This is my fifth summer without an air conditioner. I’m just putting that out there right now, to solidify my bona fides as an expert on staying cool without one. Since this summer has been hot as hell — to a dangerous degree — and we can expect future summers to follow suit, I’m here to tell you about the benefits and glories of the humble fan. I got one of my fans by simply taking it from an ex during a breakup, but these things are relatively cheap, so whether you’re using them in place of AC or to supplement it, you must get one by whatever means necessary.
Regardless of if your fans are ill-gotten or honestly purchased, they won’t do you as much good in this heat unless you use them strategically. Here’s where you should place them for maximum effectiveness.
Consider the size and shape of your fan
In my small apartment, I have two fans: The one in my living room (which is also my dining room, unfortunately) is a rotating cylinder that stands about three feet tall. When it’s operating on its highest setting, I can feel its breeze for about eight feet, provided there are no obstructions. The fan in my bedroom is a small, circular one that fits on a nightstand, but its miniature size is deceptive, as I can also feel that from about three feet away.
Certain sizes and styles of fans will work better in certain spaces, according to fan-making company Lasko. In general, if you’re looking to cool a living room or family room, opt for one of these:
- A tower fan
- A pedestal fan
- A wall-mounted fan
- A bladeless fan
- An air circulator fan
While each of these will direct airflow in a slightly different way, they all do basically the same things, which are create a breeze and circulate air. You want something that fits well in your space and has some power behind it. For smaller spaces, like bedrooms, you can use a smaller fan.
Where to place the fan in the room
It’s not enough to stick a big fan in a big room and a small fan in a small room, though — you also need to find the perfect placement. Remember that cold air sinks and hot air rises, so if you have a high ceiling, you are providing lots of space for warm air to occupy. Stairways and hallways within these large, open spaces are going to be hotter than the areas below them. My “bedroom,” for instance, is actually a lofted storage space at the top of my studio, which has ceilings that go up 3.35 m. Without my little bedroom fan, I would have surely faced some kind of heat-related medical event in my sleep by now. You may need multiple fans to cover higher areas, so keep that in mind.
The key to placement is this: Adjust your fan so it faces the opposite wall from where most of the activity in the space takes place. This, per Lasko, will drive the air to the surface. It will bounce off, interacting with the rest of the air and cooling the space overall.
Fan placement is more important than type, too. You might think a taller fan or a fan on an elevated surface is your best bet to cool a room, as it attacks that higher-up hot air, but as Lasko points out, a fan situated lower to the ground can actually pick up the “refreshing chilliness” lingering down there and push it out. Consider a box fan, which can be placed on the floor or in a window. Window fans are great for circulating fresh air from outside, but if you are worried about allergy triggers infiltrating your home or just generally letting outside air in, it’s not necessary.
Finally, when figuring out your placement plan, consider your furniture. A window fan obstructed by curtains does you less good than one that isn’t covered. Similarly, a fan on the floor that is blocked by a couch or table won’t be as helpful as one that has a clear pathway to push out air. One thing that can be in front of a fan is a shallow pan of ice, to produce some cold air that your fan can pick up and push out (a DIY air conditioner, of sorts).
If you only have one fan or you want to use a single fan to circulate air in multiple rooms, your placement strategy will be a little different. Andrew Persily, an engineer focused on indoor air quality at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, told our friends at Quartz that if you have an air conditioner in one room and you want to circulate that cold air to another, you have to put your fan between the two and make sure the air is blowing into the warmer one. That strategy can work to a lesser degree if you have a big fan in one room and want to use a smaller fan to usher the colder air it generates into a smaller one nearby.
Strategize your use
Fans don’t cool rooms, but rather cool the people inside those rooms. I disagree with this because I clock a notable difference between walking into a room where my fan has been on vs. entering one where it hasn’t, but it’s kind of irrelevant. When considering your placement, per the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it is important to make sure your fan is actually blowing on the people in the room, so whether it “cools” the room or not, the people feel a benefit.
You should place the fan somewhere that is convenient for you to turn it off, though. Leaving a fan on can actually generate some heat from the power source, and while that’s minor compared to the heat of a hot summer day, it’s also a waste of energy.
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