Air Conditioner Vs Fan: Electricity Usage

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Nobody wants to sit in a sticky, hot home worrying that the cost of their AC is too expensive to justify turning it on.

But then at the same time, is it even worth plugging in a fan as a way of cooling off a little? Or are you just throwing away money on a cooling solution that’s not effective?

Everyone is concerned more than ever about the cost of electricity, so it’s understandable you might want to try to find the most cost-effective way to stay cool when the days get too hot to handle.

Let’s take a look at how air conditioning units match up against fans, so you can make an informed decision on which one you want to use.

fan vs air conditioner

How Much Electricity Does A Fan Use Compared To Air Conditioning?

There are lots of different types of fans, but on average they’ll use between 40W and 75W of electricity. And there are different types of air conditioning units too, averaging between 900W and 3000W. Air conditioning units always consume a lot more power than fans.

As a breakdown, here are the different types of fans and their typical power consumption:

Fan TypeSmallest FanAverage FanMost Powerful Fan
Standing Fan1W40W100W
Ceiling Fan2W50W110W
Tower Fan6W55W110W
Box Fan5W75W220W

And here’s a guide to average air conditioning unit power consumption:

AC Unit TypeLowestAverageMost
Window AC500W900W1400W
Portable AC500W2900W4100W
Central AC3000W3500W4500W

Central AC units are slightly different from other cooling methods because while most devices have a fairly consistent power draw no matter the home, a central AC’s consumption is determined by the volume of the home. The bigger the space, the harder it needs to work to cool the air.

But regardless, an AC unit will always use more power than a fan. In fact, for the same electrical consumption as a central AC, you could use over 85 standing fans! Though good luck finding all the outlets to have them plugged in at the same time.

The reason AC remains popular is that it is much more effective as a cooling method. Instead of moving air around and creating a breeze, it removes the heat (and humidity) out of the air by circulating it through a compressor. Air con uses a refrigerant similar to the chemical compounds in your fridge to actively cool the air by absorbing heat.

Is It Cheaper To Use Fans Or Air Conditioning?

Air conditioning is much more effective at cooling a room, but it also costs a lot more to use. A standing fan will usually cost less than half a cent per hour to run, while a central AC will cost you 42c per hour – significantly more.

Want to see a little more detail? I’ve picked out a standing fan, a box fan, a window AC and a central AC, and worked out their average hourly cost based on a couple of different examples of electricity costs.

(I’ve done some rounding to the nearest cent, which will explain why some of the 8-hour rates don’t quite look like they’re an 8 times multiple of the hourly rate)

Cooling deviceElectricity cost per kWhCost per hourCost per day (8 hours)Cost per month
Standing Fan$0.12Less than half a cent$0.04$1.15
Standing Fan$0.23$0.01$0.07$2.20
Box Fan$0.12$0.01$0.07$2.16
Box Fan$0.23$0.02$0.14$4.14
Window AC$0.12$0.11$0.86$25.92
Window AC$0.23$0.21$1.66$49.68
Central AC$0.12$0.42$3.36$100.80
Central AC$0.23$0.80$6.44$193.20

Obviously, it’s unlikely you’ll need to run an AC unit for 8 hours per day for an entire month, but this gives you a clear view of how stark the difference is over a longer period of time.

Even if you need around 200 hours of cooling a year, a standing fan will cost you around $1 while a central AC will cost you over $160.

Plus, don’t forget that it’s recommended you have your AC unit serviced twice a year, with an average cost of between $75 and $200 a time. You don’t need to service fans.

air conditioner service

Working Out How Much Your AC and Fans Cost

To work out how much a device is costing you, you need to know the cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour, and how many kilowatt-hours the device uses per hour.

The cost of electricity varies pretty wildly across the US, and it fluctuates a lot too. You can view some recent average prices here.

To work out the kilowatt-hours a device uses, you need to find out how many watt-hours a device uses per hour and then divide that by 1,000, as 1 kilowatt-hour is the same as 1,000 watt-hours.

So, your average standing fan uses 40 watt-hours per hour, meaning it uses 0.04 kilowatt-hours per hour. If you’re using it for one hour, you’d multiply your electricity rate by 0.04 and that’d tell you how many cents it uses in an hour.

If that all sounds too complicated, then you can use this calculator to do the math for you.

Does Using A Fan Save Electricity?

Using a fan to cool your home will save electricity compared to an air conditioning unit, although it will be less effective, especially at extreme temperatures. On average, a central AC unit uses 160 times as much electricity as a standing fan.

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple, because a central AC will cool your entire home, and will do so much more effectively. A standing fan is focused on one particular area, and while it will have an immediate impact, over time it will just be moving warm air around.

