What Size Air Conditioner Do You Really Need?

I’m a huge baby about temperature, and fans sometimes just don’t cut it. So in the midst of a recent heatwave I decided I was going to bite the bullet and get an air conditioner. But when I started researching online, I found myself confused by the various units’ cooling and efficiency numbers, with prices seemingly directly correlated with each. I didn’t really know what any of them meant. Given the size of my apartment, how big of an air conditioner did I need?

“Many people buy an air conditioner that is too large, thinking it will provide better cooling. However, an oversized air conditioner is actually less effective — and wastes energy at the same time,” explains the very helpful Energy Star website.” Air conditioners remove both heat and humidity from the air. If the unit is too large, it will cool the room quickly, but only remove some of the humidity. This leaves the room with a damp, clammy feeling. A properly sized unit will remove humidity effectively as it cools.”

Luckily, there’s a convenient chart for figuring how much A/C power one needs for a room.

Area To Be Cooled (sq. feet)

→ Capacity Needed (BTUs per hour)

100 up to 150


150 up to 250


250 up to 300


300 up to 350


350 up to 400


400 up to 450


450 up to 550


550 up to 700


700 up to 1,000


1,000 up to 1,200


1,200 up to 1,400


1,400 up to 1,500


1,500 up to 2,000


2,000 up to 2,500


My air conditioner was for my living room, so I measured the room with a handy tape measure. It’s not the most exact measurement in the world, but it’s close enough. My living room is roughly 330 square feet, which the chart tells me means I need an AC unit with a capacity of 8,000 BTUs per hour — which was way less than I expected.

Of course, a room’s environment doesn’t just depend upon square footage. In some cases there might be environmental issues to be aware of. For example:

  • In very sunny rooms, increase the necessary capacity of an air conditioner by 10 percent. For very shady rooms, decrease it by 10 percent.
  • If there are often more than two people in the room, add 600 BTUs per person, or make them bring ice.
  • If you are cooling the kitchen, remember that ovens and stovetops put out a lot of heat, and your A/C will have to compensate. Add 4,000 BTUs for any unit you install in this room.

We took a look at the best rated air conditioners —on Amazon, Wire Cutter, and The Spruce, and here are some top picks:

Under 10,000 BTUs

10,000 BTUs and Above

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