What is the cost of running air conditioning this summer?

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Power bills are a major concern for many families, especially during the summer months when energy usage goes through the roof. As a result, nearly one in four Aussies (24%) said they’ve cut their conditioning usage to save money – though, surprisingly, this is down significantly compared to 62% last year. So how much does air conditioning really cost? In this article, Canstar Blue explores air conditioning running costs and offers a guide as to what you can expect to pay to keep cool this summer.

According to our research, a third (38%) of Australians we surveyed believe air conditioning is the largest contributor to their power bills. While it’s certainly true to say that air conditioners can consume enormous amounts of electricity, this will naturally depend on how, and how often, they are used. So, before you swelter through another scorcher of a summer, check out our calculations below to see what it might cost to run your air conditioner.

Split System Air Conditioner Running Costs

Split system air conditioners are one of the most popular types of cooling and heating systems as they are fairly easy to install and comparatively affordable to purchase.

Cooling costs (Reverse cycle, split-system air conditioner)

The table below shows how much you might pay for cold air con over a year. Below the prices are usage assumptions for air con use, which take into account the energy efficiency of a device according to the Climate Zone you live in. For example, you’ll see that a Brisbane household will use much more than one in Melbourne, since the system has to work harder to balance out the hot external temperature.

Size Brisbane Sydney Adelaide Perth Melbourne Hobart Canberra
2–2.5kW $112.93
(511 kWh)
$46.08 (180kWh) $62.28 (180kWh) $51.84 (180kWh) $28.55 (117kWh) $34.40 (117kWh) $26.44 (117kWh)
2.5–5kW $181.00 (819kWh) $72.19 (282kWh) $97.57 (282kWh) $81.22 (282kWh) $43.92 (180kWh) $52.92 (180kWh) $40.68 (180kWh)
4–6kW $283.76 (1,284kWh) $112.13 (438kWh) $151.55 (438kWh) $126.14 (438kWh) $68.08 (279kWh) $82.03 (279kWh) $63.05 (279kWh)

Source: www.canstarblue.com.au – 17/09/2020. Average energy consumption figures based on reverse cycle, non-ducted, single split system air conditioners listed in the Commonwealth of Australia E3 Program’s Registration database. Capacity based on rated cooling capacity at 35°C. Usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 25.6 c/kWh in Sydney, 24.4 c/kWh in Melbourne, 22.1 c/kWh in Brisbane, 34.6 c/kWh in Adelaide, 29.4 c/kWh in Hobart and 22.6 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates available for an annual usage of 4,200 kWh. ^Climate zones based on the new Zoned Energy Rating Label for air conditioner models imported or supplied after 1 April 2020.

Heating costs (Reverse cycle, split-system air conditioner)

The table below reveals the annual costs of using your air con to heat, rather than cool. The usage figures below the costs reflect the demand for heating in each state, as well as how energy efficient an appliance can be depending on the climate zone. In this scenario, a Melbourne household uses significantly more hot air con than a Brisbane one, since it’s much colder there year-round.

Size Brisbane Sydney Adelaide Perth Melbourne Hobart Canberra
2–2.5kW $11.93
(54kWh)
$87.04
(340kWh)
$117.64
(340kWh)
$97.92
(340kWh)
$213.50
(875kWh)
$257.25
(875kWh)
$197.75
(875kWh)
2.5–5kW $14.81
(67kWh)
$110.08
(430kWh)
$148.78
(430kWh)
$123.84
(430kWh)
$279.87
(1,147kWh)
$337.22
(1,147kWh)
$259.22
(1,147kWh)
4–6kW $21.66
(98kWh)
$168.45
(658kWh)
$227.67
(658kWh)
$189.50
(658kWh)
$437.98
(1,795kWh)
$527.73
(1,795kWh)
$405.67
(1,795kWh)

Source: www.canstarblue.com.au – 17/09/2020. Average energy consumption figures based on reverse cycle, non-ducted, single split system air conditioners listed in the Commonwealth of Australia E3 Program’s Registration database. Capacity based on rated heating capacity at 7°C. Usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 25.6 c/kWh in Sydney, 24.4 c/kWh in Melbourne, 22.1 c/kWh in Brisbane, 34.6 c/kWh in Adelaide, 29.4 c/kWh in Hobart and 22.6 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates available for an annual usage of 4,200 kWh. ^Climate zones based on the new Zoned Energy Rating Label for air conditioner models imported or supplied after 1 April 2020.

