How to Determine the Size of Your Central Air Conditioner
Do you know what size your air conditioner is? In the world of building science, you'll hear a lot of talk about why oversized air conditioners are a bad idea. Why? Briefly, they may not dehumidify as well, short-cycling wears them out quicker, and your home will probably be less comfortable if the air conditioner is too big. But to know if your AC is oversized, first you have to know what size it is. (Note: This article is about finding the size of your existing AC, not determining what size you need.)
Look for the label
The good news is that most HVAC manufacturers make it easy to determine the nominal capacity of your air conditioner. It's in the model number. Go outside and find the outdoor unit, that metal noisemaker hidden away on the side or the back of the house. It'll look something like the one you see above, although maybe not quite so decrepit as that one. Then find the lable that gives the data about your AC. It'll look like the image below.
Up near the top of the label, you see the model number (M/N) and serial number (S/N). The model number is where you can find the number you're looking for. Not all manufacturers do this, but most will give you a 2 or 3 digit section that tells you how many thousands of BTU/hour your air conditioner can move out of your home.
The first section in the model number gives you info about the type and efficiency of the unit you're looking at. In the case of this Lennox model (which, by the way, is not from the outdoor unit shown at the top of this article), the 13HPX tells you it's a heat pump with an efficiency rating of 13 SEER.
The digits you need
Just past that string of 5 characters, though, is the part that tells you the nominal size: 048. That means the air conditioner—or heat pump in cooling mode in this case—has a nominal capacity of 48,000 BTU/hour. I say nominal because the actual capacity is almost certainly going to be different.
The numbers you'll see on residential air conditioners and heat pumps are:
The 3 digits in the model number tell you the nominal capacity in thousands of BTU/hr. Since each 12,000 BTU/hr is equivalent to 1 ton of air conditioner capacity, it's easy to figure out how many tons of nominal capacity your AC has.
Pretty simple, eh?
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