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Cooling down this summer

With the mercury rising across New Zealand, we thought it prudent to explore all things cooling.

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Your cheapest option is flinging open your windows, but this might not be a solution if the weather’s still, or you’re worried about security or being bugged by mosquitos. For many, the go-to is a plug-in fan – they don’t cool the air, but the feeling of a gentle breeze on your skin is often enough to make you feel comfortable.

Plug-in fans

These can vary from small USB-powered desk fans to tall pedestal models. You’ll only feel cool when the fan is directly blowing on your skin, so they can be positioned anywhere in the room and aimed at you while you sit on the couch in your singlet and shorts.

Most plug-in fans have a small electric motor (50-60W) so power usage is miniscule. For example, a 60W fan running 8 hours a day costs about $4 a month. However, if you start chucking fans in every room and running them non-stop, you could be in for a shocking power bill. They don’t cool you down when you aren’t in the room, so make sure they’re switched off when you leave.

If you’re shopping for a new plug-in fan consider:

  • Tower or pedestal – A pedestal fan looks like a lollipop from a distance. Usually, you can adjust the height and tilt the fan so it’s hitting the right spot. Tower fans aren’t as adjustable and sit closer to the floor – they might be a better option for living rooms as their sleek design tends to be easier on the eye.

  • Cost – We’ve seen pedestal fans for less than $40 at Mitre 10, but you can drop $900 on the biggest Dyson Pure Cool fan. The cheapest fan still moves the air and makes you feel cool. You’re often paying more for features and design.

  • Features – As fans get more expensive, they often come with more features, such as remotes, timers and air filters.

  • Settings – Some have a “natural” setting that varies the fan speed to simulate a natural breeze. Others can have a reduction mode that slowly tapers off speed, so the noise doesn’t keep you awake.

  • Noise – Ask for a demonstration in store so you can hear it before buying. Remember your home will be much quieter than a busy store – a consideration particularly if you’ll be running your fan overnight. Listen for any whining or squeaks when it’s oscillating.

Ceiling fans

It might be a bit of a rush to install a ceiling fan the same week as an incoming heatwave, but you’ll be well set up in the future without stealing a precious power point in your lounge or bedroom. Ceiling fans also come in handy in winter, as they can help circulate the warm air that sits at the top of the room.

Here’s what to look for if you opt for a ceiling fan:

  • AC or DC motor – AC motors are generally cheaper and only offer a couple of fan settings. The most efficient motors are DC, which offer multiple speed settings and often a reverse feature for use during the colder months to keep warm air circulating.

  • Ceiling height – Needs to be about 2.1 to 2.4m for best performance. If it’s significantly higher, you’ll need to start thinking about extension rods to lower the fan.

  • Blade material – There isn’t much difference in performance between blade materials but wooden or plastic blades tend to be quieter.

  • Cost – You can pick up a cheap MDF one from Bunnings for less than $100 or you can spend up big on a fancier wooden-bladed model.

  • Noise – There is no truly silent fan. Your best bet is to head into a store with them on display so you can run them on their low and high settings. Most lighting stores should have at least a couple of models for you to try out.

Heat pumps

Don’t let the name fool you. You can set your heat pump to “cool” and sit back in comfort while the tar melts in your driveway. Generally, heat pumps aren’t as efficient in cooling mode compared with heating mode, but there are some exceptions. The cooling capacity of your heat pump is likely to be 0.5 to 1kW less than its heating capacity. The cooling efficiency is expressed as an energy efficiency ratio (EER). For example, an EER of 2.5 means it puts out 2.5 times the cooling power as the electricity it uses.

If you decide to go down the heat pump cooling route, remember to clean the filters before switching it on. It will make a considerable difference in performance.

Check out our database of 206 heat pumps to find the best-performing models.

Portable air conditioners

We’d consider these a last resort. They aren’t as portable as the name suggests, since they require ducting to an outside window, and are nowhere near as efficient as heat pumps. They’re generally much louder, as the compressor is in the room with you (a heat pump compressor is fixed to a wall outside). That makes sleeping next to one a bit of a challenge.

They’re cheaper to buy than a heat pump (you can get one for as little as $400), so they might be an option for renters looking for a bit of relief from the heat and finding a fan just isn’t doing the job. If you do go for a portable air conditioner, look for a model with wheels as the units can be difficult to heft around the room.

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JML ChillMax Pillow

Still feeling the heat when you sleep? Our reviewer tried out the JML Chillmax Pillow to see if it helped him keep a cool head during hot summer nights.

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