The Cost of Air Conditioning Vs. a Fan

An American Love Affair with Air Conditioning (AC)

Summer is here. Time to rev up the air conditioning units. Or is it?




Americans are addicted to AC. We DEMAND it in our homes, our offices, our shopping malls, our cars.

According the U.S. Dept. of Energy, about 90% of U.S. homes have air conditioning. By contrast, only 47% of U.S. homes had AC in 1973.

Admittedly, I’ve become a bit spoiled when it comes to air conditioning. I have a very hard time sleeping comfortably unless it’s about 72 degrees or less. It can get pretty muggy in Michigan.

Ever since I was about 10 years old, I have lived with air conditioning. The one exception was in college when I was in the dorms for two miserably hot years.

But an article in the New York Times that got me thinking a bit about our wasteful ways, my wasteful ways – “Bringing in the Big Fans“. And it made me want to run some numbers.

AC versus fan costs




The Cost of Air Conditioning Vs. Fans

According to the article:

  • a good window AC unit runs on 1.2 kilowatts and costs 14 cents an hour to run
  • a three-ton central air unit (a common cooling system), runs on about 3 kilowatts and costs about 36 cents an hour to run
  • a good ceiling fan? It draws only 30 watts to run, costing about 1 cent per three hours of use

One penny for every three hours?!

I knew that fans used less energy than AC units, but to use less than 1% of the energy? Hmmm….. maybe I need to re-think my love for air conditioning.

Running the AC versus Fan Cost Figures Over a Month

Putting these hourly costs into more practical terms made sense, so I decided to run the math. If you assume that your unit is running half of the day during summer months,

  • a window AC unit would cost $50.40 per month
  • a central AC unit would cost $129.60 per month
  • each ceiling fan would cost $1.20 per month

I could potentially be saving over $128 per month by putting up a ceiling fan in my bedroom and weening myself off of AC? Amazing!

Heck, even just installing a window unit in my room so that I can sleep well (the biggest reason I’m addicted to AC in the summer) would save me $78 per month, probably more if I only use it at night.

Additional Benefits to Getting Rid of AC

I love AC, don’t get me wrong. But lately I have been opening the windows more often and going without. I like the outdoor sounds and really like the fresh air.

And when you consider that 17% of all electricity consumed at home in the U.S. is to power AC units and that most of that electricity is coming from carbon-rich coal, maybe it’s time we re-thought our love for AC. It’s hard to justify AC if you call yourself an environmental steward.

Whether you switch to a ceiling fan, a window unit, a whole house fan, or some combination of, you may want to start thinking about your love of air conditioning. I will. Stay tuned.

Air Condition Versus Fans Discussion:

  • How do you keep yourself cool, especially at night?
  • Have you switched from AC to another method of staying cool? What did you do?

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