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Air conditioning unit energy efficiency regulation to require a shift in manufacturing

President Biden announced a policy regulating the energy efficiency of home air conditioning units, projected to save consumers $1.5 nationwide on home air conditioning

Some months back, the Biden administration passed a regulation on air conditioning units which will require manufacturers to produce more energy efficient appliances in coming years. Targeting home energy and energy saving efforts, the U.S. Energy Department expects these new regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 106 million metric tons over 30 years.


Even as these regulations will improve energy efficiency and lead to more affordable energy in peoples’ homes, they are also projected to cost several millions of dollars for air conditioning manufacturers. So it’s important that you understand exactly what these regulations require and how you can ensure that your air conditioning units meet those requirements.


Table of content


1. What are the new air conditioning unit regulations?


1.1. Air purifier regulations


1.2. Air conditioner regulations


2. How do these air conditioning unit regulations affect manufacturers?



What are the new air conditioning unit regulations?


The new energy-efficient regulations on home air conditioning systems is motivated by the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in those appliances. HFCs are a type of greenhouse gas, and machines that rely on them inevitably contribute to climate change. So the basic idea of the new regulations is that new air conditioners will use far fewer HFCs as well as generally be more efficient.


A white air conditioner with a red sticker

Around 20% of Americans have at least one type of air conditioning unit, which is why the Biden administration identified air conditioners as a prime target for promoting energy efficiency. Moreover, updated standards are overdue: the Department of Energy was legally required to update energy efficiency standards for these appliances in 2019, but they did not.


The new standards apply to two sources of home air conditioning; air conditioning units and air purifiers. Each source has a different deadline by which their regulation goes into effect. Air purifier standards will be enforced starting in 2024, and air conditioner standards will be enforced beginning in 2026.



Air purifier regulations


Air purifiers are popular in the U.S. due to risks posed by COVID-19 and wildfire smoke, and they have so far been sparsely regulated. Different classes of air purifier use different amount of energy, and the least energy efficient models may use as much as eight times the energy as the most efficient models.


Given the variability, the Department of Energy has set 2 efficiency standards for air purifiers. First, all newly produced machines (as of 2024) will have to match existing state emissions standards, and second, they will need to meet Washington state (the strictest state) emissions standards by 2026.


Overall, air purifier regulations are expected to lead to more energy efficient homes, providing 27% energy saving and improving indoor air quality.


A repairperson hard at work in someone's home

Air conditioner regulations


Air conditioning units use more energy than air purifiers, which means the regulations applied to them are stricter. Larger units will see more improvement in their efficiency than smaller units, though both will see significant improvement.


In both cases, air conditioning units will have a lower base emissions rate, called a SEER rate. This number will be measured according to the SEER 2 standard, which means that it is determined based on the amount of heat removed from an area balanced against the energy used. Air conditioning parts and equipment will also have to state their SEER 2 rating on packaging.



How do these air conditioning unit regulations affect manufacturers?


To comply with new energy standards, air conditioner manufacturers will have to change their production practices. For example, large air conditioning units will need to be made using variable-speed compressors so they can meet emissions requirements. In addition to eliminating on-and-off cycling, variable-speed compressors are quieter than single-speed compressors.


Another way cooling appliances will meet new emission standards is with new sources of fuel. Air conditioning units recently changed to using R-410 refrigerants instead of R-22 refrigerant, and the EPA is expected to require a move to A2L refrigerant in 2025, which is still less polluting, but mildly flammable.


Manufacturers will need to develop new technology to accommodate the new fuels, meaning there might be inventory shortages as new parts take longer to produce. Not only manufacturers, but also air conditioner maintenance and repair personnel will have to adjust to the new regulations. They will have to learn how the new parts and technology function in order to repair newly produced units, as well as comply with regulations for properly storing/moving the flammable A2L refrigerant when they’re on a job.


Nevertheless, there is still time to prepare for these regulations before they go into effect, so that as a manufacturer, you can continue to offer energy saving, convenient home cooling solutions to consumers with as little delay as possible.


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