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What Is A BTU And How Does It Affect My Home?

AdobeStock_35397164.jpegIf you’ve seen the abbreviation “BTU” on heating and cooling products or noticed it listed on your energy bill and wondered, what does that mean, you’ve come to the right place for answers. Our resident expert, Keith Hill, technical support manager at Minnesota Air, answers the FAQs on BTUs and how they affect your home.

BTU Explained

“We all have heat energy moving about our homes throughout the year,” says Keith. “In the world of HVAC, we measure heat leaving our homes (heat loss) or coming in (heat gain) in BTUs. A BTU is a British Thermal Unit. It’s a unit of measure like a calorie or a joule, but it’s an English unit. Like using yard instead of meter, we use BTU instead of calorie.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a single BTU is equal to the energy released by burning a match. The EIA says that in 2013, the United States alone used enough BTUs to light about 98 quadrillion matches. What a fire that would be, right?

What Do BTUs Mean To My Home?

Basically, as a consumer this means that the more BTUs you use, the more energy is consumed and the more it costs on your bill. By comparing BTU ratings, we can buy efficient products that can do the same job but “waste” fewer BTU.

Furthermore, in the HVAC world, your technician will need to select a furnace or AC for your home depending on the size and type of home you have, because it will need to be able to produce enough BTUs to cool and heat your home properly.

“Once an HVAC pro has calculated the BTUs per hour (BTUH) needed for your home, he or she selects your furnace size or AC size,” says Keith. “For AC, we use both BTUH and ‘tons’ of air conditioning. One ton equals 12,000 BTUs, so a three-ton air conditioner would have a nominal capacity of 36,000 BTUH.”

In this case, ‘ton’ doesn’t mean the actual weight of the air conditioner. Keith says the term “ton” actually comes from the origins of refrigeration when ice had to be made for food storage.

“An air conditioning system is a refrigeration system, one designed for human comfort instead of food preservation,” he says. “It takes 12,000 BTUs to make one ton of ice, hence one ‘ton’ equals 12,000 BTUH.”

You can estimate how many BTUs your home needs by plugging in some numbers on this BTU calculator. But there is no substitute for a professional to gauge what your home’s needs are. Contact the professionals at StayComfy today and we’ll put you on the right track.

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