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Window Fan vs. Air Conditioner – Differences, Pros & Cons

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T he top priority for any homeowner when the heatwaves come is keeping cool. Without the help of specialty systems and units, however, this is impossible. There is one common debate you have likely already encountered and a question you probably ask yourself as you search for a cooling system – which is better, an air conditioner, or a window fan?

These two popular means to make your day better even if the thermometer indicates high temperatures outdoors will be pinned against each other in the following to help answer this question. Their pros, cons, operational manner, running costs, everything will receive a thorough analysis, so make sure that you read until the end to reach an informed conclusion and even receive some useful tips along the way.

Introduction to Window Fans

These systems are available in many varieties, ranging from small-size metal models to quiet models that are perfect for the bedroom. To achieve the best ventilation possible, opt for a model that is comprised of at least two fans (more fans, better circulation). Another feature that amps performance is a reversible motor that lets you switch between intake and exhaust so that you can switch depending on conditions (if the air is colder outdoors set it to pull it inside and vice versa). Ideally, it should come with a remote for convenient control and a thermostat that would help lower running costs.

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Do Window Fans Work?

To cool your home as effectively as possible using the fan setup, you should use it during the night so that it brings in the cold air and pushes out the hot air out. Balance is key with this, so if there is one fan ejecting the hot air, there should be one fan bringing the cool air in. Air circulation is a fan’s purpose, so you must use it to your advantage to create proper thermal comfort indoors with its assistance.

Pros

  • Most models feature reversible motors. As aforementioned, this allows you to switch from intake to exhaust and conversely depending on temperature conditions inside the room and outdoors.
  • A cost-efficient solution to keep cool in summer. You can reduce running costs further by operating it at night when the temperatures drop considerably outside so that the room is kept cooler during the day. Seeing how electricity is cheaper at night, you can see why this is a perk you should exploit.
  • More efficient at changing the room temperature as opposed to box fans as they pull in cool air and eliminate warm air, taking advantage of actual temperature changes.
  • Improved air circulation as opposed to pedestal models and other types of fans.
  • If you have multiple windows in the room, you can mount a unit in each to create a cross-breeze that cools the room even if the temperatures indoors and outdoors are similar.

Cons

  • The gaps around it as well as those in it if the openings are large-sized enough provide easy passage for insects into your home.
  • As opposed to tower fans and pedestal fans that oscillate and allow more freedom when it comes to their placement and positioning, it is not as easy to direct the airflow with window-mounted units.
  • Can present a breach in the security of your home. They are much easier to remove by intruders who want to unlawfully enter your home.

Introduction to Air Conditioners

How does it work?

Well, the exact answer depends on the specific type in question. However, there is a basic functioning that generally applies and describes the operation of any unit type. The heat indoors is absorbed inside the unit and blown over the evaporator coil that cools the air as it is filled with a cooling agent also known as refrigerant. The cool air is blown into the room to cause the temperature to lower. When the refrigerant absorbs the heat, it changes to a gaseous state and travels toward the compressor.

As it reaches the compressor, the gas is squeezed between solid objects so that the raised pressure and temperature prepare it for the condensation process. In a state of superheated vapor, the refrigerant reaches the condenser and is exposed to the air outside which absorbs the heat and lowers its temperature, turning it back to its liquid state. When the heat is expelled outside, the refrigerant travels back to its former position in the evaporator for the cooling cycle to start all over again.

The humidity extraction aspect: While it runs, the AC extracts moisture from the hot air pulled inside. Thus, it reduces humidity levels. Nevertheless, if you have checked RH levels and the hygrometer indicated that they are still over the safe and healthy 60% range, you must take action. In this situation, use a room dehumidifier to decrease air moistness and avoid lowering indoor air quality because of air contamination with mold spores.

Types

As you can see here, there are multiple types of AC units to pick from. To make matters easier, we will take a look at what defines each category so that you get a better idea of what an AC system provides. What you must remember regardless of the model you end up with is that with proper sizing of the air conditioner and maintenance work done on time, you will benefit from lower temperatures indoors regardless of how hot it gets outside.

Window AC Units

Classic window AC:

Suited for standard double-hung windows, these are the most common units used for cooling indoor spaces. Installing a window air conditioner is quite a comprehensive procedure that you can follow through with fine on your own. To benefit from optimal performance for the maximum lifespan of a window AC, which is usually 10 to 15 years, make sure to clean it as instructed – basic daily cleaning if there is mold growth inside the unit, clean the filters monthly and replace them every 3 months or as advised in the manual, and do the seasonal deep cleaning when you turn the AC on after a break that likely lasted a few months.

Perfect for standard windows, small window air conditioners pack a punch despite their description. If the size is not what you care about but rather the amount of noise, then check out the best quiet window air conditioners.

Vertical window AC:

When it comes to cleaning and maintenance, these chores are the same with vertical units as they are with standard window models. The difference is that vertical ACs are designed for installation in sliding windows, their elongated shape making them perfect for this purpose.

Just because you have a less than common window setup does not mean you have to sacrifice quality. With any of these high-performance vertical window air conditioners, you will transform a torrid summer day into a relaxing day in which you can get everything done around the house without sweating.

Casement window AC:

Just as with vertical units, casement ACs have the same requirements as standard window models do, the difference once again relying on the fact that they install in casement windows, not the classic double-hung windows that are commonly found in most homes. Beware that there is some extra work involved with installing it on your own as you have to build a wood support base for the AC so that its weight does not overwhelm the windowsill.

Make sure your acquisition is a successful one by picking one of the best casement window air conditioners released up to this point!

