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Air conditioning energy star ratings – what do they mean?

The energy star rating system is so useful when it comes to gauging the efficiency of appliances. Most of us know so little about Watts and Amps that we would be completely lost without it. Thankfully, the Australian government came to our aid and provided a standard measurement that is easy for us to understand. Without this we would get lost trying to do the calculations to figure out which product truly is best. The energy star rating system was first introduced to air conditioners in 1987, and in 2004 the Minimum Energy Performance Standards were brought in for residential air conditioners.

Star ratings are helpful on most appliances, but they are particularly beneficial with air conditioners as they are usually such a huge drain on our electricity. The difference between an efficient air conditioner and an inefficient one could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of electricity each year. It’s particularly important for those who use their air conditioner quite regularly so that they don’t receive any shocking power bills that really hurt their bank balance.

Before we dig deeper into air conditioning energy star ratings, we firstly need to understand which types of air conditioners are available and the regulations that apply to them.

What types of air conditioners are there and how are they regulated?

There are two major styles of air conditioners available, those that are refrigerated and those that are evaporative. The regulation mainly focuses on the refrigerated side of air conditioning, because they are more popular. Refrigerated air conditioners are further divided into reverse cycle and cooling only. Reverse cycle air conditioners can heat as well, while cooling only air conditioners act as their name suggests.

Wall & window units

Wall and window units are similar, differing mainly in how they are installed. Window units are relatively easy to set up because they just need a window, while wall units will require a hole made in the wall for installation. These types of air conditioners aren’t as efficient as split systems or ducted air conditioning, but they normally have much lower upfront costs and are much easier to install. Wall and window units are required to have an energy rating.

Split system units

These are the type of air conditioners that you see most frequently. They consist of two pieces, the outdoor unit containing the condenser and compressor, and the indoor unit which is usually attached to a wall. They are common in bedrooms, but there are also larger models that are great for bigger living spaces. Split systems are relatively efficient air conditioners and are required to have the energy star labelling.

Ducted air conditioning

For more heavy duty situations, ducted air conditioning is usually recommended. It consists of a central fan coil that is tucked away in your roof, and ducts that lead to each of the rooms. The only thing you can see from inside are the vents, which makes ducted air conditioning the least obtrusive and most aesthetically pleasing. Some systems allow you to have different temperatures in different rooms and has the potential to run more efficiently than multi split systems. Energy star labelling is currently voluntary on ducted systems.

Portable units

Portable air conditioners are standalone units that can be good for small spaces. Unfortunately, they are very inefficient, so they are only recommended where other options are unsuitable or if you plan on moving with them. They come as a single or dual hose option, with the dual hose being more efficient. Portable air conditioners are not yet regulated under the energy star labelling system.

So what does the star rating mean on air conditioners?

The energy star system is basically a measure of the energy efficiency of air conditioners. Cooling only air conditioners have a scale of blue stars, while reverse cycle systems have a set of red stars as well to represent their heating capabilities. It is currently a scale of six stars for each, with six being the most efficient. There are also an additional four stars for the ‘super efficiency rating’. These stars offer an easy way for a prospective buyer to compare two similar products. It’s important to note that it is only a fair comparison for air conditioners of a similar size.

The stars of the energy rating labels represent the Energy Efficient Ratio (EER) and the Co-efficient Of Performance (COP). These are standard measures of efficiency for cooling and heating respectively. If you want more information when you are comparing the efficiency of two similar air conditioners, look for the ‘capacity output’ figures on the label. These tell you how much heating or cooling the unit can produce. You can also look at the ‘power input’. This shows you the amount of power that is needed to produce the cooling or heating that is listed in the ‘capacity output’. A product with a lower power input will be more energy efficient than those of the same size with the same energy label rating and ‘capacity output’.

How does the energy label rating help me?

The energy label rating is great, because it provides a simple and visual way to compare products that can otherwise be quite complicated. If the star rating isn’t enough for you, you can also check out the capacity output and power input figures to learn more about the product. You need to be aware that these figures and the energy label rating are only fair for similar products.

Unfortunately the energy rating label is not mandatory on all air conditioners. It is not required on portable air conditioners, and ducted air conditioners only use it voluntarily. Split systems, wall units and window units are all required to have the labelling, which makes it easy for many people who want to install smaller units in their homes.