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BTU Load Calculation

Mark Keller

Knowing how powerful an air conditioner or furnace you need is one of the most important factors when shopping for a new HVAC -- heating, ventilation and air conditioning -- system. The BTU load, or temperature-change requirements, of your living space must be taken into account for effective air conditioning or heating. Without this knowledge, any such appliance you purchase is likely to be either insufficient or inefficient.

BTU Loads

Knowing your BTU load is essential for proper heating and cooling.

A living area's BTU load is the number of BTUs required to heat or cool it. BTU is the usual abbreviation for British thermal unit, a unit of heat energy used to measure the heating and cooling capabilities of air conditioners and furnaces. An appliance that closely matches your BTU load will provide the best service.

Why Load Calculation is Important

Knowing your home or office's BTU load is a must when purchasing a new heater or air conditioner. An appliance with a rating much below the load level would have a hard time keeping the temperatures at ideal levels. An overly powerful air conditioner, however, can have equally detrimental effects, short-cycling by cooling the room too rapidly and then shutting off. This doesn't give the AC time to dehumidify the room properly, leaving too much moisture in the air. A furnace that is too powerful will also burn fuel inefficiently and cause excess pollution.

Manual Calculation

A living area's BTU load can be roughly calculated using simple mathematical formulae. Multiply the square footage of the room by 31.25 to find the area BTU load. Multiply the square footage of any northward-facing windows by 15.24 and those of other windows by 80.64, multiplying the product of this equation by 1.4 if the windows are unshaded to find the total window BTU load. Multiply the usual number of occupants by 600 to find the occupant BTU load. Finally, multiply the wattage of any office equipment by 3.4 and that of all light fixtures by 4.25 to find their BTU loads. Add all five numbers to calculate the total BTU load of the room or building.

Other Means of Calculation

If math isn't your strong suit, you can just as easily find the BTU load by other means. Consumer Reports provides an online tool that takes even more variables into account than the manual calculation, but automates the actual computation, giving you more accurate results for less work. Other similar websites also exist. For most accurate results, however, hire an air conditioning or heating professional to determine the exact BTU load of your home or office.