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Air Conditioning, Saving Energy

Why I Chose a Whole House Fan Over Air Conditioning

 September 21, 2021

By  Robert Bradford

I chose to use a whole house fan more than I use my air conditioner, and I have been reaping tons of benefits ever since! Countless families have made this same switch to a simple and trusted cooling device.

Whole house fans can replace air conditioning systems in many climates. It is a great solution for the high energy bills caused by an AC running almost nonstop during hot summer days.

Whole house fans can also improve the quality of air inside your living space as it draws the naturally cool refreshing air from outside and then uses it to ventilate your home.

Here is a side-by-side comparison between a whole house fan and AC:

whole house fan

air conditioner

Lower upfront and installation cost: $1900 - $2950

Higher upfront and installation cost: $3,800 - $7,200

Less expensive to operate: consumes only 10% of the energy used by AC

Consumes a high amount of energy

Uses fresh air from outside to cool the entire house

Removes heat from within house by a mechanical refrigeration system

Creates a nice, steady breeze because of 30 to 60 air changes per hour, pulling in the cool air and pushing out the hot air

Cools your home gradually until it reaches the desired temperature

Easy to clean with fewer complex components

More time-consuming and expensive to clean because of more complicated parts

Longer life span: 20 to 30 years

Shorter life span: 15 to 20 years

Before you run out to purchase a whole house fan and auction off your AC unit, there are a few things that you should know first, namely, its benefits, limitations, and whether this cooling option fits your climate and home needs.

Whole House Fan Vs. Attic Fan

Many people are easily confused by the differences between whole house fans and attic fans. This is understandable since they perform closely related functions and ultimately have the same goal: keeping your home temperature cool and pleasant. 

Here are some differences:

Whole House Fan

  • A natural cooling device which consumes less energy than AC
  • Runs during the cooler part of evenings until early morning hours
  • Uses cool night air to ventilate the entire house
  • Installed between the living space ceiling and the attic in the central hallway
  • Extract the stale air from the house and pushes it through roof venting

Attic Fan

  • Runs during the hottest part of the day
  • Circulates small amount of outdoor air through attic if properly sealed
  • Installed in the attic space only
  • Reduces the hot air build up in the attic
  •  Moves hot air through the roof venting

As you can see, a whole house fan is definitely not the same as an attic fan. 

As the whole house fan pulls cool air from outside through the open windows, it pushes up the hot air towards the attic. The attic fan’s job is to remove the hot air buildup and release it through the roof vents.

So while whole house fans and attic fans can go TOGETHER, one is not a replacement for the other. Although some people tend to compare these two fans as if one is better than the other, they actually work hand-in-hand to keep your home comfortable during hot summer days.

Now that you understand the differences between whole house fans and attic fans, we will look at the benefits of a whole house fan much closer and why more and more residents are opting  for this “cooler change”.

Why Does It Cost Less to Use a Whole House Fan?

The total costs of purchasing a new whole house fan including  installation fees, maintenance and repairs, and more importantly, energy consumption is far lower in comparison to the expense of an air conditioner.

Affordable Price Per Unit and Installation Costs

How much will it cost you to purchase a whole house fan? Although it depends on the size and type of the fan that fits your attic and in proportion to the square footage of your house, the fan itself will only cost you $300 to $1,400

Even when you include the labor or installation expense, which can range from $700 - $950, whole house fans will still be about FIVE TIMES LESS EXPENSIVE than purchasing and installing an AC unit!

Minor Charges Maintenance and Repairs Fees

Unless you are pretty skilled with machinery and their inner workings, cleaning and repair service for an air conditioner must be done by an expert technician. On average, residents pay $500 for inspection and cleaning of their furnace and AC unit.

On the other hand, the upkeep for the whole house fan rarely calls for professional maintenance. Because of its simple design and mechanism, it only requires cleaning once or twice a year, more if you live in a place where dust easily accumulates and your fan is used almost year-round. 

It also does not require the mechanical maintenance or replacement of components as much as an AC does.

Lower Energy Consumption

An air conditioning unit could be your go-to device to cool your home during those long hot summers. Some residents have their AC running for almost the entire day. But you know what comes next: outrageous electric bills!

A report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2015, says “air conditioning accounts for about 12% of U.S. home energy expenditures.”

It went on to show that AC costs are averaging between $262 in moderate mixed-humid regions to $525 in the hot-humid region.

How does the whole house fan solve this costly problem? Well, whole house fans can deliver superb ventilation without the use of much energy. In fact, it makes use of only one-tenth of the energy consumed by an AC. Imagine how much savings that would be!

An average-sized whole house fan costs $0.02 to $0.07 per hour to operate, while an average reverse cycle air conditioner costs $0.25 – $0.35 per hour. One homeowner reported that they used to pay $700 on electricity bills during summers. But when they started to employ a whole house fan as their main cooling system, the energy cost went down to $200! 

You may wonder: How can a mere fan accomplish that?

The process of cooling starts when the outdoor temperature is near or lower than the desired indoor temperature. Through the open windows and doors the whole house fan draws in the cool air from outdoors and into the house. The hot air, in turn, will be pulled up to the attic and released through the roof vents.

This simple process can cool the entire house in a matter of minutes.  That is significantly faster than an average air conditioner takes to cool the entire house.  

Should I Get a Whole House Fan?

By now, you may be convinced that a whole house fan is a better option to cool your home. You should remember, though, that your decision should depend primarily on where you live.

Whole house fans work best in climates where days are hot but the evenings and early mornings are cool. Whole house fans also do well in places with low humidity. The best example of a climate where whole house fans win hands down over AC units is the desert.

More modern designs of whole house fans can work in other climates.  It can complement your AC perfectly and still help you to lower energy bills. How?

You can turn on your whole house fan first to remove the hot air confined in your home. It will be replaced by cool outside air, especially in the evenings until the early part of the mornings. Then, when the temperature outside gets warmer,  your AC comes on to cool your space to a comfortable temperature.  

How Big of a Whole House Fan Should I Get?

There are four key ways to calculate the proper size of a whole house fan for your home.
  1. 1
    Calculate the overall air volume of your home by multiplying the square-footage by  the height (floor to ceiling).
  2. 2
    Find the cubic feet per minute  (CFM)  by multiplying the total air volume 30 (complete air change every 2 minutes) and dividing it by 60 minutes. (i.e., 1,000 sq. meter x 8 ft. x 30 air changes / 60 min. = 4,000 CFM)
  3. 3
    Compute for the area of your attic air vents. You will need at least 1 square foot of attic air venting for each 750 CFM of airflow.
  4. 4
    Purchase a whole house fan that suits your CFM requirement.

Since whole house fans pull hot air into the attic  make sure that your home has sufficient relief openings such as roof vents. The Department of Energy strongly suggests two to four times the normal area of attic vents for proper ventilation, or “one square foot of net free area for every 750 cubic feet per minute of fan capacity”.

How Long Can I Operate My Whole House Fan?

An average of four to five hours is what has been the suggested operating time of a whole house fan. NEVER use it while your AC is on as it would waste a lot of energy and would translate to higher energy costs. That's the opposite of what you’re trying to do!

Some recommend running the whole house fan all night to take advantage of the cooler temperatures outside. If the inside gets cool enough, you may not even have  to turn your AC on the next day.

Robert Bradford


I'm Robert Bradford. I've been in the heating and air conditioning industry for 30 years. Ov​​​​​er 40 if you count the years I helped my father as a kid. On this site, I share everything I've learned about finding the best HVAC contractors and equipment for your home. I'm happy to say that over the last few years, The Comfort Academy has grown into a trusted site with thousands of informed site visitors each year.

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