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Fan and Air Circulator Buying Guide

Fan Buying Guide

When researching ways to cool your home, consider getting a fan. Fans, also known as air circulators, can be the perfect solution to meet light cooling needs. In more temperate climates, they are an excellent alternative to having an air conditioner that may not see much use. In hotter or more humid climates, fans can help ventilate and dry an area while cooling it, or they can supplement existing air conditioning systems.

Size, cooling capacity, intended use, style, and operational noise will all influence how effective a fan will cool your environment. Hence, understanding how fans and air circulators work to keep you comfortable is a key component to choosing the right one for your needs.


For easy accessibility to the topics in this article, refer to the section list provided below:

About Fans

Vornado 630B Air Circulator

Though fans may seem simple upon first glance, they have more recently become sophisticated cooling systems that help you save on cooling costs, meet versatile needs, and promote energy efficiency. Fans were arguably the first cooling devices created by humans. Today most fans are operated by an electric motor, which turns the blades within a housing unit. Several variations in fan design and intended purpose have greatly enhanced their functionality.

There are three main types of fans:

  • Residential fans like the Vornado 184 cool and ventilate areas in your home and are generally meant for personal use.
  • Industrial fans are found in offices, warehouses, and other workplaces to meet practical needs as well as keep employees comfortable.

Additionally, fans can be further categorized based on style and design. Fan styles include:

  • Tower fans have a long, vertical housing unit that includes a cooling apparatus that runs the length of the fan. They conserve space and offer greater blade protection than more traditional fans.
  • Pedestal fans feature a conventional fan design perched on a long stand to reach higher areas than a floor or table fan. They are useful for cooling areas off the ground without needing a desk or shelf for support.
  • Table fans can rest on a table, desk, shelf, or other stationary object. These fans are generally smaller air circulators that are convenient and mobile.
  • Floor fans sit on the floor and have a variety of uses. They tend to be larger than other types of fans and are often used in commercial and industrial applications.
  • Personal fans such as the Vornado Flippi V keep you cool in everyday situations. These fans are often placed in bedrooms, workshops, and even cars with a primary purpose of cooling one occupant.
  • Misting fans generate water droplets that are then released into the environment and evaporated, cooling the area in the process. These fans are generally used outdoors.

Many fan models will fit into more than one of the above categories. If you are just starting to investigate what kind of fan you will need, you should first narrow down the type and style of fan you prefer.


How Fans Work

The cooling mechanism of a fan is straightforward but ingenious: spinning blades move air to create the feeling of wind. Unlike air conditioners, which remove warm air from a space and circulate cool air into it, fans achieve a wind-chill effect, making you feel cooler with a breeze. Because fans work by directly cooling you rather than the entire room itself, they are most effective in situations where you might feel hot even though the room is technically cold. Fans are especially useful in spaces where different people prefer different temperature settings, such as a large household or office.

Axial Fans

Most of a fan's cooling power is derived from its blades. Factors such as the number of blades, the blades' angle of orientation, the length of the blades, and the number of revolutions per minute play a role in how effective a fan can move air throughout a room. The majority of residential fans and certain industrial and water damage restoration fans, including the Phoenix Axial Air Mover, use an axial blade configuration, meaning the blades are facing the same direction as the airflow created.

Centrifugal Fans

The opposite of an axial configuration is a centrifugal fan design, where the blades face perpendicular to the direction of the airflow created. Centrifugal fans create a higher pressure than axial fans, which is useful for drying purposes. As such, water damage restoration fans, like the Phoenix Centrifugal Air Mover, commonly use centrifugal blade configurations.

Bladeless Fans

Though bladeless fans seem to be lacking blades altogether, the blades are in fact located in the base of the unit where they cannot be seen. Air intake valves are located in the base of the fan as well. Once the air is suctioned up into the hollow circular part of the fan, it exits through a slit in the circular tube. Additional air surrounding the device is drawn in to create a strong breeze, "multiplying" the air.