Portable AC Units

Classic portable AC:

The more convenient solution to keep cool, it lets you relocate it as you like around the house. As long as you make sure to vent the portable AC unit either outdoors or in a separate room for the hot air to not end up back into the area it is supposed to cool, you will benefit from a rapid lowering of the temperature to achieve thermal comfort.

Move around from one area to another with any of these top-rated small portable air conditioners to benefit from efficient, quick cooling in any space of your home.

Dual hose portable AC:

The dual hose design uses two separate exhaust hoses. One of them works to expel the hot air outside, while the other hose draws in air from the exterior. The air indoors is cooled in the AC and returned into the room. But what is the purpose of pulling in air from outside? It uses it to cool the compressor and condenser coils. Due to this intelligent setup, it flaunts a higher cooling capacity that makes it the preferred choice in areas where summers get hot.

With a higher cooling capacity than their standard counterparts, the best dual hose portable air conditioners are here to keep even the largest spaces cool.

Through the Wall AC Units

To follow through with setting it up, you need to cut a hole in the wall through which you slide the AC. Installation is trickier with these units as there can be electrical and plumbing structures in the wall, so it is best to call in a professional for the procedure rather than take chances. Unless your carpentry and home improvement skills are serious, do not set it up on your own.

Buy smart by selecting one of these top-tier through the wall air conditioners that cater to all demands (and budgets) to never again have to suffer when the hot season comes.

Special Mention – RV AC Units

As the name states, it is intended to cool the RV. It mounts to the roof and you can install the RV air conditioner on your own as it is not a task that requires advanced skills but rather basic wiring skills and attentiveness when it comes to following instructions. Maintenance is required only twice per year, which is another plus as all that is required of you is to clean the dirt and dust that has gathered on the condenser and unclog the coils.

Look here to select from the best RV air conditioners available right now! Your trips during the hot months of the year won’t be a drag anymore as you will enjoy a cool environment in your mobile home.

Pros

  • Rapid and effective cooling provided regardless of how high the temperature is indoors.
  • Wide variety of types and models to pick from so that you can find the one that suits your needs and expectations.
  • The multitude of available options also spells good news when it comes to financial possibilities as there are models suited for all budgets.
  • AC units generally assist in removing allergens, which improves indoor air quality. For this to be valid, however, you must maintain the system properly.
  • Lower temperatures indoors reduce the chances of insects and parasites from posing an issue.

Cons

  • If used in a room where moisture levels are already low, it will lower them further, which poses an issue. In case the hygrometer indicates the humidity sits at less than 30%-40%, use an ultrasonic humidifier to solve the problem and raise air moisture back to healthy levels.
  • If you don’t change the filters or clean them on time, you might end up with worsened indoor air pollution, allergens in the air and other contaminants provoking health issues to appear or worsen in case you already suffer from allergies.
  • The air circulation produced by the AC eases the transmission of infectious respiratory diseases. This is why companies and a lot of buildings don’t turn on their AC units anymore since the COVID-19 outbreak issue as air circulation would prove hazardous to all of the people in that space if one of them is infected.

Is It Cheaper to Use a Window Fan or AC?

Air conditioners might be the more effective of the two when it comes to cooling as they lower the temperature in the room, but there is a major downside to their operation – the costs involved with it. It is estimated that a window AC unit costs 14 cents per hour, and a central AC unit costs 36 cents per hour. In contrast, a window fan only costs about 1-2 cents per three hours of use, considerably less as opposed to AC systems.

However, while window fans are cheaper to run than ACs, their lower score in the cooling performance department takes away from their glory when it comes to budgetary wins. What we advise is that you use both. Yes, you read that well. Use a window fan and an AC together for optimal results both when it comes to cooling results and running costs.

As the fan will circulate the cool air produced by the AC better, you won’t find yourself turning the thermostat at as low of a temperature as you would without the fan. Thus, you will end up reducing the costs of running the AC considerably using a system that doesn’t draw much power to begin with.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Window Fan AC Unit
  • Cooling efficiency: 9/10
  • Ease of use: 10/10
  • Ease of installation: 10/10
  • Extra features: 8/10
  • Versatility: 9/10

Window fan overall score: 9.2/10

  • Cooling efficiency: 10/10
  • Ease of use: 10/10
  • Ease of installation: 9/10
  • Extra features: 10/10
  • Versatility: 10/10

AC unit overall score: 9.8/10

Conclusion

Hands down, the AC reigns supreme in terms of cooling an indoor space as it lowers the temperature and maintains it at your desired level through its functioning. The fan is more of an air circulator rather than an air cooler, but it does keep you cool, the breeze it produces hitting your skin to provide thermal comfort.

However, as aforementioned, your best guess would be to combine the two systems, use them simultaneously. This way, the thermostat temperature won’t have to be set as low as you set it before, the air will be cooled considerably faster, so you won’t spend as much on the bills as you would without using both products at the same time.

Regardless of the option you ultimately go for, either one of the two or both, at least now you are aware of all the facts regarding both systems and can make an informed decision to solve your needs and make sure your expectations are met.

If you are inclined to opt for a fan, we recommend that you avoid reaching a decision before you look into the best tower fans available at the moment as they provide a portable solution to cool indoor spaces. With models like the Dyson AM05 Hot & Cool, you can even use it year-round as it provides both cooling and heating capabilities.

Tobey Hunter
Tobey Hunter
Tobey is the editor-in-chief at Optima Institute, his prior experience as a niche product reviewer in air quality improvement systems helping shape his path to conduct thorough research toward selecting and analyzing products so that customers are satisfied with the provided recommendations. During his carrier, Tobey also gathered technical input that makes him well versed in understanding advancements in modern systems, helping readers in turn to better understand how modern devices help improve life quality.