10+ Efficient Ceiling Fan Alternatives (Ultimate Guide)
While ceiling fans are great for keeping your home’s temperatures low in the summer and your cooling costs even lower, they may be noisy, distracting, and unattractive in your living spaces. Not to mention, they can also be incredibly difficult to clean.
So, if you’re looking for something other than a ceiling fan to keep your living areas cool, there are several alternatives to choose from. The choice ultimately depends on your needs and your budget.
The basic purpose of a fan is to cool down a room. Fortunately, the numerous ceiling fan alternatives you have to choose from do just the same. These include central air conditioning, window air conditioning units, portable AC units, evaporative coolers, portable fans, pedestal fans, tower fans, table fans, box fans, wall-mounted fans, attic fans, and more.
Some options may be more effective in cooling a room but more expensive. Other choices are more flexible and portable while delivering the same effectiveness as a ceiling fan. Whereas, some alternatives are more long-term, providing energy savings while extending the life of other structural parts of a house.
Why Consider Alternatives to Ceiling Fans?
While a ceiling fan does an excellent job at cooling the home, they can be expensive to operate and maintain. Another reason you might consider an alternative to a ceiling fan is simply based on aesthetics. Ceiling fans are universally hated by decorators due to their unappealing bulbs and shades. In this case, an unattractive ceiling fan can be easily swapped out with a modern light fixture to give the space an updated look.
Additionally, many claim that the circulating air from a fan can dry out your mouth, nose, and throat, potentially causing a sore throat, stuffy nose, headaches, and even snoring.Ceiling fans put you at risk of exacerbated allergies and sinus issues.
For this reason, it is often advised that you don’t sleep with a fan on, while some choose to consider an alternative to ceiling fans altogether. Switching to an alternative reduces the risk of these problems, while also giving you a home cooling system that is quieter, cheaper, and more energy-efficient.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of your options for circulating air in a room without a ceiling fan:
1. Central Air Conditioning
Central air conditioning is considered the most effective alternative for cooling down the rooms in a house. Central air conditioning (AC) is generally installed by a professional, involving a certain amount of construction.
AC is much more expensive than a ceiling fan. For an average 2,000 sq. ft. home, AC costs $3,000-$4,000. Ductless AC usually focuses on cooling a room or two. It is not as extensive in installation but can be more expensive than Central AC.
However, on a less grand scale, there are still other air conditioning and fan alternatives.
For instance, window and portable air conditioners will cool a room more effectively than a ceiling fan. A ceiling fan moves air around a room, creating what the U.S. Department of Energy terms a “wind chill effect.” Air conditioning actually cools the air, lowering the temperature in a room.
2. Window AC’s
Window AC units generally take up less space in a room. Like a ceiling fan, window units are operated via a dial or digital display. Some units also offer remote operation. If solar panels are not supplying electricity, generally, these units will cost more to operate than a ceiling fan.
Window AC units have improved in technology over the years while coming down in price. Quality units are now also quieter. And most units provide the necessary parts and directions for a well-sealed window installation.
A small 5,000 BTU window unit can be purchased for around $125. The BTU sizes range from 5,000 to about 25,000 BTUs. These larger units cost $800 to $1,000.
3. Portable AC’s
In some homeowner associations, window AC units may not be allowed for aesthetic reasons. The alternative is a portable AC. Some people just feel that a portable AC is easier to handle than installing a window AC.
A two-hose unit is more expensive than a one-hose unit but is better at cooling a room in most cases. A single-hose unit works well in a small room in which the surrounding spaces are cooler or cooled as well. However, a two-hose portable AC can cool a room almost half as fast as a single-hose unit. It doesn’t need to work as hard either.
Portable AC units start around 6,000 BTUs at a cost of about $250. Portable units have a new rating system, ASHRAE. However, most AC experts advise using the non-ASHRAE designated BTU number. Apparently, it is more realistic about what you can expect to be the cooling result.
Neither window or portable AC is really portable in the sense that they can be moved around easily or often. Both types of units are mentioned as possible break-in risks, especially if located on the ground level.
4. Evaporative Coolers
An evaporative cooler is sometimes listed as an “air conditioner.” However, it utilizes a different concept to cool a room. The evaporative cooler uses a fan to pull in the dry air. Then, it adds moisture to the air with cooling pads and pushes the air out into the room. Adding moisture to a dry room has a noticeable cooling effect. It also produces better air quality.
