Portable AC vs central AC power consumption…which is the most energy-efficient air conditioning unit?

When shopping for an air conditioner, our main issue is we want cool air. But at what cost? For instance, according to the US Department of Energy, a central air conditioning unit accounts for approximately 5% of all energy consumption and costs homeowners over $11 billion every year.

With these statistics, it is not a shock that one of the frequently asked questions homeowners ask us is:

“Can a portable air conditioner save money on energy bills?”

And even more interesting, it is asked by homeowners owning central air conditioners.

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We are here to help you lower your energy bills. We compare the energy consumption of a portable AC and a central air conditioning unit.

And, we tell you how to use the cost-friendly system to lower your electric bill further.

Shall we dive straight into the details?

How Much Power does a Central Air Conditioner Use?

For warmer months, an average central AC uses between 3000 and 3500 watts per hour. The amount goes higher for more extensive systems.

However, running your AC unit in the “fan only” mode can consume up to approximately 750 watts per hour.

How Much Electricity Does A Portable Air Conditioner Use?

A medium-sized portable air conditioning unit uses approximately 2900 watts per hour.

A larger portable AC unit can exceed this amount and even the energy consumption of central AC units. Larger portable air conditioners can consume approximately 4100 watts per hour.

You need to note here that the size of the air conditioner you have will play a massive role in the amount of energy it uses.

There is a common belief that portable AC units are more energy efficient than mini splits or central AC. This is all a false belief.

If you compare a portable unit with other AC units, you will find that they don’t score any better. You will often find that ductless AC and window air conditioners score better in SEER and EER ratings.

The short and simple answer to this is, therefore, not really.

And then why do homeowners use them to lower energy bills? Well, their working principle contributes to this. Therefore, how you use them will determine how much money it saves you.

Check out these tricks below. 

Portable Air Conditioners: The Power and Freedom of “Spot Cooling”

One good thing about a portable unit is that it allows you to cool just one area.

After work, many homeowners spend time in the living room. The thing with a central AC is that it will cool all rooms, even those not in use.

If you want to eliminate this wastage, have your central system maybe on 82. And then, you can use your portable unit to cool the specific room in use. This can help lower your energy bills.

And we recommend this if you need to cool other rooms in advance. However, you can switch off the central unit and cool spots in use with a portable air conditioner.

Using a portable unit to cool can cost you up to $1 per day(1). And the cooling season in the US is usually about 130 days.

After you are ready to wind up the day and move to the bedroom, move with your portable unit and enjoy a fantastic night while cutting down on energy bills.

Individual Room Air Conditioners

There will always be that room that won’t get cool no matter how much you run your central unit. Sometimes, homeowners resort to central AC maintenance to solve this all in vain. 

Many times, it can be due to:

  • drafty windows,
  • cooking activities in or nearby,
  • computer equipment running,
  • room add-ons.

Whenever there is a room that would not get cool enough, the first thought for homeowners is usually adjusting their central air conditioner.

In this case, portable AC use would step in. using it to just cool that particular area will save loads on electricity bills.

How to Use Portable air conditioner to save energy

Portable units are generally not cheaper to run when compared to central AC.

However, the good thing is that you can tremendously lower your energy bills if you tactfully use your portable AC.

Therefore, if you ask us whether the portable units cost lower in electricity bills, we will tell you it is all about how you use them.

Save Money and Electricity by Cooling One Room at a Time

The illusion that a portable air conditioner reduces cooling costs is because it cools a particular targeted place at a time.

And we encourage you to take advantage of this feature of portable AC units. Why cool the entire house when you are using just one room?

In a small apartment or secondary spaces in your house, you can even replace your central AC system with a portable unit. If you live in a large house, you can move with your portable unit from one room to another to supplement the central AC system.

Picture this; switch off the central AC system and use your portable unit to cool your bedroom while sleeping. In the morning, you move with the system to the living room or your home office.

You will save much more energy with this trick.

Use a Portable AC Unit to Piggyback on Your Central AC Unit

Two main reasons to consider running a portable air conditioner alongside your central air conditioner are:

  • reduce the time you run your central AC unit, allowing you to save money and keep your energy bills low,
  • To provide extra cooling for rooms that receive more direct sunlight than the others,

If you live in a warm climate, you most likely run your AC more than six months a year. And if you would love to save energy, you want to avoid overworking your central air conditioner.

One thing that makes your central air conditioner run longer than it should is a room that receives more direct sunlight. You can use a portable air conditioner to supplement your central air conditioner.

Think of it as equipment to offset the workload of a central unit.

Portable ACs Can Serve More Than One Purpose

We often think of a portable air conditioner as a way to cool a single room at a time. However, you can also use your portable unit to heat your house, which is a great way to save money.

If you are looking to stretch a dollar, get a unit with a cooling and heating system. And even a step ahead, consider getting a unit with a dehumidifier.

Also, air conditioner install process can be pretty expensive. Good thing you do not need the installation with a portable AC. 

Save Energy with A Portable ACs Built-In Smart Features

A programmable thermostat is an excellent way to save energy using a central air conditioning unit. However, you can get little accessories for portable air conditioners to serve this purpose.

