The wrong AC breaker will fry electric circuits. Everybody knows that you have to think about what size breaker you need for an AC unit. Not everybody, however, knows how to *adequately* choose the right size breaker for an AC unit.

To help you out with AC electrical requirements (and prevent your breaker from catching fire), we have prepared an overview article about air conditioners **and respective breaker sizes** for different capacity AC units.

Most homeowners usually need help with determining the breaker size for **220/240V breakers**. For smaller 1-ton (or up to and including 15,000 BTU) AC units, you only need a standard 110/120V circuit with the standard 15 amp breaker. What size breaker do you need for mini split AC, for example, depends on **maximum wattage** (and voltage, as well as amps, are both factors since wattage is calculated as *Watts = Volts Ã— Amps*).

In order to understand the AC breaker sizing, we will look into:

**How to figure out what size breaker you need for your AC?**You can either check the AC label for ‘Max Breaker Size’ in the specification sheet (breaker amps are usually categorized under ‘Overcurrent Protective Device’ section).**How to calculate the AC breaker size?**Further on, you will find an**AC breaker size**that includes the bigger units that require a 220/240V circuit.*calculator***AC breaker size**for air conditioners with 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 5-ton capacity. These units require anything between a 15 amp breaker and a 35 amp breaker. You can find the*chart***summarized AC breaker chart at the end**.

First of all, however, let’s look into how to adequately estimate the minimum amps for an AC breaker. This accounts for:

**Max. wattage.**1-5 ton units require anywhere between 1,800W and 6,000W electric power input.**NEC breaker requirements.**We will lay out the 80% National Electric Code (NEC) requirement for all breakers. This is a safety measure put in place in order to avoid the electric circuit from being overpowered.

Let’s first look at how the determine the minimum AC breaker size:

### How To Calculate How Many Amps Breaker Size You Need For AC Units?

The easiest way to figure out how big a breaker you need for AC is to check the AC label. In the photo above, you see an example of the specs sheet with the outlined min. circuit ampacity.

Now, if you don’t have that, you have to know how to calculate the minimal amps of your breaker size.

Here’s how you do that in 2 steps:

**Figure out max. the wattage of your AC.**You can check the label for maximum wattage. Max. wattage can also be calculated from the EER rating (we presume 10 EER rating in all our calculations further on). Based on this, you can calculate how many amps an AC unit draws.- When you have the amp draw, you have to
**apply the 80% NEC rule.**This states that the calculated amp draw should represent at most 80% of the total ampacity of the AC breaker.

#### Calculating Max. AC Wattage

Let’s first illustrate how to calculate the amp draw of an AC unit. Let’s say we have a 24,000 BTU air conditioner. You can get the max. wattage from the label.

Without that, we can approximate the wattage by applying an energy-efficient rating (EER rating of that). A 24,000 BTU AC unit with a 10 EER rating has a max. wattage of 2,400W. Here is how you calculate this:

**Max. AC Wattage = Capacity (in BTUs) / EER rating**

In our example, the max. wattage calculation looks like this:

**Max. AC Wattage (24,000 BTU Unit) = **24,000 BTU / 10 EER** = 2,400W**

#### Calculating AC Amp Draw For Breaker Size

When we have the max. wattage, we have to calculate how many amps does such an AC unit draw when running at 100% output. Luckily, we know that these units run on 220V voltage (this may also be a 230V or 240V circuit).

To calculate the amp draw we are going to use to determine the AC breaker size, we use the simple electric power equation:

**P = I Ã— V**

This is the watts = amps Ã— volts equation. Let’s express I (current) that is measured in amps:

**I = P / V**

Now let’s use our 24,000 BTU breaker size example. We know that P = 2,400 watts and V = 220 volts. Let’s plug this in the equation:

**I (Amp Draw Of 24,000 BTU AC)** = 2,400W / 220V = **10.91 Amps**

This means that such an air conditioner should at most draw little less than 11 amps of electric current (10.91A, to be exact).

Now, we have to apply the 80% NEC rule. This is a safety measure so you don’t fry your AC breaker.

