When we are selling new HVAC systems, besides sometimes the brand, the first thing that homeowners look at is system efficiency. One of the reasons is that people want to use energy wisely, but one of the reasons is that it’s one of the few ways to objectively compare one unit to another. HVAC systems are notoriously difficult to purchase. Not because you can’t go out and hand over some money, but because it’s hard to choose one brand over another, one model over another, and one contractor over another. Despite the wide array of choices in many ways the differences are either difficult to understand or customers don’t see them as important to the purchase.
The good news about efficiency ratings is they aren’t arbitrary. Imagine if every manufacturer tested their own systems and claimed their own efficiency ratings. It would be like car companies testing the fuel efficiency of their own cars. For cars, the US EPA steps in to independently test cars using fixed criteria and then provide their ratings. For HVAC systems its an organization called AHRI. The air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration institute. They have a variety of functions in the industry, but the best known is their efficiency rating certifications.
The following statement from AHRI’s website explains their performance certification program.
The AHRI Product Performance Certification Program is a voluntary program, administered and governed by AHRI, which ensures that various types of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration, and water heating products perform according to manufacturers’ published claims. Products that are certified through the AHRI Product Performance Certification Program are continuously tested, at the direction of AHRI, by an independent third–party laboratory, contracted by AHRI, to determine the product’s ability to conform to one or more product rating standards or specifications.
To be clear the AHRI doesn’t necessarily test all equipment, or even most of it — but they have established standards for testing and work with the manufacturers to ensure that accurate ratings are produced and we can be pretty confident that AHRI certified equipment is accurately rated.
Rating HVAC systems is difficult however. Not the testing and measurement, which I’m sure has its challenges, but the sheer volume of equipment. There are lots of brands and sub-brands but even more models of equipment. On top of that, there are combinations and configurations that all affect efficiency. With all of those permutations, the AHRI simply can’t test every single possibility, however they do test A LOT. When you purchase an HVAC system you should ask whether it’s AHRI certified. Unless you are only replacing a piece of your system and not the whole thing, or you have a unique application, there really isn’t a good reason a complete and new HVAC system shouldn’t be AHRI rated.
To check whether your system is AHRI rated you can go to http://www.ahrinet.org/ and search the AHRI Directory (the button is quite prominent). If your contractor gave you your AHRI number you can search using that unique number (recommended), but you may also search by the make and model of the equipment. Keep in mind you will need the make and model of all of your equipment. For a split system A/C and furnace that will be 3 different components. The condensing unit, the furnace/air-handler, and the evaporator coil. When you find your matching equipment you will be able to see the rating and generate an official certificate (if you want to!).