Different types of fans for different spaces
Electric fans can be an eco-friendly way to cool your home when it's hot outside. Running a fan of any size on high speed uses less than 20 percent as much electricity as a room air conditioner, according to home-energy expert Michael Bluejay. A fan can make you feel 3 to 8 degrees cooler, allowing you to dial down the air conditioning or shut it off altogether. That can help cut your cooling bill, reduce your household's emissions of greenhouse gases, and ease demand on the summertime power grid.
In most cases, fans don't actually lower the temperature in a room; instead, they make you feel cooler through increased airflow. "As the wind from a fan blows on you, it removes a layer of radiating heat from your body," explains Seamus Bellamy at TheSweethome.com. Stripping away this "boundary layer" allows cooler air to come into contact with your skin. Thus, for a fan to work at top efficiency, it must be placed where you'll feel its breeze directly.
Portable electric fans come in a variety of styles and configurations. Powerful floor fans can circulate air in a large space, but they're bulky and can be a safety hazard in homes with small children. Pedestal and tower fans combine good airflow with a smaller footprint; most of them can also oscillate to improve air circulation. Small desktop or tabletop fans can't move nearly as much air, but they can cool a single person or distribute air in a small space, such as a cubicle.
Window fans work differently from other fans. In addition to direct cooling, they can actually change the temperature of a room by drawing cool air in or blowing warm air out. Most models can work either way, and a few can perform both functions at once. However, a window fan is only useful when it's cooler outdoors than indoors – either at night or when you've heated up the house by cooking. Another drawback is that rain and bugs can get inside if the fan is left in an uncovered window when not in use.
When choosing a fan, noise can be an important factor. In general, there's a trade-off between airflow and noise level: A large fan that moves a lot of air produces more noise than a smaller and less powerful fan. However, there are significant differences in volume between various models. It's important to read owner comments about each unit you consider because fan manufacturers don't usually disclose how many decibels a fan produces.
Fans vary in price from as little as $15 to hundreds of dollars, but cost isn't the best indicator of performance. Some expensive fans, like the pricey Dyson AM06 10 Inch Desk Fan (Est. $250), part of the Dyson Air Multiplier line, get excellent reviews, but we also found fans under $20 that are consistently described as powerful, quiet, and sturdy. To some extent, price differences depend on the type of fan you're buying: tower fans tend to cost more than basic box fans, for instance, and smaller fans cost less than large ones. However, within a particular category, the priciest fans tend to offer sleeker styling and extra features, such as remote controls, sleep timers, and air ionizers, which are supposed to remove dust from the air by creating electrically charged ions that attract the particles. One particular feature that comes with a high price tag is a bladeless design, found chiefly on Dyson fans. Bladeless fans are safe for kids and pets, and they're much easier to clean than conventional fans, but they generally cost $100 or more.
Finding the best fans
The only reviewer that we found that conducts a detailed comparison test of fans is TheSweethome.com, a website dedicated to gadgets for the home. This site checks out twelve fans with strong feedback from users and compares their airflow, noise level, ease of use, features, safety, and cleanability. To back up these test results, we combed through thousands of user reviews on retail sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and HomeDepot.com. These provided information about the fans' long-term durability, as well as additional views on how they look, feel, and sound. We also had to rely on user-written reviews for information about window fans, which aren't covered at TheSweethome.com.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Tower Fans | Best Floor Fans | Best Small Fans | Best Window Fans | Buying Guide | Our Sources