Saving Energy With Ceiling Fans

In the past, prior to the widespread use of air conditioning, ceiling fans were the primary source of cooling for many residences. Over time, as air conditioning became more common, the use of ceiling fans declined. With rising energy costs and increased energy awareness, people are rediscovering ceiling fans as a way to help control air conditioning costs without sacrificing comfort.

Summer Operation

Ceiling fans are an excellent way to help keep air conditioning energy costs down while maintaining occupant comfort levels. During milder weather, ceiling fans can help keep occupants cool without running the air conditioner, due to the "wind chill" effect. Moving air feels cooler because it speeds the evaporation of moisture from the skin, removing heat. In summer, the fan should be set to blow downward, toward the occupants.

Fans can also be used along with the air conditioner to help reduce energy costs. The cooling effect of the moving air allows the air conditioner thermostat to be set slightly higher while maintaining the same degree of comfort for room occupants. For example, you may be able to adjust the setting on your thermostat from 76° to 78° F and still be just as comfortable. This increase of 2° F can result in a reduction of up to 15% in air conditioning energy use, and the cost of running the ceiling fan is minimal.

Remember that fans don't actually cool the air - they make it feel cooler. Running ceiling fans or other fans in unoccupied rooms doesn't help and it's a waste of energy.

Winter Operation

Ceiling fans can also help keep occupants comfortable and save energy during the winter heating season. They can make up for the tendency of heated air to rise to the ceiling, by circulating the heated air and redirecting it back down toward the occupants. This results in a more effective use of the heating system and lower energy consumption. Fans used during the winter should be operated at low speeds and directed upward, away from the occupants.

Other Types of Fans

Any type of fan that moves air will help keep occupants cool. Window fans can be effective in milder weather - opening windows on opposite sides of the home and running one or more fans can create a good cross-ventilation effect. Portable fans can help direct air at occupants, allowing a somewhat higher air conditioner thermostat setting.

Some older homes (and even some newer ones) are equipped with a "whole-house" fan, mounted in the ceiling directly under the attic. These large fans don't blow air toward occupants - they exhaust air out through the attic. They work by removing the hotter air near the ceiling and allowing cooler air to be drawn in through one or more open windows. In winter, the fan opening should be covered tightly to prevent heated air from escaping into the attic. It's also a good idea to insulate over the top of the fan housing in the attic (just remember to remove the insulation before trying to use the fan).