How to Save Energy: Should You Use a Fan or the A/C?

How to Save Energy: Should You Use a Fan or the AC?

by | Energy Conservation, Energy Resources

Do you remember the first time you realized that air conditioning wasn’t free? We’d be willing to bet that one of your parents taught you this lesson. It was likely after you held the front door open a bit too long.

Now that you have to pay for it yourself, the idea of leaving the door ajar on a hot summer day is preposterous. There’s no way we’d be caught letting the precious cool air escape into the 97°F sauna just outside the front door.

Your AC works hard to keep your home comfortable during the hot summer months. Your last summer energy bill may have come as such a shock that you’ve suddenly found yourself combing the internet for ways to survive the summer heat. Here enters the age-old question: Should you use a fan or the AC to survive the summer?

What Uses the Most Energy at Home?

In the United States, the residential sector is the third largest energy user. Of all that residential energy consumption, 35% is wasted.

What consumes the most energy in your home? It’s important to understand where your energy is going so that you have a better idea of how your habits impact your energy bill.

Heating and Cooling

When it comes to the number one user of residential energy, the clear winner is your heating and cooling system. It’s not surprising when you consider that temperature is one of the most argued about topics in the home. While some members of your household might disagree with your decision to turn the thermostat up a few degrees in the summer, it has the potential to save you some money on your next bill.

Water Heater

Heating and cooling being the number one use of energy may not have been a shock, but we bet number two on the list is! That’s right—your water heater is using more energy than you thought. That’s why experts recommend you flip the switch to vacation mode when you’re out of town to reduce energy waste.

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Lighting is one of the biggest household energy consumers. Do yourself a favor and turn off the lights the next time you leave the room.

Washer and Dryer

Another obvious addition to the list is your washer and dryer. The frequency with which you use these appliances, their run-time, and the energy required to function, all make it impossible not to include these two high on the list.



We tend to forget about our refrigerator until snack time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working all day, every day! While it isn’t the number one energy user, it consumes a considerable amount of power. Older models are notorious for wasting energy, but newer models can also be a significant source of waste if someone in your household habitually holds the fridge door open for a long time while considering their next meal. 


If you love to bake, you know these appliances use up quite a bit of energy. Ovens can release a lot of ambient heat into the kitchen in the midst of a baking flurry. They also burden your AC, challenging it to temper the heat produced by your oven in addition to the heat outside. 

Cable Box and TV

This addition to the list might surprise some because these are smaller devices compared to the appliances named above. Remember, your cable box and TV are always plugged in, which means they are using energy 24-hours a day. Hold your hand above the cable box. If it’s on, it’s probably generating a small of heat that you can feel from at least an inch or two away.


Believe it or not, your dishwasher comes in at the bottom of the list of things that use the most energy in your home. Not only does it not use much, it actually uses less energy than hand-washing your dishes with hot water!

Does Using a Fan Save Energy?

You often see recommendations to skip the AC and just switch on the fan if you’re a little too warm. But if it’s sweltering outside, is it better to turn the fan on or to bump the thermostat down by a few degrees?

What Are the Energy Costs of a Fan?

If you assumed the energy costs of running a fan are minimal, you’d be right. Fans use so little energy that running certain fans (think direct current fans) on high-speed for 24-hours a day would cost you around $5 a month. The one negative is that—depending on the fan—you may have a slightly higher upfront cost, especially if you choose a more advanced and energy-efficient fan. 


What Are the Energy Costs of Air Conditioning?

Determining the cost of your AC is a bit more complicated because the type of system and size of your home have to be considered. The cost also varies depending on whether you use a wall unit or central air conditioning.

Wall AC Unit

If you have a wall AC unit, your costs are going to be a bit different than central air conditioning. You should expect that a window AC unit will run you an average of $50 a month, depending on your supplier and your location.

Central AC Unit

Central AC can quickly run up your electricity bill. If you regularly use central AC, expect it to cost an average of $130 a month depending on your contract rate, home size, and location.

Fan or the AC, Can Using Both Be Cost Effective?

Fans create air movement and are less expensive than the AC. However, fans don’t produce cold air—they simply move the existing air around. The air flow helps us feel more comfortable, but it doesn’t reduce the temperature.

The best way to stay cool and under budget is by running a fan and the AC together. If you don’t know where to begin, start by adjusting your thermostat up by a few degrees and turning on your fans. Thanks to the air movement caused by the fans, you’ll begin to feel cooler even after you’ve upped the temperature.

Optimal Thermostat Setting to Save Money

If your budget is your main concern, you’ll want to set your thermostat a bit higher to maximize the potential savings. In the hot summer months, set your AC to 78°F when you’re home. If you head out for the day, go ahead and turn it up a bit to save even more.

Other Tips to Save Energy in the Summer

Now that you know how to use your fans and AC to your advantage, it’s time to learn a few more ways to save energy this summer without succumbing to the weather!

Focus on Shade

It’s tempting to throw open the curtains on beautiful, sunny summer days, but if you want to give your AC a break—fight that urge. Keep your curtains drawn to protect your home from the sun’s powerful rays and help keep the temperature down.

Upgrade Your Lighting

If you take our advice and keep your shades drawn, you’re going to need to need your lights. By keeping your lights on for more hours during the day, you’ll want to consider how efficient your current bulbs are. Consider replacing your existing bulbs with energy-efficient LED lights, which conveniently also produce very little heat compared to incandescents. 

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Take Dinner Outside

Are you cooking up a storm in the kitchen but blasting the AC so your family doesn’t overheat? It might be time to change up your habits. Rather than using a hot indoor appliance like your oven, fire up the grill! All of the excess heat will escape outdoors instead of being trapped in your home. Alternatively, dine al fresco once the food prep is done inside. If it’s late enough and the weather has cooled down, you might be able to crack a window to let the heat from the kitchen escape.

Limit Your Hot Water Usage

When you can, cut back on your hot water dependence. Your water heater uses a significant amount of energy and your long showers are increasing the heat and humidity inside. Instead, take advantage of the fact that it’s already hot outside and take a warm shower instead of a scalding one.

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out our blog. We regularly publish new ideas and tips to help you conserve energy and save on your bills.

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