Byline: The Register-Guard
New federal standards for residential air conditioners and heat pumps take effect early next year, and consumers can expect to pay more for systems designed to be more efficient for the country as a whole.
But the new models won't necessarily be the best fit for the Northwest climate, experts caution.
Because of a change initiated during the Clinton administration, and opposed unsuccessfully by the Energy Department under President Bush, central air conditioners and heat pumps sold for home use after Jan. 23, 2006, must be rated 13-SEER or higher.
SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is a measure of a system's efficiency. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient - and expensive - a system is. The government's current manufacturing requirement is 10-SEER.
The higher rating was developed with Southern states in mind because that's where most energy is spent to cool homes. The new systems remove more moisture from the air - a plus in areas where summers are especially humid, said Charlie Stephens, a senior policy analyst with the Oregon Office of Energy.
In Oregon, summers are dry, so humidity control is less essential in air-conditioning units, Stephens said. But 13-SEER systems still use the same amount of energy in their de-humidifing, regardless of the local climate. The unit as a whole, however, is still more energy efficient than the older ones.