Fan or portable air conditioner: which is right for you?

Fan or portable air conditioner: which is right for you?

Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds

Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds

122 guides

A portable air conditioner is a quick and easy way to lower the temperature of your living space. These small air conditioning units can work wonders for your wellbeing at a fairly reasonable cost. More economical and cost-friendly, fans create a gentle current of air and are even more effective with a misting mode.

Important features

  • Installation
  • Comfort
  • Budget
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How do fans and air conditioners work?


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Air conditioners renew the air in a room by sucking in warm air and putting out cooler air in its place. Split models require annual maintenance while portable air conditioners require regular filter care and tank emptying.

Fans, on the other hand, simply work to move the air that surrounds them. The resulting air currents give a cooling sensation on the skin, but the ambient temperature actually doesn't change. However, they can also be equipped with a misting function which can provide real comfort on a hot day!

Do I need a fan or an air conditioner?


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When choosing between a fan and a portable air conditioner, your decision will partly come down to where you live. If you live quite far north, heatwaves are likely to be few and far between while those in the south will be more accustomed to experiencing hot weather.

If you're considering investing in an air conditioning system, think long and hard about the number of days per year the device will actually be in use. That said, air conditioners can make a huge difference, and people who are particularly heat-sensitive can benefit greatly from them.

These days it is possible to find very affordable portable air conditioners.

Alternatively, you might want to think about something like a reversible heat pump which combines the functions of a heater and an air conditioner. This can be a great option if you're in the process of overhauling your domestic heating system and you tend to suffer through balmy summers!

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Air conditioner vs. fan: which is noisier?


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Mobile air conditioning units are generally noisier than fans, and can emit around 50 to 75dB. A fan at full tilt will rarely exceed 65dB with the exception of industrial cooler fans which can also get up to 75dB.

If you're sensitive to noise, this might be your number one criterion when making your decision. The inclusion of a silent mode on an air conditioner can be a bonus, but bear in mind that the most important thing to consider is the noise level when your device is in full swing!

Of course, noise is subjective so even a low noise level may affect some people more than others. At the same time, some people are more susceptible to catching colds or dried out nasal passages so will be less able to handle the more aggressive action of air conditioning. If this is the case for you, think about getting a fan instead. Whether you go for a tabletop or freestanding model, a fan won't affect you as much. What's more, fans do not create the same kind of thermal shock as you leave or enter a room.

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Portable air conditioner or fan: which is faster?


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In general, manufacturers recommend that you wait 24 hours after purchase to use your air conditioner so that the refrigerant liquid can stabilise before use. This can be hugely frustrating if you buy the device during a heatwave hoping to stick it straight on!

Another point to consider is that most portable air conditioners will need an opening like a window for the vent pipe. For split systems, a certain amount of work is required to install the various components.

An evaporative air cooler might be an interesting alternative to a more traditional portable air conditioner. These devices work to cool the air immediately, but will still take a while to have an effect on the ambient temperature and will only ever lower the temperature by a few degrees in a fairly small room. On the upside, there's no vent pipe to contend with!

A fan, on the other hand, will work as soon as you get it out of the box – no installation work required. As soon as you switch it on, it begins to move the air around making it easier for you to tolerate the heat (provided it's facing the right direction).

Which consumes more electricity?


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Air conditioners are hands down the most energy-intensive option. Fans don't consume much energy by comparison and unless you're using your fan 24/7, it won't have an huge impact on your electricity bill.

Evaporative coolers also don't consume a lot of energy and can be a great solution for smaller rooms.

When making your purchase, try to find an appliance with an energy rating of at least A!

Tips for cooling your home effectively


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If you're after optimum cooling comfort, it's best to stick to a few guidelines:

  • air out your rooms first thing in the morning and late in the evening to freshen up the air;
  • close your shutters as soon as the sun hits your window panes;
  • make sure you turn off any heat-producing appliances when they're not in use, such as computers, routers, etc.

In summary, your choice of cooling appliance will come down to budget, personal preferences and usage requirements. Don't forget to keep a cool head as you weigh up your options!

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Guide written by:

Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds, 122 guides

Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds

With a handyman-father, I grew up with the soft sound of the sander and hammer on weekends. I am both manual and cerebral (yes, it is possible.), I learned the basics of DIY and the customization of furniture because I was passionate. The salvage mentality is a true way of life that allowed me to know how to use all the tools and products needed to give something a second life, from sander to varnish. I have two favorite activities: the transformation of old furniture and decoration tips. I am always ready to lend a helping hand to revamp a table or to restore a mirror that was intended for the trash that will become a friend’s centerpiece. I’m convinced that it’s possible to reinvent an interior by small, regular modifications, I constantly research low-cost, test ideas.

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