If you have aircon in multiple rooms, simply add up the figures from the above as you consider appropriate to estimate your total cooling costs. Keep in mind that temperature settings, insulation, the age of your aircon system, and the price you pay for power can all impact these figures.

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Ducted Air Conditioner Running Costs

Ducted air conditioning is the undisputed king of cooling, but it comes at a cost. Not only are ducted aircon systems expensive to install, but as the table below illustrates, they’re not cheap to run either.

Hours per day Summer cooling costs Winter heating costs
2 $540 $324
4 $1,080 $648
6 $1,620 $972
8 $2,160 $1,296
12 $3,240 $1,944
24 $6,480 $3,888

*Calculations assume cooling costs of $3/hour and heating costs of $1.80/hour, based on an electricity usage rate of 35c/kWh. Calculations assume stated usage per day for 90 days.

Ducted air conditioning is expensive to install and difficult to replace, so it’s definitely in the long-term interests of your bank account to get a system with a reasonable energy-efficiency rating. As you can see, running whole-house ducted air conditioning continuously during the summer can cost you an absolute fortune, especially if you have an old ducted system without zoned control.

Once again, our calculations are based on just four hours of aircon usage each day. These costs will quickly get out of control if you use your ducted air conditioning excessively.

Cheap Electricity Deals

While you’re comparing electricity running costs, why not compare energy plans in your area. Follow the links below to compare the cheapest deals on our database for your state.

Ceiling Fan Running Costs

The humble ceiling fan is a great way to keep cool on the cheap. It obviously won’t be as effective as air conditioning, but it’s a reasonable alternative for warm days. Here are some estimated running costs for ceiling fans:

Hours per day Cooling costs
2 $7
4 $14
6 $22
8 $28
12 $43
24 $88

*Calculations assume running costs of 4c/hour, based on an electricity usage rate of 35c/kWh. Calculations assume stated usage per day for 90 days.

As you can see, you can run a ceiling fan over summer for less than the cost of lunch out. So if you have the option, try using your ceiling fan instead of the air conditioner whenever possible. However, keep in mind that the calculations above are for just one ceiling used four hours a day. If you use several ceiling fans, costs will quickly add up. Canstar Blue has a more detailed analysis on the hourly running costs of ceiling fans.

How much does it cost to run an air conditioner per day?

how much does it cost to run air con per day

The cost of running an air conditioner depends on a variety of factors. Aside from the type of air conditioner, and the number of hours the appliance runs during the day (or night), here is a few more things that affect how much you need to pay to use AC. These include:

  1. Energy rating and wattage of the air conditioner model
  2. Size of the space you’re trying to cool
  3. Whether you’re paying for high peak energy prices
  4. Whether the air conditioner is well maintained
  5. How well your home is insulated

Is it cheaper to run the air conditioner all day or night?

Do you try to avoid using the air conditioner during peak demand times – typically 4pm to 8pm – to minimise your electricity bills? Well, you might not actually need to. If you’re on a single rate tariff, similar to most of the people we asked in a recent survey, the cost to run an air conditioner stays at the same rate throughout the whole day. You will only need to pay peak energy prices if you have a smart meter installed, rather than a traditional meter, and have agreed on a ‘time of use tariff’ plan with your energy retailer. So, you could be sweating for nothing!

What is the cheapest way to run an air conditioner?

Regularly cleaning the filters and louvres to keep the air conditioner in top shape is also important. Air cons contain filters to capture dust, with many models now featuring HEPA filters to trap pollutants like pollen and bacteria. But these can clog the unit, eventually forcing the appliance to use more electricity just to operate normally. The more dirt that’s built up inside the appliance, the harder it has to work.

Plus, don’t forget that choosing the best air conditioner for your household also means considering the model’s energy efficiency and if the wattage amount is suitable in relation to the size of the room. Cheaper air conditioners are generally rated as less efficient, which can be problematic since a higher energy efficiency star rating means lower running costs.

How to save on air conditioning running costs

There are some inevitable costs that come with owning an air conditioner: The initial purchase, installation, ongoing maintenance, and of course the running costs all add up. But there are ways to help minimise the price of keeping cool. Here are a few ways to lower you air conditioner costs:

If you want to learn more about air conditioner running costs, we go into more detail in this report.

Air Conditioner Reviews & Ratings

Picture credit: tonchonlathorn / Shutterstock.com

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