#### Apply 80% NEC Rule To Get The Minimal AC Breaker Capacity

This NEC rule tells us that the calculated amp draw should represent at most 80% of the AC breaker size amps. In short, we need a bit bigger AC breaker than the expected max. amp draw (just in case).

Example: Let’s say we have an AC unit with max. amp draw of 8A. This 8A should represent at most 80% of the AC breaker ampacity. That means that we need at least a 10A breaker size.

We can easily account for this 80% NEC rule by multiplying the max. amp draw by 1.25 factor like this:

**Breaker Size** (Applying 80% NEC Rule) = 8A Ã— 1.25 = **10A**

If we check out 24,000 BTU AC unit from the example above, we know that the max. amp draw is 10.91A. To illustrate how to apply the 80% rule here as well, let’s calculate the breaker size for 24,000 BTU breaker:

**24,000 BTU AC Breaker Size** (Applying 80% NEC Rule) = 10.91A Ã— 1.25 = **13.64 Amps **

This is the minimal breaker size we need. Of course, there is no 13.64A breaker. Breaker sizes are usually rounded to the 5A. Namely, we have **10A, 15A, 20A, 25A, 30A, 35A AC breakers**.

If we need a minimum ampacity of 13.64A. That means the 10A breaker is too small. 20A breaker is overkill (you can still use it, of course). The optimum choice of a breaker size for a 24,000 BTU air conditioner is a 15A breaker.

Below, we calculated the minimum required breaker size for 2-ton, 3-ton, 4-ton, and 5-ton air conditioners. You will find the full chart with minimum breaker sizes and actual AC breaker size choices.

This calculation does seem a bit complex for some homeowners. To make your life easier, you can use this automatic calculator that determines the minimum AC breaker ampacity for your air conditioner:

## AC Breaker Size Calculator

Here you simply insert the tonnage of your AC and get the minimal breaker size amps. Based on this, you can choose the right size breaker for your air conditioner. (Note: We use a 10 EER rating and 220V to calculate the max. wattage in this calculator)

Here is how this AC breaker ampacity calculator works:

Let’s say we have a 3.5-ton AC unit. That’s 42,000 BTU. If the EER rating is 10, it draws 4,200W of power when running at 100%. At 220V voltage, this means it draws 19.09 amps. We need to apply the 80% NEC rule, and we get the minimum breaker ampacity should be 23.86A. That means you will need a 25A breaker for a 3.5-ton AC unit.

The calculator does all this automatically like this:

You can make this calculation yourself for any air conditioner.

We made calculations for 2-ton, 3-ton, 4-ton, and 5-ton air conditioners as well. At the end, you can find a summarized chart for all AC tonnages.

### 24,000 BTU Air Conditioner Breaker Size (2-Ton Units)

24,000 BTU air conditioners can draw anywhere from 2,000W to 2,800W of electric power when running at 100% output. On average, at a 10 EER rating, they require 2,400 watts to run.

All 24,000 BTU AC units run on 220/240V circuit. We can use 220V for a conservative AC breaker size for 24,000 BTU units.

If we use the breaker size calculator above (that presumed 10 EER rating), we have to have a breaker size that can handle 2,400W at 220V. Here is the required minimum amps of a breaker we get with the calculator (24,000 BTU is equal to 2 tons):

As you can see, we can confirm that we need a 13.64A minimum ampacity. That means we will need a 15A breaker for a 24,000 BTU air conditioner.

Of course, more energy-efficient 24,000 BTU units run on lower wattage and less energy-efficient units run on higher wattage.

Higher energy efficiency: If the 24,000 BTU unit runs on 2,000W, we need fewer amps. At 220V, the amp draw is 9.09A. Accounting for the 80% NEC rule, this results in an 11.36A minimum breaker size requirement. We still need a 15A breaker.

Lower energy efficiency: If the 24,000 BTU unit runs on 2,800W, we need more amps. At 220V, the amp draw is 12.73A. Accounting for the 80% NEC rule, this results in a 15.91A minimum breaker size requirement. In this case, we need a 20A breaker.

