Air Conditioning Electricity: How Much Electric Power Does AC Use?

Inspire Clean Energy

9 min read

category: Sustainable Living

How much electricity does air-conditioning use?

In most homes, air conditioners are a must-have piece of equipment. In the summer, they pump cold air around the house to keep it at a reasonable temperature. Understanding how much electricity air conditioners use is important to figure out how much you can budget for your energy plan.

Some homes have one air conditioner, but many two-story homes have two AC units, which can increase electricity usage. Electricity usage can vary depending on different factors. On average, a home air conditioner can use about 3,000 watts of electricity an hour. If you have it on all day, that's 72,000 watts of electricity a day! However, running it on the 'fan-only' mode will only consume about 750 watts an hour.

Portable air conditioners can use up to 4,100 watts, and window AC units can use up to 1,440 watts for large models, 900 watts for medium, and 500 watts for smaller models. Air conditioner manufacturers print information on the label to help you determine how much electricity usage you can expect. Most air conditioners (depending on season and location) run an average of 1,600 hours annually, or 132 hours a month1.

How much does air-conditioning cost to use?

On average, an air conditioner costs between $0.06 and $0.88 per hour to use. Let's see how much air-conditioning costs every month (assuming it runs for 8 hours per day). The cheapest option is $14.40 per month and $211.20 per month on the high end. With these figures, the annual cost would be between $172.80 and $2,534.40.

To get a general idea of your daily energy costs, multiply the wattage by the number of hours of energy consumption. For example, if the air conditioner consumes between 3,000 and 5,000 watts and runs for nine hours each day at a cost per kilowatt of $0.10, the daily cost ranges from $2.70 to $4.502.

What affects the cost and electricity usage of air-conditioning?

Several factors can increase the cost of air conditioners and the amount of electricity expended. The size of the unit and the amount of space they need to cool will significantly affect the numbers. A 1,600-square-foot house with a single unit will use much less energy than a 3,000-square-foot home3.

Another factor to consider is the energy efficiency of the unit. The EER (energy efficiency ratio) and SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) ratings can change the energy expended to run the machine. Units with higher EER and SEER will use dramatically less electricity than units with lower numbers4.

People who use fans in conjunction with air-conditioning units can lower the electricity used. Keeping the units well maintained can also reduce energy expenditure, as can changing out AC filters and coils regularly. Furthermore, reducing the amount of outside air that can get into the house and increasing fan usage will reduce costs. A few other methods can help, too, such as keeping the air at a steady rate, and reducing airflow path blockages and heat-producing objects5.

Is it cheaper to run a window air conditioner or central air?

A central air conditioner costs roughly $5,700 on average to install. Depending on the size of your home or structure, it can cost anywhere from $1,700 to $10,900. A window unit air conditioner costs roughly $295 on average, but keep in mind that these units can only cool a small space. Depending on the size and brand, the unit can cost anywhere from $75 to $1,000. However, the larger the home, the more cost-efficient a central air conditioner is in comparison.

Multiple window air conditioners will use more energy than a single correctly sized central air conditioner if you want to cool the entire house. On the other hand, a window air conditioner will be the more efficient alternative if you only need to cool a single room.

Do air conditioners use more electricity than fans?

A fan uses around 5-9 times less electricity as an air conditioner. While the exact number varies by size and model, this can apply to almost all of them. Even on the lowest setting, an air conditioner uses large quantities of electricity to cool air, while a fan offers much more savings by simply spinning a blade. If you'd like to know the exact savings for your own home, an energy meter can help you gauge the difference for yourself.

For the same amount of cooling time, running window units is one-third less expensive than running a 2.5-ton central air-conditioning system. The size of your home, on the other hand, will determine which cooling system is appropriate for you and your family. Standard desktop or standing fans are always less expensive to run than any air conditioning equipment—even if it is an Energy Star product—because fans need far less energy to operate effectively.

When is the most expensive time of year to run air-conditioning?

