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Air Conditioner BTU and You: The Facts

What does Air Conditioner BTU mean and how it should guide your air conditioner buying decision.

Not all air conditioners are created equal, but they are all equally judged and rated primarily by two factors: the Air Conditioner BTU output per hour and energy efficiency rating (discussed further below). No matter the bevy of bells and whistles a manufacturer might flaunt, it is around these two factors that most buying decisions are based, so it is important for consumers to understand what they mean before they make take the proverbial plunge.

The BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is the measurement of the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. This concept works in reverse for Air Conditioners. That is, the air conditioner BTU rating on your unit refers to the number of BTUs a unit will remove from a space in one hour. Interestingly enough, this unit of measure is still used unofficially in the UK, where Celsius, the metric Kilogram and the Joule (an SI unit) are now the standard.

Determining the proper air conditioner BTU output for your circumstances is a critical step that has a great influence on the units ability to properly cool and dehumidify your space. Bigger usually means more BTU output per hour but does NOT necessarily mean better! Our Air Conditioner Sizing section has all the answers for you and more.

The Energy Efficiency Rating or EER (similar to air conditioner SEER) that Air conditioners are judged and federally regulated by is acquired by dividing the air conditioner BTU output per hour by the Watts consumed in that period. Buying an energy efficient air conditioner should be part of an overall plan to turn your house into an Energy efficient home. See for lots of tips on improving home energy efficiency. For more information regarding this, visit our Energy Star rating and Air Conditioner SEER (EER) and Federal Tax Credit Information for Air Conditioners section to learn more.

Square Footage Recommended BTUs Top Picks
Min Max Min Max
100 300 5,000 7,000
One of the more popular window air conditioners on the market, the Frigidaire FAA05P7A is a great, affordable choice
350 550 8,000 12,000
Frigidaire also makes the popular Frigidaire FAC106P1A for larger rooms.
600 800 13,000 16,000
Edgestars Extreme Cool 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner may be the best option for a room of this size.
850 1,000+ 17,000 21,000+
For larger rooms, Frigidaire makes the FAM18ER2A, a highly recommended window air conditioner.


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