The surprising cost of air conditioning

How much electricity does your air conditioner use? How much does it cost to run your air conditioner? It doesn’t cost as much as you think.

A recent Canstar Blue survey found that many Australian households cut down on using their air conditioner to save money on their electricity bills. Respondents estimated that 24% of their electricity bill comes from their air conditioner, so it’s no surprise that almost half (48%) said electricity efficiency is their number one deciding factor when choosing an air conditioner.

But how much will it really cost you to use your air conditioner? Spoiler: It’s less than you might think.

You can look up the wattage of an air conditioner and calculate your annual appliance running costs on the Government of South Australia website but in the meantime, here’s our breakdown of the stats on electricity costs, whether you’re using your air con for heating or cooling.

How much does it cost to run an air conditioner for heating?

The average reverse cycle air conditioner costs around $0.33 – $0.40 per hour to run for heating purposes.

An electric radiator heater costs about the same at $0.33 per hour, as does an electric panel heater at $0.40, but neither of these will heat as large an area. A gas heater costs more at $0.47 – $0.52 per hour.

A ducted whole-house reverse cycle air conditioning system costs the most, at $1.48 – $1.94 per hour, so you’d want to live somewhere that really, really needed it.

How much does it cost to run an air conditioner for cooling?

The average reverse cycle air conditioner costs around $0.11 – $0.75 per hour to run for cooling purposes, depending on the size of the room. A medium sized room of 36sqm would cost $0.38 – $0.54 per hour to run.

A portable refrigeration device costs about the same at $0.36 – $0.46 per hour.

The real winners on cost – but perhaps not on cooling ability – are ceiling fans and portable fans, at just $0.02 – $0.03 per hour. Portable evaporative devices come in at a close second, costing around $0.02 – $0.03 per hour for electricity, plus less than $0.02 per hour for the water used by the device to cool the air.

A ducted whole-house reverse cycle air conditioning system is again the biggest money pit, at $2.26 – $2.67 per hour to run. That’s significantly more expensive than if you were using the system for heating, but if you want every inch of your house or office to be icy cool, well…

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What costs more to run than an air conditioner?

  • Kitchen appliances are a silent killer. Ovens cost $0.61 – $1.29 per hour to run. The stove costs $0.61 – $1.29 per hour per element being used. Gas stoves, ovens and grills cost slightly less than electric ones, at $0.48 per hour. Even the humble microwave costs $0.27 – $0.51.
  • Cleaning appliances are more expensive to run than your air conditioner, with irons and vacuum cleaners both costing $0.41 – $0.82 per hour to run.
  • Clothes dryers cost much more to run than your air conditioner, starting at $0.50 and costing anything up to $3.14 per hour to run. (Read more about this from Canstar Blue here.)
  • Lighting your home is very expensive. While running a single bulb can cost as little as $0.01 per hour for an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light, few people run just one bulb at a time. It can cost anything from $0.24 – $1.68 per hour to run several of the bulbs in your home at once. If you’re trying to cut back, you could try the “one light per room” or “one light per person in the house” rule.
  • Swimming pools and spas cost a great deal in electricity because of the regular need to run the pool filter ($0.23 – $0.45 per hour) and chlorination equipment ($0.04 – $0.06). It’s even more expensive if you have a gas water heater ($3.00 – $12.75) or a solar water heater ($0.15 – $0.23).

What costs less to run than an air conditioner?

  • Small appliances like computers, printers and phones cost less than 1 cent per hour to run.
  • Heating water for showers, baths and washing accounts for 25% of the energy used in an average home. It costs $0.05 – $0.14 to run each bath.
  • Dishwashers cost $0.12 – $0.55 per hour to run, in terms of electricity.
  • TVs cost anything from less than 1 cent per hour up to $0.14 per hour for the larger plasma and LED models.

How can I reduce the cost of using my air con?

We’ve established that air conditioners aren’t necessarily the Big Bad Wolf when it comes to your power bills. However, there is still the potential for your power bill to shock you if you’ve been running your air con a fair bit through a particularly sweltering summer. Here are some easy tips to potentially minimise the effect air con can have on your power bill:

Maintain consistent temperatures

The easiest way to reduce the impact of air conditioning on your electricity bill is to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the day. It might seem counter intuitive, but setting the temperature to warmer in summer, and colder in winter, can ensure the air conditioner isn’t working too hard and hiking up your energy consumption. Generally, the best temperatures to go by are 24°C in summer and about 19°C in winter. Setting it to these temperatures will ensure both you and your wallet will stay comfortable.

Throw some shade

It’s tempting to take advantage of both the cross breeze and your air conditioner at the same time, but this can wreak havoc on the effectiveness of your air conditioner. This in turn can drive up your power bill. To make the environment the most ideal for your air conditioner to thrive, close the curtains and doors, and turn off any lights not in use. This reduces heat absorption and makes it easier for your air conditioner to operate. In winter, using these practices can allow you to trap in more heat, which can prove friendly for your power bill.

Correct air conditioning maintenance

It’s easy to forget this one. Ensuring your unit is properly maintained can help the air conditioner run better, and reduce your power bill. Ensure the filter is regularly cleaned or replaced – usually this means once a month. Also dust the vents and any exterior components. Similar to a car, keeping it well maintained could reduce the overall cost of running it.

Insulate your home

This can be a bit tricky if you’re renting, but if you have your own home, then you’re in luck. Adequate insulation of your home reduces how much work your air con needs to do to cool or heat an area. If you’re building new it’s easy to ensure your home is correctly insulated. Alternatively, if you’re buying an existing property, it can pay to make sure the insulation is adequate. Beware older homes!

Consider the alternatives

Have you considered a portable air conditioner? Or maybe you could install an evaporative cooler if you’re in a dry area? Beyond the installation costs and servicing, smaller or alternative units could assist in bringing down your power bill. Portable units are easy for small single areas that need to be cooled, and evaporative coolers work well if you’re in a dry, southern-inland area of Australia – think country Victoria.

If you’re in a humid area, there is hope. Using a dehumidifier instead of an air conditioner can instantly make the room more comfortable. A dehumidifier combined with an air con is a powerful combo and can potentially reduce your power bill while you chill out in a hot summer.

While air conditioners aren’t necessarily the evil appliances we think they are, the truth is that they do have a high likelihood of driving up your energy consumption, and your bill. Following these tips may be able to make life a little easier both in terms of comfort, and your back pocket. Remember to keep your cool this summer, and get cosy in the winter!

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