How Much Electricity Does an AC Unit Use?

by Hannah Stephens
outdoor unit of the air conditioner

Most American families rely on air conditioning systems to keep them cool during hot, sticky summers. However, this comfort comes at a cost — collectively, U.S. citizens spend a staggering $29 billion on air conditioning every year. Air conditioning can significantly impact your utility bills, so it's worth knowing how to budget for home cooling costs.

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Not all air conditioners are created equal, and your system type can make a massive difference in how much (or how little) you pay. So, how much energy does an air conditioner use?

How Much Electricity Do These Types of Air Conditioners Use Per Hour?

Understanding how energy usage differs between air conditioner types can help you estimate how much electricity your system requires — and how much money you should expect to spend. Below, we'll outline how many watts and kilowatts common types of AC systems use per hour:

Central AC

EnergySage estimates that a typical central air conditioner uses roughly 2.3 kilowatts of energy per hour, or 2,275 watts. However, the amount of energy your system uses depends on several factors. Units with higher cooling capacities typically require more power to run, while your air conditioner may use less electricity if you install an energy-efficient model.

Portable AC

Portable air conditioners typically have lower BTU ratings than installed ACs, so you may be surprised to learn that they use significantly more energy per hour than window or mini-split systems. That's because they release a lot of the removed heat straight back into the room through poorly insulated exhaust pipes, making them relatively inefficient. How much energy your portable AC unit uses per hour depends on the make, BTU rating and model, but an average unit uses around 0.88 kilowatts, or 880 watts, per hour.


Mini-split air conditioners are usually more energy-efficient than ducted, portable and window-mounted units. Exactly how efficient depends on factors such as the outdoor temperature, BTU rating and manufacturer, but a typical 12,000 BTU mini-split unit uses around 0.6 kilowatts per hour or 600 watts.

Window Unit

Window air conditioners use significantly less energy than whole-house systems because they usually have lower BTU ratings and only cool a single room. On average, a window unit uses 0.618 kilowatts of power per hour, or 618 watts. If you have multiple units, you'll need to multiply this figure by the number of window air conditioners you use to estimate your hourly energy usage.

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How Much Does It Cost to Run AC?

Estimating how much it costs to run an AC unit isn't an exact science because it depends on several variables. Cost factors include the type of unit, your air conditioner's efficiency and the cost of energy in your area — electricity prices per kilowatt can vary significantly by region.

As of April 2023, the average price of electricity per kilowatt is around 16.5 cents (CAD 0.23), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Therefore, you can calculate the cost of running your air conditioner by multiplying its hourly energy usage by the price of energy per kilowatt. Let's explore how much you should expect to spend on air conditioning electricity per hour, day and summer.

Per Hour

Bear in mind that your air conditioner's running wattage is likely lower than the wattage stated in your user manual. Most ACs cycle on and off several times per hour. Manufacturers usually provide the wattage for continuous use, so your unit probably uses significantly less per hour due to off-cycling.

Assuming you have an average-sized central AC system, it will cost around 38 cents (CAD 0.52) per hour to run. Portable ACs cost roughly $0.15 (CAD 0.20) per hour, while window units cost 10 cents (CAD 0.14) per hour. Mini-split systems are typically the cheapest to run, costing just under 10 cents (0.14) per hour on average.

Per Day

You can calculate the cost to run your AC unit per day by multiplying the average price per hour by 24. However, this calculation assumes you use your air conditioner continuously throughout the day — you could spend significantly less if you only use it for a few hours at a time. The following figures outline how much an average air conditioner costs to run for 24 hours:

  • Central AC: $9.11 (CAD 12.44) per day
  • Portable AC: $3.48 (CAD 4.75) per day
  • Mini-split unit: $2.38 (CAD 3.25) per day
  • Window unit: $2.45 (CAD 3.35) per day

Per Summer

Air conditioning typically costs more in areas where the hot weather lasts longer. According to EnergySage, a typical American home requires air conditioning for five months per year, but you may need to use your system for more or less time depending on the local climate. Using your air conditioner continuously during the three months (92 days) of summer could cost:

  • Central AC: $838.12 (CAD 1,145)
  • Portable AC: $320.16 (CAD 437)
  • Mini-split unit: $218.96 (CAD 299)
  • Window unit: $225.40 (CAD 308)

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