Air Conditioner vs Fan

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Does it get hot where you live? Do you hate sweating and not being able to get as much done due to feeling lethargic and hot? Do you instead rely on air conditioning to get the temperature back down to a modest 25 ºC?

And does it annoy you when you get your electricity bill after every summer?

Many people make the handy power (and money) savings suggestion of “turning down the thermostat” but I’m here to let you in on a little secret I’ve discovered that will not only cut your bills considerably but often work out better for everyone most of the time.


You see… I live in Australia (as most of you reading this do) and well… not to blow our own horn or anything, but we’re kind of hot. There are hotter places no doubt, but even this year we’ve hit tops of 50.7 ºC in some locations and our major capital cities year after year endure 40+ ºC heat for sometimes days or weeks on end. Most of the country is dessert so we know a thing or two about beating the heat, even if a lot of us do still rely on air conditioners as well.

Get A Fan

Pretty simple huh? Get a fan. That’ll cool you down! Now I know what most of you are likely thinking right now:

“Ceiling fans don’t do much in 40+ ºC heat!”


“We have a rotating fan in our room and it doesn’t really help keep the house that cool.”

And you’re right! I’ve tried it too and they don’t do that much. They’re good for circulating air but when it’s burning up having a ceiling fan on isn’t going to help. Luckily though these aren’t the fans we’re looking for! *waves hand past your face all Jedi like*

The types of fan we’re interested in are small, low power personal fans such as the following:

The Fan That Will Save You $528 A Year

The Almighty Electric Fan

These types of fans can often be found for VERY cheap amounts. Brand new they’re usually in the $20-$40 range (if that) but there’s a good chance you could find one for free, second hand in a mates garage. They also normally use around 40 Watts or so of power at their maximum setting and often have 3 or more different settings (likely meaning the lower settings use LESS than 40 Watts). The result is a cooling device that is second to none when you consider upfront and running costs with cooling capabilities.

The catch is though that most people don’t know how to properly utilize them. They’ll put them on a table or in the middle of the room and have them circulate warm air around the warm room. Now, this DOES cool things down but as we’ve already discussed, it’s not going to cut it on a 40+ ºC day!

The Secret Is To Make It Your Own Personal Fan

Are you sitting hot at a table? Position the fan directly in front of you (or to the side), roughly 30-40 cm away on the lowest setting. The fast moving wind will carry all your body heat away quickly and pleasantly cooling you off virtually instantly.

Are you hot at night tossing and turning in bed? Pop the fan on your bedside table and position it so that it blows air over the body/legs area of your body again, around 30-40 cm away and on the lowest setting. This technique has allowed me (someone who REALLY dislikes the heat) to be able to sleep with a DOONA COVER ON in 30 ºC weather all night as though it’s pleasant and cool.

In almost all scenarios you’ll find that you are cooled immediately and STAY cool so long as the fan is moving air across your body. So instead of running your air conditioner all day long and cooling your entire house (or even an entire room) you are only cooling YOU, much more efficient and effective.

To give you an idea of how MUCH more efficient let’s do one of my favourite things (as I’m an engineer and a scientist) and run the figures!

6kW Air ConditionerRegular 40W Fan
 Up Front Cost:$800$40
 Running Cost: $0.22 / kWh = $1.32 / hour$0.22 / kWh = $0.0088 / hour
 CO2 Emissions: 4.2 kg / hour0.028 kg / hour

The facts in that table were taken from a CO2 calculator over at the EPA and the electricity price comparison over at Wikipedia and although relatively rough, they paint a pretty clear picture don’t you think?

How often would you run your air conditioner? Maybe 8 hours each day/night when it gets hot? Maybe it gets hot around 50 days out of every year? I’d say this is a modest amount of use. So we have:

$1.32 / hour * 8 hours * 50 days = $528 for the air conditioner

$0.0088 / hour * 8 hours * 50 days = $3.52 for the fan

You’re also saving around 1,460kg’s (3,200 pounds) of CO2 and over $760+ in up front purchase and installation costs. All just by using a fan. Do you use your air conditioner MORE than in this scenario? Do you have a bigger or less efficient air conditioner? Is your electricity more on the high side and closer to being $0.29/kWh? If so, increase that $528 figure.

