Types of Fans
Most fans are effective, but fancy styling and extra features will cost you
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. "By blowing air around, the fan makes it easier for the air to evaporate sweat from your skin, which is how you eliminate body heat," explain the editors at HowStuffWorks.com. 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. Floor fans are the most powerful and 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 have a smaller footprint and are best for medium-sized rooms; most oscillate to improve circulation. Small desktop or tabletop fans can't move nearly as much air, but they can cool a small space like a cubicle. In general, small fans are the least expensive type. A few models can be quite expensive, however, particularly if they're designed more for aesthetics than performance.
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. One 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 will produce 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 generally isn't a good indicator of effectiveness. In fact, very few reviews for fans in any price range indicate poor performance. With the exception of price differences between various styles -- tower fans cost more than pedestal fans, for example -- the only advantages of more expensive fans are extra features and aesthetics. Even durability doesn't always correlate to price: Some high-end fans get a lot of complaints about their durability while some very inexpensive models are praised for their sturdiness.
We found no professional comparison tests of fans. ConsumerReports.org and Britain's Which? magazine evaluate fans from the pricey Dyson Air Multiplier line, but don't directly compare them to other models. The only true comparative reviews we found are based on an analysis of user-written reviews, supported by manufacturer specs and, in some cases, a bit of personal testing. They can be found at TheWirecutter.com, a website for gadget geeks, and TopTenReviews.com. In addition, fan owners post comments about specific models at retail sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com and HomeDepot.com.