If you live in a hot and dry climate, the evaporative cooler can reduce the temperatures in a room. If you live in a climate with seasonal low humidity outdoors, an evaporative cooler is worth considering for these seasons. As an energy saving alternative to air conditioning, an evaporative cooler can be used when AC isn’t absolutely necessary. Since AC only recycles air, an evaporative cooler can be used to refresh the air quality.
Evaporative coolers range from personal units at about $30 to room-cooling units from $150 on up. Some units even provide three operating choices – as a fan, a humidifier, and an evaporative cooler. They do require filter replacement between one and five years but are still a great cooling alternative to a ceiling fan.
5. Portable Fans
While a ceiling fan may be seen as a decor feature, this feature is not valued by all. Keeping cooler is generally the primary goal. Because portable fans are usually placed lower to the floor, the air travels vertically around the area rather than down from the ceiling. In some cases, the air being circulated around the room by a portable fan is cooler to begin with. The air from above a ceiling fan is generally hotter.
Versatility, energy efficiency, quality, and safety should be factors in a fan choice. Space-savings, noise, and affordability can also be factors.
A ceiling fan is less space obtrusive, but not as portable. Portable fans offer more flexibility with placement and in controlling the flow of air. The swivel, or oscillating, feature on most of these fans provides a radius of airflow. This sends that wind chill effect over a larger area of the room.
A portable fan can also concentrate airflow in one direction, generally providing that cool effect better than a ceiling fan. A well-made quality portable fan can also be very quiet when operating.
6. Pedestal Fans
Pedestal fans can be as large as a ceiling fan. The larger units take up more space than most of the other portable fan options. However, they don’t need to be that large to be effective. If you have the room, a 16-inch or 18-inch fan can do the job as good as, if not better, than a ceiling fan. It is a very hot summer day here. As I am writing this, I have an 18-inch diameter pedestal fan on low and aimed at me. I am actually getting a bit chilly!
The height of the pedestal is also adjustable. It can be raised or lowered according to need. Pedestal fans require extra attention around children. Most covers are a rather open pattern design to allow air flow. Even if the pattern is quite tight, a child might try to stick something through the cover and be injured.
For portability, a quality pedestal fan can weigh as little as 15-16 lbs. Less expensive pedestal fans can weigh under 10 lbs. Pedestal fans generally offer different speed settings and a timer. Some pedestal fans also offer remote features.
The size of the fan, quality of materials, airflow, and energy efficiency are factors in price. A well-built, good quality pedestal fan with a remote can cost less than $100 and can last as long as a ceiling fan.
7. Tower Fans
While generally not as powerful or forceful as a pedestal fan, the tower fan takes up less space. Tower fans are lightweight and easily portable. A tower fan is also said to be more aesthetically attractive. There are two types of tower fans: with blades and bladeless.
Bladed Tower Fans
With blades, the tower fan uses turbine-like horizontal blades that draw air up from the lower part of the tower. The air escapes from the upper portion of the tower and into the room. The tower fan generally has air filters, which is especially of benefit to people with allergies.
In contrast, owing to design and the air-purifying feature, a tower fan with blades consumes more energy than the pedestal fan. Comparable energy consumption can be almost twice as much. A bladed tower fan is not as easy to clean as a pedestal fan. It really takes some disassembling to clean the blades properly.
Bladed tower fans range in cost from $30 to $150. The size of the fan, quality of materials, airflow, and energy efficiency are factors in price.
Bladeless Tower Fans
There are blades in the base of the “bladeless” fan. However, where one would expect to see blades, where the air is expelled, there are no blades. A bladeless fan creates what is termed an air multiplier effect. From the base, air is drawn up into a hollow ring with tiny holes.
The curvature of the ring wall creates negative pressure, the same concept as airflow over a curved airplane wing. In the fan ring, this low pressure draws more air into the air flow. Even air around the ring now joins the flow. The air multiplier effect of the bladeless fan refers to multiplying the amount of air drawn into the fan. It is claimed that the airflow output is 15 times or greater than what is drawn in at the base.
