How much electricity does my AC consume?

AC Cooling Efficiency Energy Cost

Stop that AC unit!

My recent post on lowering your energy consumption due to your Air Conditioning provided steps you could use to control your AC, but it didn't analyze how much energy your air conditioner uses when it is running.  We will look at calculating AC energy consumption in this post.

In order to figure out the electricity consumption of your air conditioner unit, you have to first read the label to figure out how many Amps and at what Voltage your unit consumes electricity.  You will find this on the unit's data tags.  I found this helpful page from InspectAPedia describing the information on an AC unit's data tag.

The biggest reason your AC unit consumes so much electricity is to run the compressor.  If you need to know why your AC unit has a compressor, check out HowStuffWorks on Air Conditioning.  On the data tag, you will see energy data for the compressor and the fan.

Note: We have an updated post that may provide a more accurate method of calculating your AC power consumption costs.

Chances are if you have central AC that you have outdoor units and that those outdoor units run at 208-230 Volts.  Find what Voltage your unit operates at on the tag.  This is the easy part.

Next, locate the section on the data tag for the fan.  This is just the fan that pulls air over the condenser coils and allows the heat from your home that has collected in the refrigerant fluid to escape into the surrounding outside air.  Since this fan is just moving air, it does not require much power to do so.  On my unit, the fan had an FLA (full load amp) rating of 1 Amp.

As mentioned, the big consumer of electricity on your AC unit is the compressor. This consumes much more power than the fan because it has to compress a fluid (your refrigerant) as opposed to just move air (like the fan).  The value you want to look for on the data tag is the RLA value, this is the Rated Load Amps and is the amount of current (amps) your compressor should consume if it is operating normally.  You may also have an LRA (locked rotor amps) value.  This is how many amps your compressor would consume if for some reason it jammed up and it is the maximum possible amperage draw of the compressor.  But under normal Air Conditioning, your unit will consume its RLA value.  My RLA value is 14.1 Amps.

Once you have the amperage values for your compressor and fan, add them together.  This is how many amps the unit as a whole consumes when it is running.  From there, all you need to due is multiply the total current consumption by the voltage to find the power your unit consumes in Watts.  If you've read my blog What's a kWh, you know that once you know how many Watts an item consumes, you just have to mulitply that value by the time the item is on to get total energy consumption (watts*time=power*time=energy).

So, how do you save energy by raising the temperature on your thermostat?  When you raise the temperature on the thermostat, it means the AC doesn't have to stay on as long to get the air in your house at the desired temperature.  If you look at the "energy equation" above, lowering the amount of time something is on means that you lower the total amount of energy it consumes!

Use the calculator below to figure out how much energy your AC unit consumes!  Plug in the items in yellow and the cells in green will tell you how much energy your AC uses and how much it costs you.  You will need an estimate of how much time the AC is on per day (in hours).  You will also need to know how much you pay per kWh. If you dont know that value, then you really need to read my blog more often!

***Update 8/16/10 - Something has been bugging me for the last few months about this post.  Mainly the fact that I only looked at the electricity consumption of the AC unit itself, not the entire AC system.  If you have central air conditioning, there are two parts in the system that consume electricity: the AC unit and the fan that circulates the air through your home.  Your AC system is the largest energy hog in your house.   Try using it less often. Instead, use desk fans or ceiling fans in the rooms you are in.  And finally, turn up your thermostat in the summer!

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Does a Central AC unit consume more electricity when its initially FIRST turned on?
ckmapawatt's picture
Probably a little bit more just to get everything up to speed.
Sorry to be a little behind the understanding curve, but what values go in the 'user input values' and 'calcutlated values'?
I live in Florida and in the winter, we use our central A/C for heat instead of air. Does the A/C use the same amount of electricity regardless of whether it's heating or cooling?
ckmapawatt's picture
There is a difference in the A/C and the furnace. You must have electrical resistance heat in your furnace?
Thanks for the reply, Chris. I should have told you I live in Florida. We have central air conditioning units in the attic and the condensers sits outside on the ground. The thermostat lets you switch from heat to cool for the same a/c unit. Nancy.
ckmapawatt's picture
Take the FLA information from your AC unit, your electricity price and the estimated hours of operation for the user input values and everything else should calculate.
Chris, Thanks for this however I completed the 'input values box' with the FLA + Price x hours but the calculated values' box showns nothing. Any further help to this novice would be appreciated? R
in regards to the comment about requiring more electricity when the unit is first turned on. the answer is YES, and that is what LRA (locked rotor) ACTUALLY refers to. and yes, its a considerable amount of electricity, which raises your bill quite a bit.
neardley the AC uses less in the winter because it doesnt have any latent heat to remove (humidity)


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