As summer approaches, many of us will be relying on our AC to keep us cool and comfortable at home. But as temperatures start to climb, so do electricity costs. Now is the perfect time to consider how much it costs to run different types of appliances and decide which is the most cost-effective and energy-efficient way to cool your home.
There are various options, from the more basic fan to a more complete central air conditioning system. A massive 96% of Americans have central AC installed at home, some regions accounting for more than others – but where you live will play a part in how much you use it during the summer months.
The average cost to install AC is $8,750. So if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to cool your home this summer, look below at the options available, the cost to run each, the upfront costs to install them, and other ways to save.
How much does it cost to run cooling appliances?
In the above graphic, we have used data from Silicon Valley Power to give an insight into what kind of monthly bills you can expect to pay with each listed appliance, adding an evaporative cooler and heat pump. We have calculated the monthly energy costs assuming that the appliance will be used for 12 hours per day, using the latest data from EIA to calculate the average electricity rate.
As illustrated above, a ceiling fan is the cheapest way to cool your home, costing homeowners an average of about $2.82 a month. However, ceiling fans alone might not be enough in warmer areas of the country. At the costlier end of things, we have a central air conditioner, which for a 3-ton (12 SEER) unit will set you back roughly $169 a month.
Breakdown of affordable alternatives to central AC
Another affordable solution to cooling your home is by using a pedestal fan. They are commonly used for quick and effective cooling in a concentrated location. Typically, homeowners will supplement their central AC with a pedestal fan, similar to a ceiling fan, by moving the cool air around a room with its oscillation features. One advantage it has over ceiling fans is the ability to move it from room to room to wherever it is needed most. The cost to buy one will vary greatly depending on its features and brand.
Cost to run: $1.69 a month
Cost to buy: $40–$300
2. Ceiling fan
A ceiling fan is the most cost-effective way to cool your home during the warmer months. This is because they require very little energy compared to other systems. The cost to run a ceiling fan for an hour can vary from $0.4 to $1.10, depending on the type of fan. Upfront installation costs are determined by an array of factors, including the size, the number of blades, the motor, and the style, among others. It comes in various styles and colors to fit any decor and can be operated with a remote control or a wall switch.
Ceiling fans cannot provide cool air, but help circulate it and blow a welcomed breeze. It can also help spread the cool air produced by an AC system, meaning you can rely less on it.
Cost to run a ceiling fan: $2.82 a month
Cost to install a ceiling fan: $350 - $650
3. Whole-house fan
As the name suggests, a whole-house fan is a way of cooling your whole house. It draws in fresh air from outside, and then by creating negative pressure, it forces it out of vents in the attic. A whole house fan uses a low amount of energy and therefore keeps monthly electric bills down and the temperature inside. You can expect to pay around $.03 to $.06 an hour to have it running, making it a cost-effective cooling solution. Remember that having screens on doors and windows will stop insects and debris from entering your home and vents. The size of the fan, as well as its features and settings, will dictate final installation costs.
Cost to run: $16.91 a month
Cost to install a whole-house fan: $580-$1,270
4. Window/wall AC
Window air conditioning units are an effective way to cool a single room in your home during the hot summer months, particularly if you don't require air conditioning regularly or for the whole house at once. These units are available in various sizes that correspond to the size of the room you want to cool, and they come with a range of features that determine their installation costs. Most common window units are around the 8,000 BTUs mark to cool a room with an average size of 340 square feet. The unit size is one of the biggest factors in its upfront costs.
Cost to run: $41.15 a month
Cost to install a window AC unit: $350-$1,150
5. Evaporative cooler
Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, utilize the natural evaporation process to reduce the temperature of indoor and outdoor areas, making them a more economical option than traditional air conditioning systems. You can install them on windows, rooftops, or the ground; alternatively, you can use freestanding portable units that can be placed anywhere. Swamp cooler also adds moisture to the air, making it a good choice for dry climates.
Cost to run: $97.53 a month
Cost to install an evaporative cooler: $1,500-$3,500
6. Air source heat pump
A heat pump is a more energy-efficient alternative to central AC, costing less to run per month. The price to run a heat pump depends on its size, type, and efficiency rating. A 3-ton unit can efficiently cool an average space of 1,500sq.ft. For the average home, it costs around $112 a month to run a 3-ton heat pump when being used to cool. It is also a good choice for new homes, where some areas of the country are introducing electrification laws, meaning systems such as gas furnaces might not be permitted. The cost of a heat pump varies greatly, depending on the type, size, and brand.
Cost to run: $112.75 a month
Cost to install a heat pump: $3,700-$11,000
Further ways to save money on cooling appliances
Install a smart thermostat
Smart thermostats can control the temperature of your home based on your preferences and schedule and can even be accessed remotely via a mobile device if there is a change in your schedule. You can make sure your cooling system is switched off at times while nobody is home and even have it come on before you arrive home. By adjusting your thermostat to a temperature 7°F to 10°F lower than its usual setting for 8 hours a day, you can save up to 10% annually on your heating and cooling costs.
Cost to install a smart thermostat: $200 - $500
Install shades or blinds
Your windows play a huge role in how cool your home is. You can lose as much as 50% of cooling effects because of windows, making the use of shades and blinds vitally important. Similar to how sunlight entering through the window during winter can heat rooms, blocking the sun from entering in summer can keep rooms cool. Lowering blinds or drawing the drapes during the daytime can help avoid this. Window blinds and shades help with insulation and can keep cooling costs down by absorbing light. The preferred energy-efficient window blinds are blackout blinds, which do a great job of preventing light and heat from entering rooms. However, this is more convenient for when nobody is home.
Cost to install blinds: $300-$1,000
Cost to install shades: $350-$950
Air seal and insulate your home
While running your cooling appliances, you don’t want to lose air through gaps and holes around the house. Poor insulation means poor energy efficiency, resulting in higher monthly bills. Not only do air leaks indicate cool air escaping, but it also results in warm air entering the home. It’s a good idea to conduct an energy audit first to know exactly where air leaks are, at an average cost of around $250. According to the EPA, implementing air sealing and insulation in attics, floors above crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists can save 15% on heating and cooling expenses or an average of 11% on overall energy costs for homeowners.
Stay cool for less
While many homes opt for central AC to remain cool in warmer months, more affordable options exist. Various methods and systems could help you save on monthly bills and energy. The size of the cooling system you choose is important. When the system is too small or undersized, it will need to run non-stop to attain the desired cooling effect. On the other hand, a correctly sized system will consume less energy and effectively cool your home. There are other variables that might impact the size and power of HVAC needed besides the size of your home. Consult with the experts about the best HVAC system option for your home.
Irena is an industry analyst at Fixr.com. She analyzes and looks for visual ways to simplify data. She has been researching and writing about home improvement and personal finance since 2018. At Fixr.com, she is constantly looking to give homeowners the best advice on how to invest in their homes.