The first step in buying a new air conditioner is figuring out the right size of air conditioner for your home. Air conditioners are sized in terms of tons of cooling capacity—one ton of cooling is equal to about 12,000 British thermal units every hour. An air conditioner with the right tonnage size will cool your home at maximum efficiency, but undersized or oversized units waste energy and may not cool your home effectively.

Why Size Matters

An undersized air conditioner won’t have the capacity to cool your home in a reasonable amount of time. Depending on your home’s volume and insulation, it may never manage to cool your home to your desired temperature. It will, however, run constantly and use up a huge amount of energy. You may save money on your initial purchase of a small air conditioner, but the high energy bills—and lack of comfort—simply aren’t worth it.

Some people buy oversized air conditioners deliberately, thinking that more powerful units will cool their homes better. In fact, oversized units will cool more quickly but the speed of cooling actually makes them less efficient. An oversized unit will cool the air in your home so fast that it will turn off before your building structure cools. As a result, the air will start to warm again right away, and your system will begin to cycle on and off repeatedly. This kind if cycling is both irritating and highly energy inefficient.

Chill Factors

Quite a few variables must be factored in to determine the right size air conditioner for your home. The size of your house is very important—not just the square footage but also the total volume of air that your house contains. In addition, you need to consider the area of the exterior walls that receive sun exposure.

Windows play a major role in determining your home’s cooling needs. You will need to consider the total number of exterior windows, the age and condition of your windows, and the number of windows that face the sun.

Insulation and ventilation are also important for air conditioner sizing. Different homes of identical volume may need different size air conditioners depending on the age of the home, the quality of the insulation, and the existing ventilation and ductwork.

Finally, don’t forget to consider local climate conditions as well as your own landscaping (i.e.; shade). With all of these factors, it’s almost always advisable to consult a trusted HVAC professional who can help you to calculate your air conditioning needs correctly.

An HVAC professional can also help you to make the other decisions that go along with buying a new air conditioner. Once you’ve identified the right size, it’s time to consider energy efficiency and performance quality at the right price for your budget.

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