Can you run a Portable AC off a Generator?

Can you run a portable AC off a generator? This article is all about the size of generator you need to power a portable air conditioner. And, of course, how to do it safely!

Quick answer: You can run most portable air conditioners on 2500W AC generators. For portable air conditioners with over 14,000 BTU cooling capacity, you need over 3000W generators. Make sure the generator is located outside to prevent carbon monoxide exposure indoors.

Let’s see how to get to these numbers.

How much power does a generator provide?

The amount of power a generator provides depends on the type of generator. Small-sized portable generators for camping, cabins, and RVs produce anywhere from 1200W to 3300W.

Of course, there are bigger and smaller devices. You can find the exact wattage your generator provides on the casing.

Larger portable generators provide a maximum power of 15,000W. And then there are home-sized generators that can supply all of your home’s appliances.

This article is about smaller-sized portable generators. If you have a large >15,000W generator, you don’t need to worry about power constraints.

How much power does a portable air conditioner consume?

Portable air conditioners consume around 100W per 1,000BTU. An average portable air conditioner of 10,000 BTU consumes 1000W.

But that’s just an average value! In reality, the power consumption of a portable air conditioner varies.

During peak power consumption, most portable air conditioners consume up to 2000W (or even more). Usually, a portable air conditioner draws such high amounts of power in the beginning of a new cooling cycle when it compresses the refrigerant to extract heat from your room.

Likewise, there are slower times, when the air conditioner only blows out the cold air (without actively compressing). Then, it consumes only 200W to 500W depending on the temperature and fan settings.

A generator can only run a portable air conditioner if it is rated to suit the peak power consumption of a portable AC. To find the peak power consumption of a portable AC, you can either use an electricity usage monitoring device or estimate.

In general, you can estimate the peak power consumption of a portable air conditioner to be twice the average power rating. On some portable air conditioners or on their packaging, the peak and average power consumption are documented!

Which generators are suitable for portable ACs?

Generators rated at over 2000W should be safe for most 10,000 BTU portable air conditioners.

However, this is a conservative estimate and I recommend getting a bigger generator than that. During peak power consumption, you are otherwise not able to power any other devices off the generator.

If your generator wattage is too small for the portable air conditioner then you risk damaging your generator, your AC, or both.

Because of this risk, I recommend getting a generator with at least 2500W – 3000W. Then, you are safe to power a portable AC. Also, you don’t have to worry about connecting multiple devices at once. You can keep powering other devices, such as your phone charger, simultaneously.

Here’s a table of minimum generator sizes for different portable AC sizes.

Air Conditioner sizeGenerator size
8,000 BTU>1500W
10,000 BTU>2000W
12,000 BTU>2500W
14,000 BTU>3000W
16,000 BTU>3500W

Note that these are minimum power ratings for generators. If you want to be safe, get a generator 500W bigger than specified.

Recommended generator to power portable ACs

This 3600W / 30A generator (click here to view it on amazon) is able to handle all regular portable ACs.

It is, however, a heavy product. Therefore, I’d recommend this one only if you use it in situations where you don’t have to carry it by hand a lot. It’s a good choice for RVing and cabins.

How to run a portable AC on a smaller generator

On small generators, you usually are only able to power one portable air conditioner without any other devices connected simultaneously.

If you plug more devices into your small generator, you risk overloading and damage.

To prevent this, you should run your portable AC on moderate settings. You should only set target temperatures slightly below the current temperature on the thermostat.

This ensures that your portable AC does not draw too much power from the generator.

If there is an energy-savings or eco mode on the AC, make use of it. Oftentimes, you can halve the power consumption using that.

If there is no eco mode, just cutting the target temperature on the thermostat accomplishes the same goal.

Setting eco mode and lower target temperatures should reduce the peak power consumption on most portable ACs.

Safety considerations

Usually, settings, where you power your portable AC from a generator instead of from a wall outlet, are when you are outside your home.

Outdoors, in tents or RVs, you don’t have the same well-insulated walls as at home. The reduced insulation causes the portable AC to draw a higher average power than it would do at home.

Therefore make sure that all the power cords are properly connected. Also ensure, that you use a proper heavy-duty extension cord, to prevent overheating.

Protect yourself from carbon monoxide emissions

Generators exhaust carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas. It is important to not expose yourself or your family to the generator’s emissions. Therefore, place your generator outside the tent, cabin, RV, or whatever room you are trying to run your portable AC in.

Portable air conditioners themselves do not emit any carbon monoxide, only the generator does.

Also, placing the generator and AC in the same room would annihilate the purpose of the air conditioner, as the generator produces heat.

So, separate generator and AC in two separate rooms. The room of the generator has to be vented.


You can run your portable air conditioner off a generator. However, make sure your generator is sized properly for your portable aircon.

Most 2500W – 3000W generators should be able to handle most portable air conditioners.

Of course, there are portable ACs that draw an exceptionally high amount of power. But if you possess such an AC, you likely already know that!