After this summer's heat wave, even my air conditioner was crying out for relief. My roommate and I left it on all day so our two dogs wouldn't die in a stuffy apartment. Plus, our electric bill skyrocketed—the power of one air conditioner can put you in the poorhouse (it can also make you fat). I resolved to find out if I could survive the rest of the summer without an air conditioner, using fans to cool the apartment instead.
I tested six new fans, plus one "control" fan—the Kool Operator Jr. that I'd had for years. (I almost felt bad pitting it against some of the fanciest fans in America.) My tests were manifold and designed to assess each fan under various conditions. Did it make the room cool enough for peaceful slumber? Did it create a pleasant white noise, or was it too loud? How powerful was it? Were there enough speed settings? Was it designed well? During the day, did it keep the apartment a livable temperature? In other words, were the dogs still alive when I got home from work? Finally, was it a good deal? I rated the fans on all of these qualities: coolness, noise, design, and value.
I slept two nights with each fan—if I could stand it. A couple simply didn't keep the room cool enough for me to sleep in, and I was forced to supplement the "cooling" with other fans. I also tested them for at least one hour at three different times of day: early morning, early evening, and at night before bed. Ultimately, you want a fan that keeps you cool, so fans were ranked on a 20-point scale for coolness and a 10-point scale for design and noise. Value was calculated by adding the scores in the other categories, multiplying by 10, and dividing by the price.
Here are the results, from worst to best:
OxygenFresh Fan, $29.95
This is a desk fan, but I figured if I set it on my nightstand, it would blow directly on my face, offering a lovely, constant breeze as I slept. No dice. When set to high, this fan barely cooled my pinky. It also made a whirring noise reminiscent of a hand vacuum, which was distracting. On the plus side, there's a timer that turns it off after an hour. And the Sharper Image, which sells this fan, claims it can reduce smog and increase oxygen in your environment. I don't know how much smog is in my apartment (probably quite a bit—I seem to live on a major truck route), but I noticed no discernible difference after using it. (The EPA has done studies on the effectiveness of air purifiers and has concluded that most portable models don't noticeably reduce pollutants in the air.) Given its dubious billing, and its poor cooling capacity, it's a bad value despite its sale price of $29.95. At its regular price of $49.95, it's a truly horrendous deal.
Kool Operator Jr., $71.99
Let's be blunt: This fan is ugly, made of plastic, and looks like it belongs in a kid's bedroom. (In fact, I think it lived in my brother's room for most of the '90s.) But with 8-inch blades, it's compact, lightweight, not too noisy, and practical. Best of all, it's surprisingly powerful—not quite enough to cool an entire room on the hottest day, but it will serve your purposes nicely if you're going to be stationary for a spell (it doesn't rotate, though it does tilt 90 degrees). However, I was shocked—shocked!—to discover that my trusty Kool Operator Jr. rang up at a kool $71.99 on Amazon. Then I remembered this fan's long life—it's a veritable heirloom. Talk about value.
Twin Window Fan, $28.47
I'd always been dubious of a window fan's effectiveness—I thought of them as a poor man's air conditioner—and I was proven half-right. Window fans are supposed to sit in your window in place of a screen, blowing cool air into your room. But this fan rests on two feet (assembly required a Phillips head screwdriver) that create a gap between the fan and your window frame, letting in bugs. My unsatisfying solution: Rest the fan in front of your screen. That's not the only feature that I found problematic. While the twin fans can push air into the room, or suck it out, the latter seemed to make the room warmer. Also, the temperature control didn't seem to work. And even at the highest setting, this fan wasn't particularly powerful. On the plus side, the window fan created a nice amount of white noise—a soothing background sound—and the $30 price tag makes it a solid value if you need something for a room that's not too stuffy to begin with. But if you think this fan can replace an air conditioner, think again, and opt for something more powerful.