One of the advantages a bladeless fan, such as the Dyson AM01, has over a traditional fan—aside from the lack of visible moving parts and unique design—is that the air is moved in a smooth pattern. Conventional fans "buffet"(that is, chop) the air since the blades do not have continuous coverage over the airflow. The smooth air movement of a bladeless fan helps increase its cooling quality.


Fans vs. Air Conditioners

Fans have a variety of advantages over air conditioner systems. While air conditioners have an overall better cooling capacity than fans and offer a greater degree of control over your cooling experience, fans are more ideal for managing specific cooling tasks and allow for increased portability and convenience. Below are some of the more common benefits of using a fan instead of an AC.

  • Cost — As a rule of thumb, fans usually cost less than air conditioners, especially for residential usage. If you are trying to spend economically and wouldn't necessarily benefit from the added capacity of an air conditioner, purchasing a fan may be the perfect route to take. Fans also cost less to maintain than air conditioners, since fans do not have filters, exhaust systems, and drainage concerns associated with them.
  • Efficiency — Fans consume less energy than an air conditioner when cooling a similar-sized same space. Whereas air conditioners create a low volume of air at a high pressure, fans create a high volume of air at a lower pressure. If you are looking to save on energy costs or only need a temporary cooling solution, you would do much better with a fan. Combined with a central air conditioning system, fans can help you save on your energy costs each month.
  • Green Living — Because fans don't require refrigerant and conserve more energy when compared to an AC, they are far easier on the environment than an air conditioning unit. Running a fan is one of the cleanest ways to reduce your carbon footprint as you cool your home or workplace.
  • Setup — Air conditioners may involve elaborate exhaust and drainage systems, complicated installation processes, specific window or location requirements, and even professional assistance to setup. Fans operate out of the box. Merely choose a location for your fan and plug it in. Most fans do not require any assembly on your part, and those that do are easily put together.
  • Maintenance — Air conditioners often need air filters cleaned and replaced, refrigerant recharged, water drained, and pumps maintained in addition to the regular cleaning and upkeep any home appliance would require. Maintaining a fan involves keeping the blades clean and keeping the fan clean. Wiping it down with regular soap and water will get the job done, and you won't have to purchase additional items not included with the fan to make sure it lasts. Fans are also far more convenient than ACs to repair and replace should a major incident befall it.
  • Portability — Because fans weigh less, require little or no installation, and have fewer external components than most ACs, they can be easily moved from room to room or put away for storage purposes.

Measuring Fan Power

Different fans will create more or less air movement based on how powerful they are. The airflow produced by a fan is typically given in cubic feet per minute (CFM). This represents the volume of air flowing by a given point every minute. In other words, CFM is the airspeed generated (in feet per minute) multiplied by the area cooled (in cubic feet). One CFM is approximately equal to 2 liters of air generated per second.

Your desired CFM rating will depend on how you plan to use the fan. To figure out how many minutes a fan will take to circulate air through your entire room, divide the cubic foot measurement of your room by the CFM rating of the fan. For example:

     2,000 cubic feet         =         1 minute for the fan to cycle
          2,000 CFM                            through all the room's air

To calculate the cubic-foot dimensions of your room or space, multiply the ceiling height in feet by the square footage. A room with 8-foot ceilings and a floor area of 250 square feet would equal 2,000 cubic feet.

As a general rule of thumb, you want the fan to take 5 minutes at most to circulate air through a room; 3 minutes or less is better. For a room that measures 2,000 cubic feet like the one described in the previous example, the minimum CFM rating would equal 400 CFM and the ideal fan would have a 670 CFM rating or higher.

The location of your fan will also impact its effectiveness. A fan placed in the middle of a room will take longer to cool the room than a fan placed against the wall or in a corner. A room with more windows or occupants will take longer to cool than a room with fewer windows and occupants. Try to place your fan where you can get the most benefit out of it.

Operational Noise

Because they require moving parts and motors, fans will add some noise to any environment. However, manufacturers have tried to minimize intense noise production to facilitate easier integration of the fan into any setting. Fans, such as the Vornado V103 Under-Cabinet Air Circulator, are now designed to produce less vibration, promote seamless movement of internal fan parts, provide additional insulation of noisy components, and are built with materials meant to reduce noise creation from the outset.