Electricity prices are often at their highest in the summer. The price of electricity fluctuates minute by minute. On the other hand, most consumers pay a price that depends on the seasonal cost of electricity. Prices fluctuate in response to changes in energy demand, generation sources, fuel costs, and the availability of power. In the summer, when total demand is high, prices are often higher because more expensive energy sources must be used to satisfy the increase in demand6.

Residential and business customers typically pay the highest electricity prices, since it costs more to distribute electricity to them. Because industrial clients require more electricity and can receive it at higher voltages, supplying electricity to them is more efficient and cost-effective. As a result, the cost of electricity for industrial users is usually close to the cost of power at wholesale. The availability of power plants and fuels, local fuel costs, and pricing rules all influence prices7.

When is the cheapest time of year to run air-conditioning?

Customers pay more for electricity consumed during "peak" hours in the afternoon when demand is highest. Electricity is most affordable during "off-peak" hours when demand is lower. Overall, fall and spring are the cheapest seasons, as the demand for energy is reduced because heaters and air conditioners are used less during these months.

In winter, many people use heaters, which drives up the cost, and in the summer, they depend on air conditioners to reduce the heat. However, summer is typically a time of higher demand than winter, so electricity costs will be higher during the summer. Although, determining when peak and off-peak electricity usage occurs is highly dependent on where you reside and the weather conditions8.

What are the pros and cons of air-conditioning?

An air conditioner has several benefits. Air conditioners are particularly effective at cooling larger rooms and keeping the house cool for extended periods. Additionally, dehydration is lessened in air-conditioned settings. Patients with respiratory issues such as asthma benefit from air-conditioning because it improves the air quality of the space by removing allergens9.

The production of electricity, just for air conditioners, releases roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, damaging the environment and contributing to climate change. But for most people, the cost of using air conditioners is the main drawback. The initial and ongoing costs, particularly for central air-conditioning systems, can be substantial10.

Furthermore, air conditioners can increase skin dryness for some people, even though it helps others. The same goes for respiratory problems; while it helps some, it hurts others and can even cause respiratory infections and allergies, especially from older machines. Also, air conditioners can create a lot of noise. Lastly, spending too much time in air-conditioned buildings can lead to heat intolerance.

What are alternatives to air-conditioning?

Air conditioners are so common that most people never even consider other options. Other alternatives for in-home cooling include11:

  • Ductless or mini-split air conditioners
  • Window units or portable air conditioners
  • Evaporative or swamp coolers
  • Ceiling fans or ground fans
  • Geothermal heating and cooling (known as a heat pump)

How can I reduce my AC bill?

Overall, the most important thing you can do to reduce energy spending to cool your home is to ensure you are not cooling the outside. If your house isn't brand new, the chilly air inside is probably leaking out through faulty seals on doors and windows, a poorly insulated attic, and other small breaches.

Moreover, close the blinds to reduce the sun's ability to change your home's temperature. You can also raise the temperature: Instead of expecting your air conditioner to cool your house to 68 degrees, change it to 72 degrees, as it will use less energy. This will save money, too—up to 10 percent or more per year. Finally, you do not need to keep the same setting all day. Change the settings for different times of the day.

New air conditioners have the advantage of the newest technology and standards. Paying more upfront may help to save in the long run, as newer models are more efficient at doing the same job. Look for options with a 14 or higher Energy Star rating.

Finally, you can plant some trees around your house to shade your home. A smart thermostat can regulate the temperature much easier and save up to 10 percent on your electric bill. If you do not have ceiling fans, consider getting some to help circulate the air better. Heat rises, so if you want to avoid using air-conditioning, spend more time on the lower floors of the home if this is an option in your house.

Let’s face it—there are easier ways to save money on air-conditioning and energy bills than going around your home and calculating output and shutting off during peak seasons.

If you’re looking for an easier way to get consistent and predictable monthly energy bills, sign up for a 100% clean energy supply plan for your home. When you become an Inspire member, not only will you access 100% clean energy and help reduce your home's net-carbon footprint, you will receive a predictable monthly rate for your electricity supply to reduce bill volatility throughout the year.

To get started, visit our homepage and enter your address and/or ZIP Code. If Inspire’s clean energy supply plans are available in your area, you can proceed with linking your utility.

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