Air conditioning running costs and temperatures explained | Finder (2023)

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Split-system air conditioners are the most popular type of cooling tech installed in homes around Australia so we've used different models to give you an estimate of running costs.

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

This will depend largely on the size of your air conditioner, the room you're cooling and where you live.

Here's a look at running costs across each state for various split-cycle air conditioning system sizes.

Air con sizeEnergy usedNSWVICQLDSAACTNTWA
  • Step 1

    We used 4 models of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to give you an idea of running costs across different air conditioning system sizes.

    We chose this specific brand as it won Finder's Best Rated Brand Award for 2020–2021. Consumers said Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was the best for quietness, performance, features, functions and value for money.

    The models that were used are:

    • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – srf35zmxa-s/src35zmxa-s. 2.5kW, 2.5- to 3-star energy rating
    • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – srr35zm-s/src35zmxa-s. 3.5kW, 2.5- to 3.5-star energy rating
    • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – dxc18zsa-w/dxk18zsa-w. 5kW, 2.5- to 3.5-star energy rating
    • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – src80zra-w/srk80zra-w. 8kW, 2.5- to 3.5-star energy rating
    • Good to know. The more stars your air con has the more efficiently it'll run and keep your costs at bay.

    Step 2

    We then used the government's Energy Rating Calculator to calculate running cost estimates for all 4 models.

    Our inputs in the calculator included:

    • Running the air con for cooling for 6 hours daily over 3 months (summer season).
    • The average electricity cost for each state. Since this cost varies across each state, your running costs will also be different depending on where you live.

    Based on the model and our own inputs, the calculator predicted energy consumption and running costs for each air con over the summer period.

    How did we calculate the average electricity cost for each state?
    We used the following methods to work out average usage rates in each state:

    • ACT, NSW, QLD, SA and VIC. We calculated the average usage rates of residential market offers from the 5 retailers with the largest market share in each state.
    • NT and WA. We used the maximum rates for residential customers set by state regulators.
    • TAS. We calculate the average usage rate of residential market offers from the 3 retailers with the largest market share in the state.
    StateAverage cost of electricity
    Australian Capital Territory27.09c/kWh
    New South Wales29c/kWh
    Northern Territory27.37c/kWh
    South Australia37.71c/kWh
    Western Australia30.06c/kWh
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What affects the running cost of an air conditioner?

Air conditioners work primarily by pulling heat out of your house and dumping it outside. Here's what impacts how much power your air con consumes to do its job:

  • Energy efficiency. This is one of the significant factors to impact your bills. The more energy star ratings your air con has, the lower your running costs will be. Split-system air cons are required to have an energy star rating but other types of cooling systems might not.
  • Your air con type. Reverse-cycle split systems are generally more energy-efficient compared to portable or ducted air conditioning systems or just very old models.
  • Outside temperature. The larger the temperature gap between indoors and outdoors, the less efficient your air conditioner runs. It's harder to cool your house down when it's a blazing 35°C day in Brisbane than when it's a more temperate 25°C in Hobart.
  • Target temperature. Each extra degree of cooling forces your air con to work harder. Dropping the thermostat by a single degree can bump up your running costs by 10%.
  • The area you're cooling. Larger rooms have more air to cool and use more energy. If your room is north- or west-facing with windows, it could let in extra heat during summer and take longer to cool.

What's the best temperature to set my air con this summer?

The ideal temperature to set your air con to is 25 degrees. Every additional degree can add 10% to your running costs.

However some states are hotter than others and this may not always work out. Here's a breakdown of optimal temperature settings based on where you live.

RegionClimateTarget air con temperature
North coast, Northern Territory, Central AustraliaTropical21–23°C
South-east Queensland, northern NSWSubtropical25°C
South Australia, south-west Western AustraliaMediterranean24–25°C
TasmaniaMild temperate28°C
ACT and the surrounding parts of NSW and VictoriaOceanic26–27°C
Southern VictoriaModerate oceanic24°C

Source: Crown Power

Is ducted or reverse-cycle air conditioning better?

Reverse-cycle air conditioning is usually the better and cheaper option, especially if you're the one paying the upfront costs of installing it.