Let’s make similar breaker size calculations for other AC sizes:

### What Breaker Size For 3 Ton AC Unit?

On average, 3-ton units (or 36,000 BTU) run on 3,600W. Less efficient units can run on 4,200W and more efficient ones run on as little as 3,000W.

Using the calculator above, we can see that an average 3-ton AC unit requires a breaker with at least 20.45A ampacity. That means the most appropriate choice of a breaker size for a 3-ton unit is a 25A breaker.

Here is the breakdown for high energy efficiency (above 10 EER) and low energy efficiency (below 10 EER) 3-ton units:

- High energy efficiency 3-ton units will require a 15A breaker.
- Low energy efficiency 3-ton units will require a 20A breaker.

### What Breaker Size For 4 Ton AC Unit?

On average, 4-ton units (or 48,000 BTU) run on 4,800W. Less efficient units can run on 5,600W and more efficient ones run on as little as 4,000W.

Using the calculator above, we can see that an average 4-ton AC unit requires a breaker with at least 27.27A ampacity. That means the most appropriate choice of a breaker size for a 3-ton unit is a 30A breaker.

Here is the breakdown for high energy efficiency (above 10 EER) and low energy efficiency (below 10 EER) 4-ton units:

- High energy efficiency 4-ton units will require a 25A breaker.
- Low energy efficiency 4-ton units will require a 35A breaker.

### What Breaker Size For 5 Ton AC Unit?

On average, 5-ton units (or 60,000 BTU) run on 6,000W. Less efficient units can run on 6,800W and more efficient ones run on as little as 5,200W.

Using the calculator above, we can see that an average 5-ton AC unit requires a breaker with at least 34.09A ampacity. That means the most appropriate choice of a breaker size for a 5-ton unit is a 35A breaker.

Here is the breakdown for high energy efficiency (above 10 EER) and low energy efficiency (below 10 EER) 3-ton units:

- High energy efficiency 5-ton units will require a 35A breaker.
- Low energy efficiency 5-ton units will require a 40A breaker.

Let’s summarize all these breaker sizes for air conditioners:

## AC Breaker Sizes Chart (For 1.5-Ton To 5-Ton Units)

Here is the chart for AC breaker sizing (at a 10 EER rating and 220V circuit):

Air Conditioner Tonnage: |
Max. Wattage (At 10 EER): |
Amp Draw At 220V: |
Min. Breaker Ampacity: |
Min. Breaker Size |

1.5 Ton | 1,800 Watts | 8.18 Amps | 10.23 Amps | 15 Amp Breaker |

2 Ton | 2,400 Watts | 10.91 Amps | 13.64 Amps | 15 Amp Breaker |

2.5 Ton | 3,000 Watts | 13.64 Amps | 17.05 Amps | 20 Amp Breaker |

3 Ton | 3,600 Watts | 16.36 Amps | 20.45 Amps | 25 Amp Breaker |

3.5 Ton | 4,200 Watts | 19.09 Amps | 23.86 Amps | 25 Amp Breaker |

4 Ton | 4,800 Watts | 21.82 Amps | 27.28 Amps | 30 Amp Breaker |

4.5 Ton | 5,400 Watts | 24.55 Amps | 30.69 Amps | 35 Amp Breaker |

5 Ton | 6,000 Watts | 27.27 Amps | 34.09 Amps | 35 Amp Breaker |

Hopefully, you can use the know-how of how to calculate the breaker sizes to adequately select the right size amp breaker for your AC unit. With the calculated chart, you can quite accurately estimate the electric breaker size requirements for AC units with different capacities (tonnages).

Cooling Amps:6.3

Cooling Watts:670

Heating Amps:11

Heating Watts: 1260

Dimensions (WxDxH):18.44″

Hi, I really need your advice. Will a 15,000btu window ac (specs above) be safe on a 15 amp. circuit breaker. I seem to get conflicting info and Iâ€™m concerned with safety.

