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Buying a room air conditioner? Make sure you size up the room

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Hotandhumid.

Sometimes, even the words seem to stick together. And as summer builds, people who aren't thinking about beaches, ice cream trucks, and swimming pools may be thinking about air conditioners.

The decision to buy a room, or window, air conditioner, says Robert Mason, owner of Window Air Conditioning Specialists, a Boston dealer, has nothing to do with the economy or energy prices.

''The window air conditioner business depends on one thing, the weather,'' Mr. Mason says, pointing to his phone with its row of buttons indicating several incoming lines. ''You can tell how hot it is just by listening to our phones. We've got three lines coming in here and on a hot day, they're all busy.''

This is why some people who remember how they felt last summer are thinking about buying an air conditioner now. They are trying to figure out energy efficiency rating (EER), British thermal units (Btu), and other factors that go into picking the right machine.

An air conditioner's EER is obtained by dividing the number of Btu it uses by the number of watts of power it consumes. The higher this EER number is, the more efficient the air conditioner. Generally, an EER of 7.5 or 8 is considered the minimum acceptable rating. In some states, only units with a minimum EER of 7.5 can be sold at all.

This interest in higher EERs is evident in shipments. According to figures kept by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, shipments of units with an EER of 7.5 to 8.4 increased 223.9 percent from 1974 to 1981. Units with an EER of 6.5 to 7.4, by contrast, were up just 29.9 percent.

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