If noise level is of particular concern to you, try to find out a fan's decibel (dB) rating. Some manufacturers list a fan's decibel level while others may not. However, certain fan types fall into certain noise expectations. Because they are typically used in close quarters, most personal fans tend run a little quieter than other types, while industrial fans meant for warehouses and garages are some of the loudest fans. To give you an idea of what decibel measurements translate into, the Sunpentown Microcomputer Fan, which has a decibel rating of 66 dBs, is a little louder than regular conversation.

Special Features

Today, fans come with many features meant to increase user-friendliness and allow for customization per user preference. Common features include

  • Programmable Timers — Help you save energy and reduce overuse.
  • Oscillating Louvers — Assist in moving air around the room.
  • Multiple Fan Speeds — Adjust the fan for different cooling situations.
  • Remote Controls — Help you manage the fan from afar.
  • Adjustable Fan Angle/Height — Allow you to tailor airflow direction and height to cool different areas.
  • Digital Controls — Help you accurately program settings and easily recognize what settings the fan is currently using.
  • Ionizers - Release negative ions into the air to help refresh stale air and reduce static electricity.
  • Misting Capabilities — Produce small water droplets in the air that, when evaporated, allow for more efficient cooling.

In addition, certain fans may have unique design features that promote optimal cooling. For example, the Sunpentown FSQQ Dual Fan contains two separate fan units for better cooling.

To find the right fan for you, imagine what features the ideal fan would have and compare the fans that come closest to your ideal.


Compared to other appliances, fans are relatively low-maintenance. The most significant issue related to fan upkeep is preventing dust, dirt, grime, and other buildup on the fan blades. When too many particles accumulate on the blades, the fan will spin slower, spread dust and dirt throughout the room, won't move air as fast or as far, and will generally reduce the fan's effectiveness. Too much dust buildup may cause the fan to stop spinning altogether.

The best way to avoid particle buildup is to regularly clean the fan blades, housing unit, and any air intake mechanisms. If your fan can be disassembled, simply take it apart and wipe down the various components. Refer to the manufacturer's user manual when disassembling your fan, as the screws may be hidden or there may be easier methods to reach the blades. If your fan cannot be easily taken apart, try using brushes, sprays, or canned air to remove internal buildup. Take care not to get water on the motor or any other electrical parts.

Other measures you can take to prolong the life of your fan include placing it out of reach of children or pets, not running it when it's not needed, using the fan only as it was intended, securing it from falling over or on top of other items, and giving the fan enough space to provide maximum benefit. Should it become necessary, fans are one of the easiest household appliances to replace.

The Least You Need To Know

  • Fans come in different types for many different purposes. The three main types of fans are residential, commercial/industrial, and water damage restoration fans.
  • Along with the major fan types, major fan styles include tower, pedestal, table, floor, misting, and personal fans.
  • Blade orientation largely determines how a fan cools, ventilates, and dries the environment. Axial, centrifugal, and bladeless fans are the major options for blade orientation.
  • While less powerful, fans provide several advantages over air conditioners, such as lower cooling costs, lower energy consumption, and less upkeep.
  • CFM ratings reflect a fan's cooling capacity and measure how much air the fan moves per minute. Use CFM ratings to figure out how long a fan will take to circulate all of the air in your room.
  • Fans have recently been enhanced by manufacturers to emit less noise to prevent user inconvenience and distraction. Residential fans are typically quieter than fans designed for commercial and industrial use.
  • Special features allow fan operation to be more convenient than ever before and give you a greater degree of control over your cooling experience.
  • The most important aspect of fan maintenance is keeping the blades clear of debris. Periodically wiping down the fan blades and any intake areas will prolong the life of your fan.

Still Have Questions?

For more information on specific fans and air circulators and other air treatment solutions, review our extensive product listings and visit our Knowledge Center. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guesswork out of decision-making. Contact our product experts toll free at 1 (800) 934-9194. We want to help you make your indoor environment a healthy one.

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