Because of the concept, bladeless fans provide smoother airflow and are quieter than bladed fans. Some fans oscillate. They also have an ionizing feature to improve air quality. Bladeless fans are easy to clean. They are also more energy-efficient and can reduce operating costs by as much as half.
Bladeless tower fans are also viewed by many as an attractive decor feature. While many bladeless tower fans are still rather expensive, some can now be purchased for under $100.
8. Table Fans
Table fans now come in both traditional and bladeless models. They also come in the traditional round fan or a small tower fan. Most have an oscillating movement. Table/desk fans are more often for personal use as most don’t generate enough airflow to cool an entire room. They are very portable and generally weigh under 10 lbs.
The bladeless models have greater airflow, run more quietly, and are easy to clean. They are more energy-efficient. They also do not have the physical hazard associated with bladed fans. The table fan spans a wide range of costs, fitting almost everyone’s budget. A small (but not tiny) oscillating fan can be purchased for as little as $10.
9. Box Fans
Box fans tend to be very affordable and can be as powerful as a comparable pedestal fan. However, box fans do not have an oscillating feature. And many box fans seem to be a compromise with noise to get a good airflow.
A box fan is handy for its portability and can be put in or near a window to draw in the cooler air. Where the dials are located on the fan may limit its use in a window. The dials and power plug should be in the back or front of the fan for placement in the window.
Also, if the box fan will be used primarily in or near an open window, it needs to have some weather-resistant features. The motor should be protected from blowing mist, for example.
The alternative for constant window use is a window fan with more weather-resistant features. Also, because a box fan is portable and lightweight, it can be turned around to expel musty smells and odors. A 20 in. box fan starts around $15. Price is determined by features and quality.
10. Wall-Mounted Fans
A wall-mounted fan might be considered an option for a low ceiling room. However, the wall-mounted fan has the oscillating feature that a ceiling fan does not.
It is also an option if a room doesn’t have floor space for a pedestal or tower fan. It can be mounted closer to the ceiling and away from youngsters and pets. Wall-mounted fans range in size from 12-inches to 30 inches. The various speed settings may be controlled by a dial on the unit, a hanging cord, and/or remote control. Some units also use a wall switch.
Wall-mounted fans are also practical for outdoor use, especially on a covered patio or lanai. Many outdoor fans also have a misting feature that reduces outdoor air temperature.
Basic wall-mounted fans cost as little as $30. Design, materials, and additional features will raise prices on up to a couple hundred dollars.
11. Humidifier Combo
Oftentimes, a better alternative to using a fan or air conditioning is an appliance that cools and dehumidifies. These units suck water vapor from the air using refrigerant gas that is cooled until it condenses. They are especially advantageous if you live in an area of the world that has especially humid climate. Dehumidifiers are most efficient in enclosed spaces, so it’s advised that you use them in a room or anywhere else where heat tends to collect.
It will give you the comfort of no humidity in the surrounding space’s air. Plus, the unit also does a great job at eliminating odor and airborne contaminants. It comes with two modes: dehumidifying and cooling. For those that live in a hot and humid climate, it is best used as a dehumidifier. That way, you’ll enjoy cooling and air purifying at the same time, in the same appliance.
How Much Fan Thrust Is Needed to “Cool” My Room?
It can be disappointing to invest in a fan and then find that it doesn’t cool the room as expected. Fan specifications can list wattage, motor type, and blade size, among other things.
However, the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of the fan in your room is the CFM. CFM is the measure of the cubic feet per minute (CFM) of airflow delivered by the fan. The motor, blades, and other mechanical parts are working together to create this airflow. The CFM airflow is determined with the fan operating at maximum speed. This rating is listed in the fan’s specifications.
CFM is also a factor in energy efficiency. An efficient airflow fan has a high CFM number with low wattage consumption. To determine the necessary CFMs, you can find free CFM calculators online. The calculator will determine the cubic feet of a room/space and the desired air exchange rate, to determine an efficient CFM fan rating.
For example, we have calculated a 10ft. x 12ft. bedroom with a 9ft. ceiling. The cubic feet of this room (10 x 12 x 9) is 1,080. But the calculator does the work. Then the calculator figures necessary air exchanges per hour (ACPH/ACH). Some calculators provide ACPH/ACH tables for common rooms.
