As temperatures continue to soar, lots of people rely on fans to stay cool at home more than ever, but you might be pondering whether fans are bad for the environment.
Generally, fans are not great for the environment as they require energy – most of which comes from non-renewable sources.
Some of the materials used to make them are non-renewable, too.
However, they are more energy efficient than other appliances like air conditioning, so they’re not the worst way to cool down.
Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of fans.
1. How Do Fans Affect the Environment?
The biggest environmental impact when it comes to fans is arguably their energy use.
In 2021, only 13% of energy consumption in the US came from renewable resources.
So, using appliances powered by fossil fuels is unsustainable since these are non-renewable, big polluters and contribute to climate change.
Fossil fuel combustion accounts for approximately 73% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
How fans are manufactured also plays a role in their environmental impact.
Most fans are made from plastic and metal, which are non-renewable.
These materials are sourced via mining, which is also a source of pollution and environmental destruction.
You may come across fans with wooden or bamboo blades, but these fans will still likely contain metal or plastic components.
Wood and bamboo may be greener since these are renewable resources.
In particular, since bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the world, it can replenish itself quite quickly.
While trees are renewable, renewable resources can still run out if they are not managed appropriately.
So, remember that wooden products are not necessarily greener if they are irresponsibly harvested.
Plus, the wooden or bamboo blades may not be biodegradable if they are varnished.
Fans do not last forever and will need to be replaced eventually.
Ceiling fans have an average lifespan of a decade. Smaller, portable desk fans can last up to 12 years.
Tower fans may only last three to five years. So, there will always be a demand to produce new fans, which requires energy and resources.
The most sustainable thing seems to be to take good care of your fans to ensure they last as long as possible; using renewable energy also reduces some of the environmental impacts.
Although renewable energy is not fully carbon neutral since it requires energy and resources to set up the likes of solar panels or wind turbines, it is considerably greener than relying on fossil fuels.
2. Are Fans Energy-Efficient?
For the most part, fans seem to be fairly energy-efficient.
How much energy they use depends on the type of fan, size, setting, age, etc.
The average ceiling fan uses between 55 and 100 watts – but the average seems to be around 75 – putting them at 0.075 kWh.
Tower fans vary drastically depending on their size, but they typically seem to range from 40 to 75 watts.
Smaller, portable desk fans can also vary since they come in different sizes.
Small ones seem to be around 42 watts, which is 0.042 kWh.
Newer models, especially those with an Energy Star label, are the most energy-efficient.
3. Are Fans Better than Air Conditioning?
Ceiling fans appear to be more energy-efficient than air conditioning and, by extension, more sustainable.
Air conditioning typically cools down the whole house, while fans can be directed at the person using them, or with a ceiling fan can make multiple people in the room feel cooler.
You save energy by only turning on a fan in a room where it is needed.
Even better, fans use a fraction of the energy air conditioners do, at only 1%.
This means that if you turn on your AC for only 15 minutes it uses as much energy as your fan running nonstop for 24 hours.
Fans propel air which makes people feel cooler as it increases evaporation, whereas air conditioning has to cool down air and then pump it throughout the home, which requires a lot more energy.
On the flip side, this technical difference is also the reason for the limitations of fans:
Since fans neither directly reduce the air temperature nor the humidity, they are generally not sufficient in very hot and humid climates and air conditioners are needed.
Research found that using fans reduced electricity use by around 70% as they help people to rely on air conditioning much less.
For some people and depending on the climate, relying on fans alone is not enough, but the use of fans can mean turning on the air conditioning less often.
The study noted that occasionally using air conditioning while operating fans with air speeds of 1-2 m/s (meter per second) used 76% less energy than only using air conditioning.
This reduced greenhouse gas emissions from 5091 kilotonnes to 1208 kilotonnes.
4. Are Fans Recyclable?
Most of the components of a fan are recyclable, such as metal blades and the motor.
Unvarnished wood, bamboo, and many kinds of plastic are recyclable too.
Fans, regardless of the type, cannot go in your home recycle bin, and these facilities do not have the means to process fans.
Instead, they should be sent to electronics recycling centers.
5. Which Fans Are the Most Efficient?
Ceiling fans appear to be the most efficient.
As mentioned earlier, tower fans have the shortest life span, which arguably makes them the least efficient and least sustainable since they will need to be discarded and replaced more often.
Ceiling fans are the most efficient because they can make multiple people in the room feel cooler.
Since fans blow air, the air helps sweat evaporate quicker, thus leaving us feeling cooler.
Small, portable fans are typically directed at one person.
So, if there’s only one person in the room, a small fan will suffice, but for more people, a ceiling fan would be a better choice – rather than setting up several tower fans or portable fans.
6. What Are Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Fans?
Evaporative cooling, also known as swamp coolers, is energy efficient.
When air from outside the home passes over pads saturated in water, the water evaporates, which cools down the air.
The air is directed through the home like air conditioning.
However, these still require energy use.
Radiant cooling is also energy efficient.
This cooling method relies on thermal radiant exchange in the room to regulate the temperature.
This method uses materials that emit a lot of thermal radiation towards the sky and thus create a cooling effect.
As a result, cool water can be circulated through pipes which absorb the heat in the room and make it colder.
Geothermal cooling is great for keeping cool in the summer and keeping warm in the winter.
Geothermal coolers rely on the consistent temperature of the ground beneath your home.
In winter, they move hot air through a heat pump through the home and cooler air in the summer months.
They still require electricity to power the fans, so unless you have renewable energy in your home, these coolers are not strictly powered by renewables.