When the hot weather hits, most people scramble for a way to cool down. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of central air to keep their homes ice cool. In millions of homes and apartments, cooling off is the job of window units or fans to keep the air moving so that dwellers don t totally melt.

If a sneaky summer has left you looking for a cheap and efficient way to cool off, one of your first stops should be your local home improvement or big box store to look for a tower fan or a window AC unit. There, you'll find plenty of options to help you stop sweating, some of which are super cheap, while others can be pricey. The trick is to find a cooling option that hits the sweet spot   it doesn't cost a ton of money to operate but it still keeps you comfortable.

Energy Usage. When it comes to a traditional window AC unit, there are three distinct parts: The compressor, a condenser and an evaporator. The unit works by using a chemical (Freon) that basically takes in warm air from the surroundings, cools it and then pushes it back out through the vents, so you get cooler air. Because there are several processes happening at once, a window AC uses more energy than a traditional tower fan. Tower fans work by simply pushing air outward, without actually cooling it. Therefore, they use much less energy than an AC unit. In fact, the average AC uses about 3500 watts, or 3.5 kWh, in just one hour, while a fan uses only 2.4 kWh in 24 hours.

Pricing. If you're going for cool air with an AC unit, you'll pay more than if you were to grab a standard tower fan. Usually, AC units start at about $100 for a basic model, with prices going up as you add features, like a sleep timer. Tower fans are relatively inexpensive, with one exception. A traditional tower fan will probably cost between $30 and $60, but new designs, such as the DysonAM02, are much more expensive, at around $400. You'll also need to consider the cost of operation. Using up more energy, an AC will also cost you more on your utility bill, so make sure you factor in all of the expenses before buying.

Efficiency. This is the category where the window AC is a clear winner. Since it actively cools the air, you'll drastically drop the temperature in any room where a unit is installed. With a fan, you shouldn't expect dropped temperatures, just a more comfortable sensation. Tower fans might alter the room temperature a few degrees, but it's really the moving air that gives you a sense of coolness. In reality, the AC unit is much better at giving you a total reprieve from summer heat.

If you really want to ramp up the efficiency of either an AC or a tower fan, use them together. Putting a tower fan in front of your window AC can help push the cold air farther so you get the most cooling. It might not be the most cost-effective or energy-smart solution, but on a 98-degree August day, both factors might be sacrificed to your need for a cool night's sleep.


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