Generally, the desired home air exchanges range between 3 – 10 per hour depending on the room. In our bedroom example, we are using the recommended air exchanges – every ten minutes, or 6 per hour.
According to the calculator, a CFM of 119 is required to provide the desired airflow efficiency for this bedroom example. With an air exchange every 5 minutes, 12 per hour, the required CFMs jump to 238.
Fan Options for the Attic
If you have the option to do some remodeling and have an attic, there are two more fan options. They can cool not only one room but other rooms as well
An attic fan is installed on the roof or the side of the attic area. It is most effective during the hottest part of the day as it draws out the hot air from the attic. Theoretically, this prevents the hot air from transferring to the living spaces directly below, a common problem.
The fan drastically reduces the high temperature in the attic, and lowers the living space below, purportedly, about 10 degrees. The effectiveness and efficiency of an attic fan seem to be a matter of debate. There are backdraft hazards also. However, there are many users who feel that the attic fan has helped to cool their homes.
The electric attic fan can range in cost from $75 to $350 depending on attic size and cooling needs. A solar-powered fan is much more expensive, but has no operating cost. A humidistat that senses moisture build-up and turns the fan on automatically can cost another $50 to $100. Condensation can cause damage to insulation, rafters, and trusses and create toxic mold.
Installation requires a professional electrician and a contractor or roofer, adding additional cost. The benefit of protecting the integrity of the roof materials while cooling the rooms below is worth considering this option.
Whole House Fans
The whole house fan is another cooling option. It works on a different concept from the attic fan. It operates in the evening and at night when outside temperatures are cooler. However, it can operate anytime the outside air is cooler than in the home.
How These Fans Work
The whole house fan pulls cooler outdoor air through room windows and into the attic. The air passes through a ceiling damper box and into a duct leading to the fan. The hot air is expelled through attic vents. This process can cool the attic and house up to 30 percent, keeping the living areas cooler during the day.
Air quality in the home is generally more polluted than outdoor air. Air conditioning recycles the same air in the home. The whole house fan ventilates outdoor air exchanges 20-30 times per hour for a healthy air quality.
Some homeowners use a whole house fan in tandem with air conditioning. However, AC is not necessary to consider installing a whole house fan. It is more efficient at cooling than AC. And it is energy-efficient, costing less to operate than air conditioning.
A whole house fan system can also target just one room. The ventilation damper box, duct, and fan are situated in the attic above the room. The fan should be adequate to ventilate two to three times the volume of the room. The cost of a whole house fan system is determined by how much area you want cooled. A whole house fan for the entire home costs far less than central AC. It can be as little as one-fourth the cost for the same coverage.
A whole house fan installation is generally three to four times more expensive than an attic fan. A whole house fan for a bedroom with a wall timer and remote costs about $700. Installation labor would be an additional cost. However, there are several DIY videos online about installing a whole house fan kit. An electrician is needed for wiring.
Make Time to Determine Your Cooling Needs
Obviously, there are several alternatives to ceiling fans worth considering. As summer and hot weather arrives, you may be tempted to run to the store just to buy something to cool your room(s) down. And you may be disappointed by the result.
You can research all of these types of alternatives, their ratings, and your necessary room dimension needs online. Then you can determine which alternative will provide the features and results you want within your budget.
Additional Smart Cooling Ideas
Reducing Solar Radiation/Solar Heat Gain
Reducing the heat caused by the sun is obviously a factor prompting all of the AC and fan selections above. But there are other ways to reduce solar heat gain as well, creating cooler conditions. The following is a list of some of these measures:
- Highly Reflective Material on the Roof
- Window Film
- Double-glazed Windows
- Solar Screens
- Window Shades
These initiatives promote energy efficiency as well as helping to cool the interior of the home. Each can be further researched online for more details about their effectiveness.
The ability of plants to cool a room is often not taken seriously as a cooling alternative. But according to the University of Vermont Extension, the moisture produced by plants through their leaves can reduce room temperatures as much as 10 degrees.
Plants also improve air quality and reduce airborne dust. And they are aesthetically pleasing! Areca palms, ficus trees, ferns, aloe vera, and spider plant are just a few of the plants that thrive indoors. While helping to cool and clean the air, they can also enhance decor!
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