How to choose the right air conditioner or fan for summer

As the summer approaches, it’s time to prepare for the temperature to climb. Whether you’re looking to transform your living space into an oasis of cool comfort or simply need a refreshing breeze, the right air conditioner or fan can make all the difference. But, with all the options out there, which is best for your home?

Choosing the right air conditioner or fan

Before diving into the different options available, it’s important to consider your specific cooling needs. Here are some factors to think about when selecting the perfect air conditioner or fan:

Room size: consider both the room’s floor space and ceiling height, as rooms with high ceilings need more energy to cool them. Larger rooms may require more powerful air conditioners, while fans can be effective for smaller areas.

Insulation: poorly insulated rooms will need more power to keep things cool.  

Orientation and windows: a room with large north or west-facing windows gets hotter and will therefore require a more powerful system than a room with shaded, south or east-facing windows.

Budget: air-conditioning units and fans vary significantly in price, with features and capabilities to match. Set a realistic budget before you start to shop.

Energy efficiency: look for energy-efficient models to keep your electricity bills in check. In Australia, appliances are tested for how much energy they typically use. This gives them a rating on a scale of A to G, with A being the most efficient product of its class, and G being the least efficient.

Installation: some air conditioners may require professional installation, while others are easy to set up on your own. Fans, on the other hand, are usually plug and play.

Regardless of the type of air conditioner you choose, it’s important to get the right size for your needs. Buy too small a system and it won’t do its job; too big and you’ll be wasting money by using excess energy. 

Air conditioners

Wall-mounted reverse-cycle split systems

These all-in-one heating and cooling units are among the most energy-efficient choices for your home. During the summer, they remove hot air from inside your home and transfer it to an external refrigeration unit, returning cool air indoors. In winter, the same system efficiently heats the room.

Although new split systems are relatively cheap to run, the Australian Energy Foundation (AEF) warns that for every degree you lower the thermostat, you’ll add 10 per cent to your running cost – with minimal extra benefit to your comfort level. The AEF therefore recommends setting the thermostat between 23 to 27 degrees in summer (and 18 to 20 degrees to warm your house in winter) to minimise your energy usage.

A unit capable of cooling an area of up to 20 square metres will cost around $2000. For a more robust unit capable of cooling an 80-square-metre space, the cost will be upwards of $4000. Therefore, if you intend to cool multiple rooms, it might be a more economical choice to consider a single ducted system.

Ducted split systems 

Ducted split systems function similarly to wall-mounted split systems but circulate the cooled air throughout the house using floor or ceiling ducts. While they are fairly energy efficient, their upfront cost is higher, typically ranging from $10,000 or more, inclusive of purchase and installation expenses.

Ducted split systems suit larger family homes where you want to cool several rooms at once. Many options now have the ability to connect to your smartphone, meaning you can remotely adjust the temperature in the different rooms of your home.

Window or wall-mounted box air conditioners

These air conditioners are compact, self-contained cooling units designed to be installed in a window frame or through a hole in an exterior wall. They are typically good at cooling individual rooms or smaller spaces of up to 35 square metres. These units draw in warm air from the room, cool it by passing it over refrigerant coils, and then expel the cooled air back into the room while expelling hot air outside. 

The upfront cost is budget friendly, you can buy a small unit for as little as $400, but they are less energy efficient than split systems. Smaller units can be plugged into a normal power point so there are no installation costs, although larger units may need additional wiring. 

Window-mounted box air conditioners suit renters since the unit can be taken with you when you move.

Portable air conditioners

A portable air conditioner is a self-contained cooling unit that can be easily moved from room to room. It is a stand-alone appliance that doesn’t require permanent installation. Portable AC units typically include a vent hose that needs to be positioned near a window or an opening to expel hot air outside. They work by drawing in warm air from the room, cooling it through refrigerant coils, and then returning the cooled air back into the room.

The upfront cost ranges from $300 to $1500. But, they are less effective and less energy efficient than alternative air conditioners so are relatively expensive to run.

Evaporative ducted cooling

Evaporative ducted cooling uses water evaporation to naturally lower indoor temperatures. Warm air is drawn through a series of wet filter pads that cool it through evaporation. Cooled air is then distributed into the house through ducts.

Evaporative cooling can provide a more comfortable, natural cooling effect than refrigerated air conditioners; it doesn’t dry out the air or irritate sensitive eyes, skin or throats. The upfront cost is usually between $4500 and $6000. They are energy efficient but they use around 25 litres of water an hour.


While fans don’t reduce the room temperature, they create a cooling sensation by circulating air over your skin. Combining a fan with your air conditioner can help circulate chilled air, so you don’t need to set the thermostat quite so low. If you can’t install AC, a fan might be the answer.

Pedestal fan

These fans are designed to be freestanding and can be easily moved around a room as needed. They are cheap to buy and run, with an upfront cost of as little as $20. They require no installation and only need to be plugged into a power point. 

Ceiling fan

Ceiling fans work better than pedestal or desk fans since they circulate more air over a wider area to make the whole room feel cooler. They cost upwards of $200 plus installation but are still relatively cheap to run.

Bladeless fan

Bladeless fans have a sleek and modern design, and the lack of blades also makes them easier to clean. High-end brand-name versions can cost as much as $500, but you can pick up a lesser-known brand for as little as $50.

How do you cool your home during summer? Do you have air conditioning? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Staying cool when the heat hits

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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