All the Different Types of Fans, Explained

You’re so very hot — but almost all of these fans are here to cool you right down.

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Basically, no matter where you are in the continental United States at this very moment, it is likely very, very hot. They don’t call them the dog days of summer for nothing. Despite that very real, very sticky fact, we can all be thankful that a whopping 90 percent of Americans have air conditioning, according to Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.

Unfortunately, however, that leaves 10 percent of us who are, well, screwed. Not to mention the untold percent of A/C users who’d rather not run up their electric bill in the midst of a pandemic, considering central air can use on average 3000 to 5000 watts of power per day (costing you around $.40 an hour) during the summer.

So who would blame the sweaty among us for being curious about what kinds of fans are out there, i.e., the often portable, generally inexpensive and doesn’t-take-an-HVAC-professional-to-install alternatives to air conditioners?

Well, let’s see:

Ceiling Fan

Power Usage: 55-90 watts (depending on blade size)
Cost: $40-$3,000 to buy, $144-$351 to install
Ceiling fans are the creme de la creme when it comes to fans, but unfortunately, they’re also the most expensive and difficult to install, more times than not requiring electrical wiring skills — not to mention skills at preventing the thing from dropping on someone’s head.

What’s good about ceiling fans, though, is that they can work either inside or outside by creating a “wind chill” effect that makes people feel cooler, even if the fan doesn’t actually cool the air.

Axial Flow Fan

Power Usage: 50-100 watts
Cost: <$50 to buy, $0 to install
Axial flow fans, aka the first type of fans we think of when we think of desk or box (or window fans, if you’re fancy), are the poor man’s (or, in my case, broke college student’s) air conditioner: They’re cheap, they’re plentiful and you can put them just about anywhere in reach of an outlet.

One advantage of installing an axial flow fan in a window is its ability to replace stale, warm air inside with (ideally) cooler, fresh air from outside. Unfortunately, the disadvantage is you’ll also be sucking in whatever smoke, smog or other airborne particulates are outside at any given time, too, so it’s a double-edged sword.

Tower Fan

Power Usage: 48 to 100 watts (depending on what power-level they’re set to)
Cost: <$200 to buy, $0 to install
Like axial flow fans, tower fans are relatively inexpensive to both buy and to operate. They’re also just as easy to install, given that they just need an outlet. 

But tower fans are different from other fans in that they’re generally quieter, take up less space, often come with a built in filter and have more features (like speed settings and sometimes a thermostat). 

That said, tower fans come with one major disadvantage: They’re usually hard to clean.

Bladeless Fan

Power Usage: ~40 watts
Cost: ~$400 to buy, $0 to install
Bladeless fans — aka air multipliers — work by sucking in air through holes in at the base by way of a small fan and then accelerating the air by flattening it and forcing it back out through a narrow slit around the edge of the very prominent “hoop” at the top.

The advantages of bladeless fans are, first, that they couldn’t be less dangerous for miniature humans (i.e., babies) or pets, and that they consume less energy than other types of fans. The disadvantage is that they’re expensive, relatively speaking.

Human-Powered Fan

Power Usage: Two banana’s worth
Cost: Basically free, minus cost of the bananas
Available wherever hard, flat, waveable materials are found — or if your garden includes a very specific type of palm tree — human-powered hand fans have been the ultimate DIY cooling system since the ancient Egyptians got busy waving interlaced ostrich feathers in their faces 4,000 years ago.

Energy usage really shouldn’t be an issue with a hand fan. But if you’re feeling piqued, my suggestion is eat a banana or two and you should be good to go for at least a few hours or so.

Fanatical Fan

Power Usage: .001 watts
Cost: Can’t put a price on being a stan (but all those tickets and posters are expensive)
Not your typical fan, but a fan nonetheless, veering towards the fanatical when it comes to your idols might not cool you down, but it will cost you, energy-wise. According to the website physicscentral.com, it takes .001 watts of energy to scream at 80 decibels, i.e., as loud as a lawn mower. But hey, how is your favorite pop star going to notice you if you aren’t yelling at the very top of your lungs?