Fan Vs AC – Compared for Costs and Cooling Ability

Holly Curell

Written By

Holly Curell

Expert Reviewed By

Josh Mitchell

Last Updated On

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Air conditioners and fans remain the most viable commercial and private indoor cooling solutions. Most American homes like mine have a mix of both.

In this guide, I'll discuss which is more costly to run, which lasts longer, and other factors comparing fans and air conditioners. 

Read on to discover if fans, AC, or a mix of both are best for your own home setup.

Key Takeaways

  • If you want to lower the room temperature, air conditioners are the way to go. However, to promote air circulation, fans are recommended.
  • Fans are far more energy saving and cheaper to run compared to a typical AC.
  • Most fans are also a lot more portable compared to ACs.

Fan Versus Air Conditioners – Which Is Best?

AC Wins For Cooling Down the Air

True AC units turn warm indoor air into cool air using a refrigerant.

So no matter the type you choose (central, portable, window, etc.), they provide comfortable, cool air to the entire house or one specific room, lowering its temperature.

In contrast, a fan doesn’t necessarily cool your room. In fact, it doesn’t do much to bring down the temperature of a space. 

Instead, it circulates indoor air to minimize room stuffiness.

The bottom line here is that air conditioners lower the room's temperature, while fans circulate air. 

ACLAB Note:

You can't hook up any AC in your room and expect it to cool it down. It has to be sized properly (Read this guide). But if done right, even a small window AC can be highly effective at making the space more comfortable as compared to a large fan.

Choose Fans For Portability

One of the most valuable properties of a fan is that it can move anywhere you require them.

Some of the smallest fans can easily be placed on kitchen counters and even bedroom nightstands. I have a home desk fan that travels around my home with me each day. 

Even taller designs can be shifted from one room to another without hassle.

On the other hand most air conditioning systems need to be permanently set up in the house. Even portable air conditioners require adequate venting through a window, making them more difficult to move than fans.

Of course, there are a few exceptions, such as camping air conditioners, but these are not powerful enough for cooling an entire room. 

Power Consumption & Energy Usage Determine Cost To Run

All air conditioners need electricity to run. However, if you believe all AC units are expensive to run, think again!

Nowadays, many models come with higher energy efficiency. For example, some window ACs can only cost $35 a year to run, with a 15 EER. 

Many air conditioner brands will provide these energy savings details along upfront. 

ACLAB Note:

Inverter ACs are especially energy efficient, as they use variable speed compressors to slightly adjust the temperature as needed, rather than cycling on and off.

Fans, however, consume very little energy. This is because their low-watt motors are usually highly efficient.

To calculate how much a fan would cost per year, I follow this simple formula:

(Wattage x Number of Hours Used) / 1000 x Price Per kWh

The average kWh in the US is around $0.13. So here's an example with a 45 watt tower fan: 

(45 x 8 hours a day) / 1000 x $0.13 = $0.05 per day

Monthly = $1.40

Annually = $16.84

Both AC and fans use electricity and aren't free to run, but even the most budget conscious people can work either option into their spending by choosing energy efficient models. 

Ease Of Installation & Maintenance

Air conditioners have a complex and lengthy installation process when compared to fans.

However, many AC manufacturers are now making it a lot easier: they offer applicable installation kits alongside every tool you’ll need to set it up.

Though some units require the help of professional HVAC technicians to be installed, others are simple to install particularly the portable AC. Window ACs often require brackets but that can also be installed by yourself with a bit of effort.

Most fans, in contrast, only need a plug to perform. The exception here are wall mounted fans and ceiling fans.

Both fans and air conditioners require ongoing maintenance to ensure the best operation. This typically includes cleaning filters of dust and debris. 

ACLAB Note:

Window ACs are generally best suited for vertical sliding windows. For horizontal sliding windows and casement windows, you can either build a DIY contraption to fill the gaps or get a casement window AC.

For Portable ACs, you need to invest in a third party sealing kit for irregular windows.

Fans Are Far Cheaper to Procure and Install

Fans are less expensive than air conditioners. You can buy a fan anywhere from $20 (desk fan) to $350 (ceiling fan) and more. Newer "bladeless fans" can cost upwards of $500.

Also, the installation cost of a fan varies from model to model. For example, the cost to install a desk fan is nothing; however, setting up a ceiling fan can cost you up to $300, including labor and parts.

Alternately, air conditioners can cost between $100 to $4000 and more. Similar to fans, the installation cost of ACs also varies from model to model.

For example, the cost of installing a centralized system ranges from $3300 to $7900. On the other hand, a portable AC  or window AC can usually be installed for somewhere between $250 and $600.

Noise Levels Depends Upon The Type of Appliance

The noise produced by air conditioners and fans depends on several things, including:

  • Intended Use: Shop fans will be more powerful and much louder than fans designed for bedroom use. 
  • Product Placement: A window air conditioner right next to your bed will be much louder than one placed across the room, during sleep. Central air conditioners are often the loudest option, but because their compressors our outside, we don't hear them much indoors.
  • Fan Motor & Speed: Lower fan speeds are always quieter, but can also be less effective. For ACs, inverter compressor models are always the quietest, incrementally adjusting the fan speed based on the current temperature.  
  • Appliance Size: While not always the case, larger products are typically louder than their smaller counterparts. For example, traditional portable air conditioners are very effective at cooling a space, but they are almost always louder than window ACs.
dB comparison
It's important to check the manufacturer's specifications regarding the noise level of a product, because they can vary widely across the board depending on these factors I've listed.

