SEER is useful for comparing one model to another much in the same way that a car's calculate MPG is useful. It's not an accurate prediction of exactly how efficient the system is, but it can tell you which one is more efficient. Also, since SEER is based on a "cooling season", what region you live in will determine how long or short your cooling season is.
You can install the greatest HVAC system ever built, but if your house is not insulated well, it's only going to end up costing you more money. Older homes may have fiberglass insulation that has broken down due to pests, moisture, or improper installation. Spray foam insulation can be damaged by careless repair or modification work or can be improperly installed. If your insulation in compromised, your attempts to save money and be comfortable will be in vain.
An EER certifies the cooling efficiency of HVAC units. It's calculated by the rate of the cooling in British thermal units (Btus) per hour and divided by the rate of energy input in watts at a specific temperature. The calculation goes as BtuH/WATT at dry bulb (db) versus wet bulb (wb) temperatures. The optimal rating for a cooling unit is about 80db/67wb inside and 95db/75wb outside.
If the condenser coils are clogged, the compressor can overheat and shut down. You'll experience intermittent periods of minimal cooling, followed by no cooling. Even if you're “sure” the condenser coils are clean, clean them again. Turn off the power. Flip the air conditioning service and furnace circuit breakers in your main electrical panel to the “Off” position. Next, turn off the power switch right at the furnace or air handler. Then yank the disconnect block (Photo 1) and clean the condenser coils (Photo 2). If the air conditioning service still doesn't work properly after you've cleaned the condenser coils, installed a new filter and opened all the supply vents, proceed with the following repairs. Your AC won't work fully unless you do this.