What Is the BTU in Air Conditioning?

Every air conditioner comes with a BTU rating, usually measuring in the thousands.

British Thermal Units

An air-conditioning unitAn air-conditioning unit
This number is an indication of the air conditioner's cooling capacity, helping you to know whether it is strong enough to cool your room. Every room has a specific cooling capacity as well, and using an air conditioner with a rating that approximates this will provide you with the best temperature-control results.

The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is measured in British thermal units, abbreviated as BTUs. This is a unit of heat, with one BTU equaling the warmth required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. A 10,000 BTU air conditioner, then, for example, is capable of extracting 10,000 BTUs of heat from the air in an hour.

Room Size and BTUs

Bigger rooms require air conditioners with greater BTU ratings and vice versa. An average room of approximately 150 square feet is best cooled by a 5,000 BTU air conditioner, with the recommendation going up by about 1,000 BTUs for every 50 square feet greater than that. Many online BTU calculators can help you determine exactly how strong an air conditioner is needed for your specific room.

Other Factors

Room size is not the only variable to take into consideration when determining how powerful an air conditioner you need. Heavily shaded rooms tend to need 10 percent fewer BTUs than usual, while those receiving direct sunlight need 10 percent more. If a room is regularly occupied by more than two people, adding another 600 BTUs for each additional occupant ensures proper temperature control. The heat generated by appliances makes a kitchen require 4,000 more BTUs than another room of the same size.

Doing It Wrong

If you get an air conditioner that is too weak for your room's requirements, you will obviously be unable to attain the temperatures desired. But what many people fail to realize is that an air conditioner both cools and dehumidifies a room. Because dehumidifying takes time, a too-powerful air conditioner will short-cycle, turning itself off when the room is cold enough but leaving the air damp and uncomfortable.

About the Author

Mark Keller has been writing everything from short stories to political commentary over the course of the past decade. He has written professionally since 2009 with articles appearing on LibertyMaven.com, Penguinsightings.org, Pepidemic.com and various other websites. He is a theater major at Hillsdale College in Michigan.