What Does BTU Mean?

Posted: February 27, 2023

Vaughn Oil helps keep your home comfortable!


If you’ve ever had to buy a new heating and/or cooling system for your home, you may have wondered how to compare heating power across different types of systems using different kinds of energy sources such as heating oil, natural gas, propane, and electricity.

One term you might have heard is “BTU.” We’re here to explain that term and how you can use it to get the right heating system for your Rhode Island home. You can trust the team of trained, experienced service technicians at Vaughn Oil for expert and safe boiler and furnace installation.

What is a BTU?

BTU stands for the scientific term British thermal unit. It’s simply the means for quantifying the heat generated from fuels and energy sources. One British thermal unit conveys the amount of energy needed to increase one pound of water at its most dense level, and with a sea level pressure setting, by a single degree Fahrenheit. Water has its greatest density at about 39°F. In a nutshell, one BTU is equivalent to the amount of energy released from burning a single match, which is enough heat to raise 1 pound of water from 39°F to 40°F.

How are BTUs used?

By using BTUs, we are able to compare energy sources equally. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides a comprehensive catalogue of the most frequently used energy sources, in addition to their BTU conversion factors.

How to use BTUs to choose a heating system

When selecting heating appliances such as a furnace, boiler, or heat pump, BTUs are an indispensable factor to consider. A higher BTU number indicates a greater capacity of the appliance to generate heat and warm your home. Nevertheless, BTUs are not the only factor you need to consider.

You can have too many BTUs as well as too few BTUs in a home heating system. If it has too few BTUs, it will not be able to keep up with your home’s heating needs, forcing it to run longer and causing it to wear out sooner, leading to potential breakdowns and big repair bills, as well as shortening the heating system’s life expectancy.

A heating system with too many BTUs can cause other problems. Heating systems operate in cycles, meaning that they put out a set amount of heat for a specific length of time to keep your home at your thermostat setting. If your heating system has too many BTUs, it can put out too much heat, causing it to cycle off, then cycle on again very soon. This too-frequent cycling creates excessive wear and tear on your heating system, which can cause breakdowns and a shorter lifespan.

To determine which BTU rating is appropriate for your home, multiple factors must be taken into account such as the size of your house, insulation levels, ceiling height and neighboring climate. Additionally, window type and the shape of your home can also contribute to how many BTUs you will require.

Are you looking to replace your home’s heating system? Contact Vaughn Oil today to upgrade to a new, high-efficiency furnace or boiler!