Hello Anna, you can load at most 12 amps on a 15 amp circuit breaker (NEC 80% rule). So, you will have absolutely no problems with cooling since that’s only 6.3 amps. Heating does draw 11 amps but that is still less than 12 amps. All in all, with these specs, you are safe to use the 15 amp circuit. Hope this helps.

Hi, I have a unique issue that I would love some guidance on please.

I am going to be putting in a 1 ton mini split this spring. I presently have a unused 220 dual 50 amp breaker. Would it be dangerous to just reroute this wire to the disconnect box for the mini split or would you replace wire and breakers with dual 15amps?

Thank for any help.

Hi Yolanda, a 1 ton mini split will draw about 6.82 amps on 110/120V. On 220V, the amp draw will be half of that. The 50A breaker will be more than enough. Hope this helps.

While it would technically work using the same wiring and breaker, it would not be up to code and would be dangerous. You would never want to size such a high-amp breaker for such a low-amp requirement. Therefore, Yolanda should replace the breaker with an appropriately sized breaker for the mini-split she is using. The wiring is good to keep that size. You can replace a bigger breaker with a smaller one without changing wire, but not the other way around.

If the breaker size did not matter, people would just use overly large breakers for everything since the cost difference in most breakers is very small. If your device started to fail and drew, say, 20 amps when it was only rated at 6 amps, then the wiring inside your mini-split would not be sized to handle the 20 amps it was drawing. Yet, the breaker would still be happily giving you more current than your device is rated for, which could easily cause a fire. The breaker is there to prevent things like this. Of course, your mini-split should have built-in protection as well, but the breaker is there to be your last line of defense in case other protection devices fail. This is why there are such strict regulations about sizing wire and breakers. If you bought a poorly designed appliance, of which there are many out there, the breaker is there to keep you safe.

Just to be clear, Yolanda, the wiring is fine, but you need to know the current draw of your mini-split at the voltage level you are using, 120V or 220V. Say it is 220 volts and 5 amps; you take that 5 amps and “derate” it by 80%. Generally, the easiest way to do that is simply to take that 5 amps and multiply it by 1.2, which would give you 6 amps. So technically, you should use a 10 amp breaker, but very few people ever do. Most likely, you would use a 15 amp breaker. A perfect example is most North American households using 15 amp breakers for their standard 110V outlet, like a toaster, hair dryer, or even a cell phone charger. Even though your cell phone charger draws less than 1 amp, it still runs on that 15 amp breaker. So, yes, there is some flexibility to a certain point. But a 50 amp breaker for a 6 amp load is a recipe for disaster.

HVAC contractor “A” is recommending a 3-ton, 19 SEER, variable speed AC unit that requires a minimum of circuit breaker of 24.2 Amps, maximum of 40 Amps. We have a 30 Amp breaker. Contractor “B” states that we need a 40A breaker for this unit.

Your article seems to agree with contractor “A”. Can you confirm?

Thank you!

Hi Jane, alright, to get this right, we have to calculate the current in the wire. This is a 3-ton unit (36,000 BTU) 19 SEER; the average wattage here should be 1,895 watts. But that is the average, based on the 19 SEER, presuming 58% output. At full output (3-ton unit running at 100%), the wattage will be about 3,267W. Now, the key question is what voltage you have. In most cases, you will have 240V, in some cases 120V. Let’s calculate for both:

– 120V case. The current output is 3,267W/120V = 27.2 Amps. Accounting for 80% NEC rule: 27.2A Ã— 1.25 = Minimum 34A breaker size. In this case, you would go for 40A breaker.

– 240V case. The current output is 3,267W/240V = 13.5 Amps. Accounting for 80% NEC rule: 13.6A Ã— 1.25 = Minimum 17A breaker size. In this case, you would go for 20A breaker.

Voltage is the key here. If you have the standard 120V voltage, the 40A breaker makes sense (contractor B). If you have ther higher 240V voltage, even a 20A breaker will be sufficient. Hope this gives a bit of insight and a bit of help. P.S.: Whenever in doubt, go for a bigger breaker.

Does AC need to be on a protected breaker?

Hi Sammie, yes, according to the 2020 NEC code, the AC breaker should be GFCI protected.