HOW TO: Stay cool without air conditioning: "Cool Air Fan" or 冷風扇

cold air fan, reifuusen
冷風扇 - れいふうせん or "cool air fan"
The last week or so has been rather hot (in central Japan at least), with temps here in Shizuoka hovering around 30 Celsius and up (high 80s to 90s Fahrenheit). My husband and I still don’t own an air conditioner, simply due to the costs involved with buying and installing one, and then periodic cleaning. Yet, being 33 weeks pregnant, I've been finding myself desperate for some kind of cooling alternative the past week or so.

I never really felt like I needed an aircon since arriving in Japan three years ago. I was happy to experience nice, hot summers. People tend to complain a lot about the summer heat in Japan (unless they live in Hokkaido), but I hate the cold so much that I’m usually relieved when summer comes around.

Until last summer anyway, when we had a record-breaking heat wave that lasted until October. Sitting and working at home was mostly tortuous, so I trekked to the nearest Starbucks a few times a week just so I could get some work done in an air-conditioned, non-smoking, wi-fi equipped environment.

And now we’re into summer 2011. Temperatures are already mirroring those of last year on some days. I’m making due the best I can, but all this extra blood running through my body and 10 extra kilograms seems to make me feel hotter than I felt even last year.

After feeling sick the other day from trying to work inside (and I do still try to get out in the afternoon and at least run errands to air-conditioned places), I was about ready to build my own air conditioner.

I found this article on how to construct a makeshift one with a fan, styrofoam box cooler, and ice, and was seriously planning to go find the materials. Regular electric fans weren’t working, even with multiple ones blowing from all directions to circulate air. Drinking ice water helped only a little, and I was hopping in the shower every so often for a quick spray of cold water.

And then my husband mentioned he’d heard about some kind of machine that blows cool air (no, not an aircon), known as 冷風扇 (れいふうせん, reifuusen), or 冷風機 (れいふうき, reifuuki), or "cool air fan/machine" as a loose translation.

Essentially, you put cold water and ice or ice packs in a drawer at the bottom of the machine, and through a process of evaporation, the heat is absorbed by the machine and the internal fan blows the cool air out. I’m not expert on thermodynamics so that’s the simplest way I can put it from my understanding. If any of you science buffs out there can offer a better/more thorough explanation, please do!

cold air fan, reifuusen
The drawer at the bottom of the machine for water and ice/ice packs

We went to our local electronics store, where they had two brands/models, and bought an “eco” one for around 8000 yen.

I’ve only been using it a few days so far, but it has been helpful to me, despite not being exactly like an aircon, and it’s actually cooling in comparison to the fans.

cold air fan, reifuusen
Options on this model include cold air, fan speed, swinging vents, 3 modes (fan, sleep and ) and timer

cold air fan, reifuusen
Ice tray at the top in the back to add ice for extra cooling

However, like most machines, it's not perfect, and may only be a good solution for some people.

  • Very inexpensive to operate (ours claims to cost just 1 yen per hour to run)
  • Inexpensive to buy
  • Blows cooler air as opposed to the electric fans blowing the hot air around

  • Because it uses water evaporation, there is some moisture released into the air. This means it may not work as well on very humid days, and also may raise the moisture too much if in an enclosed dwelling (we leave our doors and windows open all the time so this isn’t an issue for us). Personally, I haven’t noticed much of a humidity difference (since it's already humid), and the air still feels cool to me.
  • It does not act in the same way an aircon does, as it won’t dehumidify, and it won’t necessarily cool down an entire room, but rather a smaller area.
  • The fan’s air also can’t get as cold as air conditioning will. You can only control the temperature of the fan's air via the water with ice/ice packs. The colder the water, the colder the released air.

So, whether it’s worth purchasing or not ultimately depends on what you’re looking for and your lifestyle. We wanted to save money and just have something to help cool me down, so for us, the cons don’t really matter. I can easily use a dehumidifier, and takesumi, to help balance moisture in our home, and the breeze from outside also helps circulate air and control moisture.

However, if you want something you can use with all windows/doors shut that also dehumidifies, you’ll probably want to go with an aircon.

You should be able to find these cool air fans in your local electronics store, though some stores may not carry them (or may be sold out... our local stores have sold out of electric fans). Amazon Japan also carries a few models/brands. [affiliate link]

Has anyone else tried a 冷風扇?

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