Ceiling Fans vs Air Conditioning

Ceiling Fans vs Air Conditioning: the Pros and Cons

Ceiling fans are quiet and inexpensive. But are they the best way to beat the heat, and would you be better off paying more for air conditioning? Canstar explores ceiling fans vs air conditioning.

As the hot summer weather well and truly sets in, finding the best way to stay cool is always top of the list. And an age-old question for many is whether or not it’s time to give in to the benefits of air conditioning. But what about if your home already has some trusty ceiling fans in place? Do you really still need to fork out the cash for air con?

Alternatively, if you spend your summer days sitting by the pedestal fan, should you be looking at a ceiling fan or an A/C unit to better keep you cool?

Unfortunately, there’s no universal approach to this. However, a bit of research should guide you in the right direction as to which is the better choice for your family and your budget. Who knows, you might even strike a winning balance between both air conditioners and ceiling fans.

Air con vs ceiling fans: which is better?

Before driving hurriedly down to the appliance store, it’s important to consider the benefits that each cooling method can bring to the table.

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The case for air conditioners:

From old window-rattling units, to ducted and portable ones, modern split-systems, and the more exotic evaporative units, air conditioners have been in our lives for around 100 years. And, once installed, air conditioners are a great way to keep cool.

Split system heat pumps are the go-to for many here in New Zealand. That’s the classic heat pump sitting high on the wall, regulating the temperature of the room you’re in. These are a great way to stave off the heat, keeping your living room as cool as needed.

However, as these systems are only designed to cool one area, it does mean that trips to other parts of your home can be the equivalent of a short trip to the tropics. So if there isn’t one in your bedroom, you could be in for sleepless nights.

For true all-round comfort, you need multi split system heat pump (one powerful outdoor unit feeding multiple indoor wall units) or a centrally ducted air conditioning system.

Both systems offer the ability to cool an entire home, and to create different temperatures in separate zones or rooms. A centrally ducted system has the additional advantage of avoiding the bulky wall units associated with heat pumps.

→Related article: Daikin: New Zealand’s Favourite Heat Pumps

The cost of air conditioning

The main drawback with air conditioning is the cost. In particular, the cost of the unit price and installation. which can easily run into a few thousand dollars.

In terms of power usage, a split system heat pump is extremely energy-efficient compared to other forms of heating. However, in terms of cooling, it’s not going to be cheaper than a ceiling fan. And if you are running it all day long, depending on the model, your power bill could increase markedly.

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ceiling fans bedroom with ceiling fan

The case for ceiling fans:

The humble ceiling fan – where would we be without it? Sweating profusely, probably. Ceiling fans are a fuss-free way to create cooling air currents within a room and drive airflow throughout a home.

However, they are not without prominent shortcomings. The most obvious is that they don’t actually cool the environment. They just push air around, so you won’t enjoy the same chilled atmosphere than aircon creates.

Another is the obvious risk of blades swirling above your head. If your roof is rather low, then stretching your hands above your head can be a perilous task. Furthermore, some fans are just downright noisy, especially on faster speed settings.

The cost of ceiling fans

On the plus side, the main benefit of ceiling fans is that they’re low cost to purchase, install and run, compared to air conditioning units and heat pumps. You may even be able to install them yourself, if you are suitably competent, and they can cost as little as 2c per hour to run, 20 times less than a split system air conditioner.

→Related article: Can I Install My Own Lights Fixtures and Switches?

Working them in tandem:

We know that the propensity for maximum chill with air conditioners can’t be beat, and neither can a ceiling fan’s running cost. Deciding on which one to use can be a bit of a conundrum. But one solution is to use them both in tandem:

Close off your living area and run the air con for a short period, until it’s nice and cool. Then switch to using your ceiling fan to circulate the air and create cooling currents.

→Related article: The Best Fans for Summer

Air conditioning vs ceiling fans: The pros and cons

Pros Cons
Air Conditioners
  • Very effective at cooling spaces
  • Actually cools a space rather than indirectly cooling your body
  • The effects of AC are quickly felt
  • Can be set to maintain a specific temperature
  • Reverse cycle units can also keep you warm in winter


  • More expensive option in terms of running cost
  • Can use as much as 2200W per hour
  • Require regular maintenance in order to keep the filters clean and functioning
  • Can breakdown, and expensive to fix
  • Can dry out the air being conditioned, which can have adverse health effects
  • Inefficient in open spaces
Ceiling Fans
  • Cheaper to run than air conditioning
  • Uses only about 65W per hour
  • Doesn’t require regular maintenance, and is unlikely to break or malfunction
  • Efficient in open, ventilated spaces
  • Doesn’t dry out the air
  • Don’t actually cool a space, instead pushes air around the room, which then indirectly cools your body through the evaporation of sweat
  • You need to stand close under a fan to feel its full benefit
  • Limited temperature control
  • Generally doesn’t have the power to reach every corner of the room

Which one is right for me?

Looking at each method’s respective pros and cons, it becomes clear that your options are:

  • Ceiling fan – low risk/low reward method: it’s cheaper to run with no ongoing maintenance costs, and you’re unlikely to have to spend big bucks on fixing a broken fan
  • Air conditioning – high risk/high reward method: an air conditioner is much more effective at cooling you down and making you comfortable. However, it requires more money spent on energy, ongoing maintenance efforts and, potentially, hefty expenses if your unit breaks
  • Combining both – lower-risk/medium-reward method: Combining the limited use of an air conditioner with a ceiling fan provides better levels of cooling than a ceiling fan alone, for less money than continually running an air con unit.

At the end of the day – that long, sweltering summer’s day – your decision will depend on how bothered you are by the heat. If you constantly find yourself unable to stand the heat, then your best choice is definitely the air conditioning. Especially for those of us up north where it can get particularly humid. But if you’re not too bothered by the hot weather, and don’t fancy larger energy bills, you might want to stick to using your ceiling fan.

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Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table above is an abridged version of our full results, available here.

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author andrew broadley

About the author of this page

This report was written by Canstar Content Producer, Andrew Broadley. Andrew is an
experienced writer with a wide range of industry experience. Starting out, he cut his teeth
working as a writer for print and online magazines, and he has worked in both journalism
and editorial roles. His content has covered lifestyle and culture, marketing and, more
recently, finance for Canstar.

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