Operation

Let’s go into each part of this equation:

  • (Btu/Hr / SEER): “Btu/Hr” is easy to find—you just multiply the A/C's tonnage by 12,000. So, let’s say you have a 3-ton air conditioner. Simply multiply 3 x 12,000 to get 36,000 Btu/Hr. Then, divide that by the SEER of the unit you’re comparing (36,000 / 13 = 2,769).
  • (Cooling load hours / 1000 watts): In Minneapolis, the average cooling load hours are about 662 per year. You need to divide this by 1000 watts to calculate kwh (kilowatt-hours). So for Minneapolis, this part of the equation looks like: (662 / 1000 = .63)
  • $/kwh: The average residential electricity rate in Minneapolis is about 11 cents per kwh. This is expressed as .11 in the equation.

Here’s how the equation breaks down for 13 and 16 SEER units:


(36,000 / 13) x (662 / 1000) x .11 = $202 (annual cost of operation)


(36,000 / 16) x (662 / 1000) x .11 = $164 (annual cost of operation)
Note: For these comparisons, we’re assuming they’re all the same size air conditioners (3 tons, or 36,000 Btu/Hr) and that they have the same features.

Next, let’s see how they compare with each other over time: 

13 SEER vs. 16 SEER at a glance:

Savings per year: $38 ($202 annual cost of operation (13 SEER) - $164 annual cost of operation (16 SEER) = $38) 
5-year savings: $190 (38 x 5 = $190)
10-year savings: $380 (38 x 10 = $380)
15-year savings: $570 (38 x 15 = $570)

Want a professional to crunch the numbers for you?

Contact On Time Service Pros for an air conditioner install estimate. We’ll help you compare A/Cs with different SEERs so you can maximize your savings.

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