For instance, you can have a control unit to remotely control your portable unit from your smartphone.

Also, you can have a programmable timer that can help manage your system. This feature will allow the unit to start cooling automatically when you are home and turn off when you are out.

This way, you do not have to keep cooling your house when outside.

Will a Portable AC Increase Your Electric Bill?

You will increase your electric bill when using a portable air conditioner instead of a fan, air cooler, or a mini split or window unit.

However, when it comes to a central AC unit, it depends. If you were running your AC unit at full capacity, and now you replace it with a small portable AC unit, you will most likely lower your energy bills.

However, suppose you use several portable air conditioners to give the same output as a large central air conditioner. In that case, the chances are high that you will have a higher electricity bill.

We encourage you to use a portable air conditioner only to supplement the central air conditioner. Or to only cool a place at a time. Having several large portable units and trying to achieve the output of a central air conditioner is not something you want to try.

It will considerably increase your cooling charges.

How Much Does a Portable Air Conditioner Cost to Run?

On average, a portable AC can cost approximately 17 cents per hour. This is based on the average electricity rate of 14 cents/kWh and the average consumption of 1.2 kWh/hour(2).

1.2 kWh/hour X 14 cents/kWh = 17 cents/hour.

Assuming you run your portable air conditioner for approximately 6 hours per day, the total energy consumption will be 7.2 kWh/day. If you multiply it by 0.14/kWh, you will have $1 per day.

Therefore, on average, the cost of running a portable unit should come to around $30.

Note: These are just average estimates. The cost of running your portable AC unit will vary depending on:

  • size of the unit,
  • the number of hours you run it for,
  • the efficiency of the unit,
  • the electricity company as different companies have different charges,

You want to consult with your local HVAC technician to get accurate figures. 

Are Portable ACs Expensive to Run?

Yes, portable AC units can be expensive to run depending on:

  • the actual consumption of the unit you have,
  • the number of hours you run the unit,
  • the price of electricity.

Note: A portable AC unit uses more electric energy to produce the same heating and cooling output as a central air conditioning unit and split AC systems. However, portable units come in smaller sizes and allow you to cool smaller portions of the house, making them an attractive and cheaper cooling option for households.

Portable AC vs Central AC Power Consumption: Use Portable AC to Supplement Central AC

If you want to save on cooling, check out our fan vs air conditioner. If it comes to a fan vs. air conditioner energy consumption, you can save money when using a fan.

However, if you compare the energy consumption of a portable air conditioner and that of a central unit, you will find no tangible difference. A portable AC unit needs more output to cool the same space as a central AC unit.

Therefore, using a portable unit to cool your entire house will increase your energy bills.

The trick, however, is to use it to cool the spaces you are using at that particular time. For instance, if you are in your home office, you can use it to cool that specific space alone. This way, you avoid accumulating your energy bills and cooling spaces you do not use.

In short, to lower your energy bills, we recommend that you use your portable unit as a supplement to your central AC unit.

Portable Air Conditioner vs Central AC unit Frequently Asked Questions

There is a common belief that a portable unit will tremendously lower your electricity bills. Now it is clear that that is not it. It will all depend on how you use it.

We answer some FAQs to help you understand the energy consumption of these two devices and how to use them better to lower your electricity bills.

How much does it cost to run an air conditioner all day?

The cost depends on your air conditioner’s kilowatt per hour usage. Throughout America, energy costs about 12 cents per kilowatt hour. It’s also important to point out that “running your air conditioner all day” may not mean what you think it does. Air conditioners run at cycles of about 15 minutes, as little as twice hourly. A properly-sized unit will be able to do its job within that time, negating the need to run consistently.

Does portable AC use more electricity than central air?

A portable air conditioner will need more energy than a central air conditioner to cool the same space to the same extent. This is why it is recommended to use them over smaller spaces at a time and not to try and use them to cool a vast space.

Is it cheaper to run a portable AC than central air?

It is not exactly cheaper to run a portable air conditioner. It appears to be cheaper because they cool a particular small space at a time. However, if they were to cool the entire house, you would find that they are not any cheaper.

Is it cheaper to leave portable AC on all day?

Yes, if you have a programmable thermostat, leaving your AC unit on all day is more energy efficient.

Do portable air conditioners use more electricity than window air conditioners?

A window air conditioner uses energy more efficiently than a portable air conditioner. With a window unit, you get more cooling power per BTU.

Is it worth buying a portable air conditioner?

Yes, but they are great for specific cooling needs. If you are looking for a system to cool your entire house, then a portable air conditioner is not.

However, if you are looking for a system to supplement your central system, and help cut down on cooling costs, then a portable unit will serve you well.

Final Thoughts on portable AC vs Central AC power Consumption

Time for our final words for the central air vs portable air conditioner head-on. We are glad you came this far.

However, if you did not have time to go through it, we still got you covered in the summary below.

A portable air conditioner is not more energy efficient than a central AC system, contrary to what many people believe. Depending on how you use them, portable air conditioners can be more expensive.

However, if your portable AC to supplement central air conditioner, you will considerably lower your energy bills.

call 661-888-0248

Contact us 24/7 for HVAC services!




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