Overall, the noise level of fans usually ranges from 29 to 70 decibels based on the type of fan. 

In contrast, air conditioners have noise levels between 31 to 83 decibels, also based on the style. Mini splits are the quietest where as Window ACs have an average noise rating of 55 dB. However, those with an inverter compressor are the quietest units reaching as low 40 dB.

You can lower some portable ACs by following our guidelines in this article.

Fans Can Typically Last Longer

Fans can last longer under normal running conditions. An average fan can last anywhere from 3-15 years. 

On the contrary, premium fans can function adequately for up to 30 years, provided they have their maintenance.

Modern air conditioning systems can last anywhere between 15 to 20 years, while older ACs can survive between 10 to 12 years.

Moreover, the efficiency and health of air conditioners are based on many factors such as model type, proper maintenance, and care.


Pros & Cons Of Using Fans At Home

Benefits

  • Low upfront cost and are less expensive to operate
  • Compared to air conditioners, fans discharge less harmful pollutants
  • Some fans, especially portable ones, can be relocated anywhere
  • Simple installation process
  • Don’t need regular maintenance

DOWNSIDES

  • Fans don’t offer the same cooling level as AC units. Also, the cooling fan offer doesn’t spread over the large area
  • They don’t work well in smoldering hot weather or offer dehumidification benefits.
  • Fan blades can be safety hazards.
PROS AND CONS-FAN
  • Ceiling Fans
    Ceiling fans typically contain hub-mounted rotating blades that help spread and circulate the air evenly. These can be found indoors or in outdoor settings and offer quick and easy relief for homeowners. My customers often choose ceiling fans that match their home aesthetic. 
  • Table Fans
    A table fan is compact and small and is ideal for cooling down small rooms. They’re easy to move around and can be effortlessly placed on countertops, desks, and other solid platforms.
  • Pedestal Fans
    Pedestal fans, also known as “stand fans" or "tower fans," are relatively tall and provide height adjustment capabilities. In addition, they have an oscillation feature to optimize air circulation.
  • Wall Mount Fans
    A wall-mount or window fan is best for rooms with limited floor space or area. Apart from producing a concentrated airflow, they are also space savers.
  • Exhaust Fans
    An exhaust fan is typically used in larger spaces or whole homes to release unpleasant odors, smoke, fumes, and excess moisture from a bathroom, kitchen, or workshop. Bathrooms are usually wet and can fall prey to mold development; exhaust fans help keep this issue at bay.

Pros & Cons Of Using Air Conditioners

Benefits

  • Prevent harmful particles such as mildew, mold, pollen from entering
  • Provide controlled temperature with adequate ventilation and clean air
  • Provide a humidity-free indoor environment
  • Inverter units also help provide energy efficiency
  • Compared to coolers and fans, AC units make less noise

DOWNSIDES

  • The upfront cost and the running cost of an air conditioner are pretty high
  • Compared to fans, they have a complicated installation process
  • They require regular maintenance to operate properly
PROS AND CONS-AC
  • Window Air Conditioners
    Window ACs are useful in single rooms and apartments. They are typically easy to install and come in many different BTU sizes to match your room space. 
  • Central Air Conditioners
    These units contain two devices: a condenser placed outside the house and an evaporator placed near the furnace. Both devices are connected through refrigerant piping, enabling the unit to spread cool air via supply & return vents throughout your entire home.
  • Portable Air Conditioners
    Portable AC units are single self-contained appliances wheeled into the room and placed on a floor. They rely on an exterior window or wall to release internal warm air. Portable units can be noisy; however, they’re one of the best temporary cooling solutions.
  • Mini-Split Air Conditioners
    Mini-split air conditioners, or ductless air conditioners, are more common in retrofitted homes. Like the central air conditioning unit, these also come with an external condenser/compressor and an indoor handling unit. They are also excellent as heat pumps.

ACLAB Note:

ACs chill the air but are costly. Fans only circulate the existing air but are very cost effective.

If you are looking for something in between these two, try out evaporative coolers (aka ventless air conditioners). These appliances boast a large fan that blows air through a water soaked wick filter thus cooling the air down at a fraction of the running cost of an AC.

These have to be refilled with water, but a typical single refill can provide cool air for 6 hours.

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Related Article: Best Evaporative Coolers

FAQs

How Do Bladeless Fans Work?

Bladeless fans have a pedestal that includes an electric motor, which takes the air inside and transfers it to the tube. Thus, air circulates within the fan till it hits the slit within the tube.

Is The Dyson Hot And Cool Fan Worth It?

Yes, for a premium fan capable of serving its purpose exceptionally well, then the Dyson Hot and Cool fan is an excellent choice.

Can You Use Both AC And Fan Together?

You can. In fact, you should use your air conditioner along with your fan as doing so will help keep your energy bills lower every month, provided you use them properly.

Does Fan Mode In AC Save Electricity?

Yes, you can save power by using your AC on the fan mode. The electricity consumption on this mode is relatively lower primarily because it doesn’t rely on the compressor.

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Holly Curell

Managing Editor & Writer

Holly Curell
Holly is an experienced writer and editor who specializes in technical manuals, and safe and efficient home appliances. When she’s not writing, Holly enjoys reading, hiking, and the odd glass of wine.

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