Heating and cooling can account for about 40% of your energy use.
There are many ways to reduce cooling costs and cool homes efficiently.
Make your cooling more effective
You can reduce the amount of energy you use to stay cool by making a few simple and practical changes.
- Wear light, loose clothing made of breathable fabrics, like cotton.
- Set your air conditioner's thermostat to 24-27oC or as high as you feel comfortable with. Every degree higher may help reduce the running costs by up to 10%.
- Choose the best cooling appliance for your needs based on the size of the area you need to cool. A cooling specialist can help you with this decision.
Tips for your home
Keep out unwanted heat by shading north and west sides of your home. Adjustable external shading, deciduous trees and closing curtains and blinds will help keep your home cooler in summer, without permanently blocking the sun you need in winter.
Only cool the areas you need
When using a refrigerated air conditioner, only cool the areas you need by closing doors to rooms you aren’t using and using zone controls on a whole-of-home system if you have them. Sealing gaps around doors and windows and using draught excluders under doors will also reduce wasted energy.
Evaporative air conditioners work differently and will be more effective if you open some doors and windows to increase air flow through the home.
If it is cooler outside at night, save energy by turning your air conditioner off and opening doors and windows to allow cooler breezes to enter your home. If possible, use window locks or lockable screen doors to keep your home safe.
In summer, up to 60% of heat can be gained through your ceilings and walls if you don’t have insulation.
Be aware that if you insulate your home without shading, meaning your home gets hot faster, the insulation will trap the heat inside. Shading will reduce this.
If you don’t have ceiling insulation, consider having it installed. If you rent, ask your landlord if they will install it. Insulation can deteriorate over time, so ensure it is replaced or topped up when it’s no longer effective.
Cooling appliance running costs
Cooling appliances work in different ways and use different amounts of energy. Choosing the best cooling appliance for your needs can help you lower your energy use and running costs. Cooling the smallest possible area is generally more energy efficient than cooling multiple rooms or a whole house.
The table below can help you select the best cooling appliance for your needs, and shows an estimated hourly running costs for those on a flat rate tariff - where you are charged the same rate all day - and for the different time periods for those on a Time of Use plan.
The examples are only a guide and will differ depending on:
- the size and efficiency of your appliance
- how big the area is you are cooling
- what the thermostat of the appliance is set to
- whether your home is insulated and draught-proofed.
You can get a more accurate idea of how much your cooling costs you to run by:
|Cooling appliance||Hourly running costs||Works best in||Operating tips|
Ceiling and portable fans |
Time of Use
|Models available for all room sizes and spaces|
Portable evaporative |
Time of Use
|Rooms up to 20m2|
Portable refrigerative |
Time of Use
|Rooms up to 20m2|
Window and split refrigerative systems |
Room up to 36m2
Time of Use
Time of Use
Windows systems, rooms up to 36m2
Split systems, rooms up to 75m2
Ducted evaporative systems|
Time of Use
|Whole of house (200m2 home with 125m2 cooled)|
Ducted refrigerative systems |
Time of Use
Whole of house|
(200m2 home with 125m2 cooled)
Running costs are a guide only. Calculations are based on AGL’s standing retail contract electricity rates, which are generally aligned with the regulated Default Market Offer. Typical Time of Use shoulder period is 10.00 am-3.00 pm, off-peak is 1.00 am-6.00 am, peak is 6.00 am-10.00 am and 3.00 pm-1.00 am. Flat rate tariffs are charged at the same rate all day.
Methodology is available from the Government of South Australia’s Energy Advisory Service.
What to look for when buying a new cooling appliance
If you are buying a new cooling appliance, talk to a cooling specialist about the best option for your needs. The specialist can work out the cooling power output (rated in kilowatts (kW)) that you need, taking into account the size of the area to cool, size and location of any windows, and ceiling height.
A cooling appliance that is too small will not effectively cool your home, will work constantly for longer periods and result in higher than necessary running costs.
The following cooling output capacities are not a substitute for seeking specialist air conditioning advice but can be used as a very rough guide to what may be appropriate for your home.
- Room size up to 20m2: 1.5–2.8kW cooling output capacity
- Room size up to 30m2: 2.8– 4.2kW cooling output capacity
- Room size up to 40m2: 4.2 –5.6kW cooling output capacity
- Room size up to 50m2: 5.6–7.0kW cooling output capacity
- Room size up to 60m2: 7.0–8.4kW cooling output capacity
When shopping around for a new cooling appliance, take into account the costs associated with installing, running and maintaining the appliance, as well as the purchase price.
While some appliances may be cheap to buy and/or run on an hourly basis, the cooling they can provide and the area they can cool may be limited. For example, a portable refrigerated unit may not be enough to cool a large room, whereas a ducted evaporative system may cool an entire home and cost only a little more per hour to run.
Some refrigerated air conditioners will have an energy rating label that you can use to compare the energy use and efficiency of different appliances. The more stars the better. If two systems have the same kW cooling output capacity but one has more stars than the other, it means it will use less power to achieve the same cooling output and will cost you less to run.
You can compare the estimated running costs of new appliances on the Energy Rating website.
Buying a new cooling appliance may also be a good time to consider your best options for heating as well. In South Australia, cooling may only be needed at times during a few months each year, while heating can be needed for up to six months. Installing heating and cooling appliances that complement each other, such as reverse cycle air conditioning or an evaporative cooler and a gas space heater, can help to reduce installation and running costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Following the manufacturer’s maintenance and cleaning instructions helps your appliance run as efficiently as possible and keeps it safe.
Keeping safe in hot weather
During extreme heat it is easy to become dehydrated or for your body to overheat, especially for infants and older people. SA Health provides information on staying healthy in extreme heat, particularly when the power goes out.
Telecross REDi is a service provided by the Red Cross to South Australians during heatwaves. During extreme heat events, volunteers call pre-registered clients to check on their safety and wellbeing. If a call goes unanswered, an emergency procedure is activated to check the person is safe.
How air conditioners add to electricity costs
Air conditioner use is the main contributor to the large increases in electricity demand on hot summer days. More than 90% of households in South Australia have at least one air conditioner, and more than 100,000 new air conditioners are purchased in South Australia each year.
According to the Australian Energy Market Commission (2014), a consumer using a large 5kW air conditioner during peak times causes about $1,000 a year in additional network costs, compared to a similar consumer without an air conditioner. The consumer with the air conditioner only pays about $300 extra under the most common network prices. The remaining $700 is paid by other consumers through higher network charges.
The Australian Government's Energy White Paper 2012 (page xiv) highlighted that while the cost to purchase and install a 2kW air conditioner is around $1,500, it can cost the energy system around $7,000 to cover the additional electricity demand from that air conditioner.
Upgrades to electricity network infrastructure and generation have been required to support the increase in electricity demand. This has contributed to higher electricity costs for South Australian households.
Reducing air conditioner energy use can lower the cost of supplying electricity, bills and greenhouse gas emissions, and decrease strain on electrical infrastructure.