In 2001, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published a rule
amending energy conservation standards for central air conditioners and
heat pumps. The regulation, which takes effect on January 23, 2006,
raises the minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) value for
residential air conditioners and heat pumps by 30 percent, from 10 SEER
to 13 SEER. The new standards are designed to: (1) reduce pollutant
emissions and (2) postpone the need for new power plants by making HVAC
equipment more energy efficient.
As background, DOE announced the changes, pursuant to the 1987 National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, in 1992. In May 2002, the Bush Administration proposed reducing the target SEER to 12 from 13, spurring a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and 10 states. In January 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit restored the 13 SEER standard. The Administration and the air conditioning manufacturers chose not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and agreed to implement the SEER 13 regulation beginning in January 2006.
The practical implication of this change for apartment owners/managers is that air conditioning equipment manufactured after January 23, 2006 must meet the SEER 13 rating. Importantly, properties with lower-rated air conditioning systems will not be required to upgrade to the more efficient SEER 13. It is expected that replacement parts for less efficient equipment will be available for some time. However, when it is necessary to replace an air conditioning system, property owners will have to purchase the more efficient system. Most apartments currently use SEER 10 equipment, although some have already opted to install higher-rated, more efficient cooling equipment.
NMHC/NAA asked Harvey Sachs, Director of the Buildings Program at the
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to explain how
the new rule will affect apartment firms. ACEEE worked with DOE and
industry to develop national appliance efficiency standards and has
published various resources to help apartment firms identify
cost-effective, energy-efficient building systems. His thoughts follow
below, and additional information is available at www.aceee.orgbuildings/index.htm.
In addition, firms should be aware that many state agencies and private power companies offer incentive and assistance programs to help improve energy efficiency. They include: real-time energy pricing; rebates for energy-efficient appliances and HVAC systems; energy audits; and grants and low-interest financing for energy-efficient equipment. Firms should check with local utilities to see if they qualify for a tax incentive when they install energy-efficient HVAC equipment.