The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced major changes that will impact the HVAC industry beginning in 2023. As part of these changes, the minimum energy efficiency requirements for all air conditioners and heat pumps are increasing. The DOE is also changing the method used for testing energy efficiency in heat pumps and AC units and introducing new rating scales for these units. Here is an in-depth look at the various changes that are coming and what they mean for you.
New Minimum Energy-Efficiency Requirements
The energy efficiency of air conditioners, heat pumps and other cooling units is measured using the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) scale. Heat pumps also have a second rating that measures how energy efficient the units are when heating, and this is expressed in terms of HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor). These two scales took effect in 1992 when the Department of Energy first established minimum efficiency requirements for all new HVAC units. These requirements will increase in 2023 by approximately 7%.
The current energy efficiency standards require that all new cooling units installed in Oklahoma and throughout the Southeast and Southwest regions must be at least 14 SEER. In the northern half of the country, the minimum for all new AC and heat pump installations is 13 SEER. The current minimums have been in place since 2010, and they are set to increase by 1 SEER in each of the three regions beginning on January 1, 2023.
Changes to AC and Heat Pump Efficiency Ratings
The DOE is also introducing new testing methods and rating scales for cooling units and heat pumps. Instead of using the old SEER and HSPF scales, all of these units will now be measured under the new SEER2 and HSPF2 scales.
To determine energy efficiency, all units are subjected to rigorous testing designed to measure how effectively they cool or heat and how much energy they use under various conditions. These conditions are designed to simulate the typical heat and humidity levels the unit would operate in during the course of an entire cooling or heating system. This is essential as the outdoor conditions play a huge role in determining how quickly and efficiently the unit can heat or cool a building.
The two new rating scales were developed in an effort to simulate real-world conditions. The main change is in terms of the amount of static pressure the units are tested at. Static pressure is essentially how much resistance to airflow there is in the ductwork system. Under the old scales, units were tested at 0.1 inches of static pressure, which is far below what most HVAC systems have.
Dirty ductwork, leaky ducts, dirty air filters, clogged vents and other issues can all lead to increased static pressure. At least some of these issues are found in almost every home. Under the new testing requirements, the static pressure is increased to 0.5 inches to more accurately measure how energy-efficient the units would be in real-life conditions.
Any equipment manufactured after the end of 2022 must be tested using the new SEER2 and HSPF2 scales. In the Southwest and Southeast, no units can be installed from 2023 onward unless they were tested under the new scales and conform to all of the new requirements.
Under the new scales, most new air conditioning units in these two regions are required to be at least 14.3 SEER2. The only exceptions are for split AC units larger than or equal to 45,000 BTUs and packaged ACs. Split ACs over 45,000 BTUs only need to be a minimum of 13.8 SEER2, and the minimum for packaged ACs is 13.2 SEER2. The minimum heating efficiency for all split heat pumps under the new scale is 7.5 HSPF2, while the minimum for packaged heat pumps is 6.7 HSPF2.
Eliminating the Use of R-410A Refrigerant in Cooling Systems
The Department of Energy has announced one other major change that will also go into effect at the beginning of 2023. At this time, new air conditioners, heat pumps or other cooling equipment will no longer be able to use R-410A refrigerant. R-410A has been the main refrigerant used in almost all cooling units since at least 2010.
Before 2010, most units instead used Freon (R-22) refrigerant, but this was phased out because of its powerful ozone-depleting properties. The use of Freon in new units was outlawed in 2010, and the import and production of this refrigerant were completely banned in the US at the start of 2020. Freon can still be used to recharge older AC units and heat pumps. However, since the production and import of it are banned, any Freon that is used must be reclaimed and recycled from another source. If you do have an old unit that still uses Freon, we highly recommend replacing it soon. The cost of Freon has skyrocketed in the last few years due to the ban.
The Department of Energy is now taking the same approach with R-410A and has outlawed its use in new equipment from 2023 onward. The plan is then to completely ban the import and production of R-410A in 2033.
The reason R-410A is being banned has nothing to do with protecting the ozone layer as this refrigerant has zero ozone-depleting properties. Instead, it is being phased out because it is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas that traps a huge amount of heat in the atmosphere. For this reason, R-410A is being replaced by other types of refrigerant that aren’t as harmful and won’t contribute as much to global temperature rise.
This is another change that won’t affect you for quite a while. If you have an older unit that uses R-410A, it can still be serviced and recharged without any issues. The biggest change won’t come until 2023 when R-410A will no longer be able to be manufactured in or imported to the US.
Work With the Professionals
If you have any questions about these changes and what they mean for you, the knowledgeable team at True Climate Heat + Air is happy to answer them. We specialize in heating services and cooling services. We also offer a range of indoor air quality and plumbing services for customers throughout the Oklahoma City area. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.