Fans Allow For Climate Zones

As much as I love her, the wife simply hates the cold. So much so, she was wearing WINTER, long sleeve pyjamas to bed while we holidayed in Fiji! I was sweating and burning up while she thought it was beautiful weather. So as a result, we rarely turn the air conditioner on as more often than not, we’re in the same room of the house (or asleep together in the same room).

It’s all too common to hear the whole “it’s not too hot” argument start when one of you wants to turn the air conditioner on. With a fan however, you can enjoy the efficient, power sipping cool breeze and be nice and comfortable all while anyone else is ALSO comfy just enjoying the hotter climate. Win win.

Fans Help Hedonic Adaptation

Have you ever wondered why people in Africa or Dubai can walk around in full on business suits in 40 ºC weather whilst we all can’t stand it even completely naked? Or why people in Alaska happily walk/ride to work every day of the year even when it’s -43 ºC? It’s due to a thing called Hedonic Adaptation. Now Hedonic Adaptation is normally related to retaining the same level of happiness regardless of how much you earn, however it can also be applied to hot and cold weather.

When you are in a very cold environment (say a shopping centre with air conditioner blaring) and walk out to a hot day, it will feel much hotter than if you were in a warm environment and walked outside. Continuous swapping from hot to cold then back to hot again severely throws off your body’s ability to adapt to its climate. As a result, you’ll feel hotter at lower temperatures and colder at higher temperatures. For instance you might feel hot at 30 ºC as opposed to feeling hot at 35 ºC which in turn means you’ll use your air conditioner more.

This might sound a bit strange but it’s quite intuitive, just think about anyone you know that’s grown up in a very hot climate, how do they handle the heat? Is it better than you? I’ve grown up in Australia and happily (in jeans and a t-shirt) enjoy walking along on a 30 ºC day, however I’m sure the person in Alaska would be almost fainting. Case in point, when London had the 2003 Heat Wave it broke record temperatures of 38.5 ºC and killed more than 2,000 people. They were handing out free bottled water in the cities to try and curb fainting etc, in Australia 38.5 ºC is a hot day sure… but to be quite blunt it’s just a normal Summer for us. Sure some old cars might break down and overheat but it’s nothing to write home about. This is because we’ve adapted and with a fan, you increase your adaptation powers.

Every time you use a fan instead of your air conditioning your teaching your body to be more used to a hotter climate than it’s used to. Forcing it to learn to adapt and thus, in the future, it will better deal with the hotter weather meaning you might not even NEED the fan. As an extra bonus, this Hedonic Adaptation also greatly prepares you for climate change and the increased temperatures the world will be facing in the future decades. That once in a 500 year 2003 European Heat Wave? Well, just look at what the London UK Government has to say about it…

By the middle of the century, most summers will be as warm as the heatwave of 2003.

Fans Are Great For Cooling Down A House

One final thing these fans are great for is venting hot air IN the house out a window or pulling in cold air FROM an open window. Once it gets cooler outside than in, crack open a window and stick a fan in front of it. It will suck in the cold, outside air and be just as effective as an air conditioner would be.

When we first moved in many years ago we had no idea how to use fans efficiently and so did what everyone else does and bought a split system air conditioner. It now might get turned on for 5 or so hours a year. The only time this happens is when there are simply too many people in our home or the temperature rises above that 38 ºC mark for a couple of consecutive days. At these temperatures fans do still help, but we sometimes bite the bullet and turn on the air conditioner. Given how rare an occasion this has now become, it’s like Christmas time when it does happen.

So how do you stay cool during the hot times? Have you found any better ways than using a fan?


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