The SEER rating is a universal rating to determine the energy efficiency of air conditioners.
SEER stands for ‘Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio‘; this is the key metric to determine how much electricity our AC unit will draw. A large number of AC units have either 14 SEER or 16 SEER.
When figuring out which unit to buy – 16 SEER vs 14 SEER air conditioner – the answer (seems to be) very simple.
A higher SEER means we’ll have to spend fewer electricity dollars to get the same cooling effect.
But when it comes to 16 SEER vs 14 SEER AC units, the answer is not as clear cut as it first seems, because we have to include the initial cost of both devices.
Example: We have two 2 ton (24,000 BTU) mini-split AC units. The first one has 16 SEER and costs $2,000. The second one has 14 SEER and costs $1,500. 16 SEER unit uses 14.3% less electricity than 14 SEER unit. But it does cost $500 more. Which one should you buy – 16 SEER or 14 SEER? The answer is quite shocking.
Because so many homeowners are facing this problem, we have designed a calculator that determines when it’s smarter to buy 14 SEER unit vs 16 SEER unit. You’ll find it below (in the section ’16 SEER vs 14 SEER calculator’).
In the long term, the total cost of an AC unit comes from:
- The initial cost of the unit ($1,500 or $2,000 in our example).
- Cost of electricity to run a unit (depends on SEER).
In short, we can summarize the total cost like this:
Total AC Cost = Initial Cost + Electricity Costs (Running AC For 10+ Years)
The key problem we face is this: 16 SEER is more energy-efficient than 14 SEER unit. It will use less electricity (true) but it will have a higher initial cost (true).
We want to find out if it pays to buy a 16 SEER AC unit if it costs $100, $200 or even $500 more than 14 SEER unit. We’ll make some calculations of costs associated with:
- 14 SEER unit.
- 16 SEER unit.
Then we’ll compare and explain when it pays off to buy a 16 SEER unit instead of a 14 SEER unit. In the end, you’ll also find a quick verdict and some directions of when it pays of to have a unit with superior energy-efficiency.
16 SEER vs 14 SEER Calculator
To calculate which unit – 16 SEER or 14 SEER – makes a financially viable option, you have to input the price of the unit, capacity (in BTU), how long will AC unit last, and the price of electricity in your area (in $ per kWh). We predispose a standard 1000 h per season air conditioner use.
To get an idea of how long different AC units last, you can check out our article about AC lifespan expectations here.
Input all the info in the calculator here:
Example Of 16 SEER And 14 SEER 24,000 BTU Unit
Let’s look again at our example of two 24,000 BTU with 16 SEER and 14 SEER, costing $2,000 and $1,500, respectively. We’ll use an average US kilowatt-hour cost of $0.1319 in the calculator above.
We’ll look at total costs after 0 years (just the initial cost), after 10 years and after 20 years of use.
After 0 Years ($500 Difference In Favor Of 14 SEER Unit)
All we see here that when we buy a 14 SEER unit, we spend $500 less. Surely electricity costs can’t make up for such a huge difference, right? Let’s see.
After 10 Years ($218 Difference In Favor Of 14 SEER Unit)
After 10 years, we see that the 16 SEER unit has a total cost of $3,979 and the 14 SEER unit has a total cost of $3,761. Here’s how both these costs can be broken down:
- 16 SEER: $2,000 for the unit and $1,979 for electricity in 10 years.
- 14 SEER: $1,500 for the unit and $2,261 for electricity in 10 years.
We can see that, after 10 years, we still spent less on the 14 SEER unit – a total of $218 less. But the 16 SEER unit is slowly catching up; the initial difference was $500.
The best mini split AC units – the ones even with 20+ SEER – have a lifespan of 20 years or so. By the way, if you’re interested in long-term electricity savings, you can check out our list of mini-split AC units with the highest SEER ratings here.
After 20 Years ($65 Difference In Favor Of 16 SEER Unit)
After 20 years, we see that the total cost of the unit and the accumulated electricity costs are actually in favor of the 16 SEER unit. Let’s break down the 16 SEER vs 14 SEER costs:
- 16 SEER: $2,000 for the unit and $3,957 for electricity in 20 years. Grand total: $5,957.
- 14 SEER: $1,500 for the unit and $4,522 for electricity in 20 years. Grand total: $6,022.
This means the initial cost of unit + accumulated costs of electricity (over 20 years) for the 16 SEER unit come to $65 less than for the 14 SEER unit.
This might be surprising for some homeowners. However, those electricity savings you’re getting with 16 SEER units do accumulate over time. In fact, if you use a 24,000 BTU device for 20 years, it makes financial sense to buy a 16 SEER unit even if it costs $500 more.
Verdict: How Much More For 16 SEER Unit Still Makes Financial Sense?
You’re more than welcome to use the 16 SEER vs 14 SEER calculator above. It will give you an idea of when it makes sense to buy a 16 SEER device instead of a 14 SEER device in your specific information.
Using the example above, we have established that paying $500 more for 16 SEER 24,000 BTU air conditioner we’ll use for 20 years makes financial sense.
If you have a specific situation, please do use the calculator. If you have problems, you can share your situation in the comments below and we’ll try to figure out which device would be better for you – the 16 SEER or 14 SEER.