Ducted systems are generally preferred if you have zone control. This means you will have control of which room is getting cooled. If there's no zone control, your entire home will have air conditioning running.

Here's how the 2 types of air cons compare if you disregard zone control.

Reverse-cycle ACDucted AC
Designed to cool a single room or spaceDesigned to cool your whole house
Each room can be set to a specific temperatureAll rooms are cooled to the same, centrally set temperature
Relatively easy to installRequires a dedicated duct system to be run throughout your house
Individual units are relatively inexpensive (between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the air con size)Expensive to install ($5,000 to $25,000 depending on the size of your home)

Which type of air conditioner is the cheapest to run?

Reverse-cycle air conditioners are largely deemed the cheapest type of system to use for both heating and cooling over the years.

The higher the energy star rating of the system, the cheaper it'll be run.

What size air conditioner do I need for my space?

This will largely depend on the size of the room that requires cooling. The bigger the room, the larger your unit will need to be to work efficiently.

With that in mind, here's a general guide to help you out.

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Room size (m2)Common room typesAir con size
10–25m2Bedroom, study, small office2.6kW
25–35m2Bedroom and ensuite, office, small lounge room, small kitchen3.5kW
35–60m2Master bedroom, medium lounge room, kitchen5–6kW
60–80m2Large lounge room, big open plan areas, small shops7–8kW

What are the best air conditioners in Australia?

Split-system air conditioners are the most popular type of cooling system used in Australia.

The best-rated brand in the 2020–2021 Finder Awards went to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Consumers said the brand was the best for quietness, performances, features, functions and overall value for money.

You can:

  • View our top 10 picks for split-system air conditioners
  • View our picks for best air conditioners in Australia across different categories
  • View our top picks for portable air conditioners

How can I reduce the running cost of my air conditioner?

These 5 tips can help you keep your energy bills at bay when running your air conditioner this summer.

  • Clean the filters regularly. It's recommended that you clean your air conditioner's filters at least once a year. Filters can become clogged with dust, pollen or even mould, lowering their efficiency.
  • Raise the thermostat. Setting the right target temperature is vital. Each extra degree of cooling can add 10% to your bill.
  • Use your air con for fewer hours. Running your air con only during the hottest parts of the day – say, cutting down from 4 to 3 hours of use – will knock 25% off your cooling bill.
  • Use fans to circulate air. If you only need some light or localised cooling, such as a small room or a desk, use a fan. They work nearly as well as an air con for a fraction of the cost.
  • Close doors, windows and blinds. If you stop heat from getting in, you'll have a much easier time keeping your living spaces cool. If there's a cool breeze, you might want to open your windows instead.

How much can you save on air conditioner costs by switching energy providers?

Your savings will largely depend on the type of energy plan you're currently signed up to and your usage.

The best thing you can do to maximise on savings in the first instance is compare energy plans to see if you can get a better deal.

By doing this, you could get better rates and reduce the cost of running your air conditioner.

Use Finder's energy engine to start comparing. It'll take you under 15 minutes.

For best results, input details of your previous energy bills over the last 12 months.

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Frequently asked questions

  • This will vary depending on what the temperature is outdoors.

    If you've cooled your room enough to be comfortable for the next few hours then you're better with the air con off. This also means you're saving energy and being more environmentally friendly.

    However, turning it on and off every little while can rack up costs because your air conditioning unit will start all over again at its most powerful speed instead of adjusting gradually to a less powerful setting when your room's cool enough.

  • Finder's overall top pick for portable or standalone air cons is the De'Longhi Pinguino Air-to-Air 3.3 KW Portable Air Conditioner.

    You can check out our other best picks across different categories that might be better suited to your budget and lifestyle.

  • This will largely depend on the size of your air con and its efficiency, and where you live.

    Let's take Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' 3.5kW system as an example along with an average electricity price of 29 cents per kWh.

    (Video) Should I Buy a Single Stage, Two Stage, or Variable Speed Air Conditioner

    Running the air con for 24 hours a day over a 1-month period will cost $204.62 or approximately $7 per day.


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