So, it depends on a number of factors. If you live somewhere where it is hot, but not extremely hot, and you plan on staying in one place for most of the day (such as working at a desk) then a fan (or a combination of multiple fans) is likely to save you a lot of electricity.

But, if you are dealing with extreme temperatures, or if you need to cool your whole home for your family, you may want to use a blend of the AC in short bursts, and then multiple fans located in key spots around your home.

Does Using Fan Mode On The AC Save Electricity?

On average, a central AC unit on fan-only mode will use 750 watt-hours per hour, less than a quarter of the electricity it requires to cool a home when it is using the compressor. It won’t be as effective, but it will cut electricity bills significantly.

Read more: Does Leaving The AC Fan On Waste Electricity?

The question then becomes, is it better to use the fan mode on your AC unit, or to use multiple fans?

A central AC unit is useful because it uses ducts into your whole home. But at 750 watt-hours per hour, you could use a combination of 10 ceiling fans and 5 standing fans and still be using less electricity than the AC unit.

It is likely that it would be a lot more cost-effective to use fans in the rooms that you’re using, rather than cooling your entire home using your AC on fan-only mode.

Let’s do a quick comparison. For this example, let’s use 5 standing fans, so that a large household has one fan per person. For the benefit of this example, we’ll use an electricity cost of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

Cooling methodTotal watt-hoursCost for 1 hourCost for 8 hoursCost for 1 month
5 standing fans200$0.02$0.19$5.76
1 AC unit on fan-only mode750$0.09$0.72$21.60

Over the course of a month, using the AC on fan-only mode will cost you almost $15 more. For every three months, you could probably afford a new 16-inch standing fan, and you’re putting less strain on your AC system (which needs regular maintenance if you’re using it a lot).

Overall, it makes much more sense to use a number of fans instead of using the AC in fan-only mode. But, that doesn’t make an AC useless – there may be times when you need to use air conditioning to stay safe.

Is Using Air Conditioning Safer Than A Fan?

Some states in the US frequently experience high temperatures which can lead to heat-related illnesses. Even if you’re used to living in these conditions, you need to be careful and look after your health.

Consistent exposure to temperatures in the high 90s can lead to heat exhaustion, and ultimately heat stroke.

overheating in extreme weather

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

The symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • An extreme body temperature (above 103F)
  • Red, dry skin without sweating
  • A rapid, strong pulse
  • A throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

The CDC recommends that if you or anyone in your home suffers from the symptoms of heat exhaustion for more than an hour, or if they get worse, you should seek medical attention. The symptoms of heatstroke are considered a medical emergency and immediate attention should be sought.

If you live somewhere where the temperatures are often in the high 90s, an electrical fan is not sufficient as a cooling method. The CDC states that you should not rely on electrical fans in these extreme temperatures.

Electrical fans can actually do more damage at these temperatures, because they will only move hot air around, and can increase the evaporation rate of your sweat. They also don’t reduce the humidity in your home.

When you’re experiencing high temperatures like these, you’ll have to use air conditioning. This is much more effective at lowering the temperature in your home and managing the humidity, keeping you safe.

How To Save Money In Extreme Heat

If you are concerned about the cost of using an air conditioning unit and want to save money, but you also live somewhere where the temperature regularly reaches the high 90s, the CDC has a couple of extra recommendations.

You can:

  • Make sure you’re wearing lightweight clothing
  • Drink cool beverages (not alcoholic ones)
  • Minimize your activity, ideally resting
  • Take a cool (but not ice cold) shower or bath

However, the best advice is to seek an air-conditioned environment. If you want to limit the cost of your own AC use, or your AC is faulty, then the CDC recommends you seek out a shopping mall or public library for the times when the temperature is at its highest. That way you can make use of their air conditioning without having to pay for it yourself.

Obviously, if you have your own AC unit that’s working, it may work out more cost-effective to use it than to drive to a shopping mall – a cost of $6.50 per day may be cheaper than the gas you use to drive there. So weigh up your options, but the most important thing is to stay safe.


Electrical fans use a lot less electricity than air conditioning, and where it’s possible you should always try to stick to using fans if you want to stay cool without sweating the bills as well.

However, there are times (depending on your climate) where air conditioning might be essential, not just for your comfort but for your safety. Fans are a lot less effective at high temperatures, while AC units are designed to handle the heat and remove it from your home.

Ultimately, it all depends on where you live and what the average temperatures are like during the summer. If they don’t get too hot then the smart advice is to invest in a few fans, either portable ones or adding ceiling fans to the rooms you spend the most time in.