Ceiling Fan Hacks to Save Energy (and Money)

ceiling fan

Look for a switch like this one to change the direction of your ceiling fans depending on the season. Photo: The JH Photography

Summer’s just about here, and you’ve probably had to kick on the air conditioning a few times already. For some people, that’s the beginning of a series of very big electric bills.

But while a typical central air conditioning unit uses 3,500 watts of energy when running, the average ceiling fan uses only 60 watts — even when running on high. That means if running your ceiling fan all day allows you to cut down on your AC usage — even by just a half hour a day — you could feasibly save a lot of money over time.

Ceiling Fan Hacks: Save Big on Energy Usage

Of course, you can save even more energy (and money) if you do some careful planning and tinkering when it comes to using your ceiling fans. Here are some tactics you can try to decrease your energy usage and increase your savings.

Ceiling Fan Hack #1: Adjust the direction of the ceiling fan so the air blows down in summer (usually counterclockwise).

Most fans have a “clockwise” setting and a “counterclockwise” setting, each appropriate for a different season. There are conflicting accounts of which direction to use and when, because the direction you want to use depends on how the blades are aligned, and that can vary by model.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to determine the direction your fan should rotate in summer: Stand beneath the fan and turn it on. If you immediately feel a breeze from the fan, then it’s set on the “summer” setting, usually counterclockwise.

Otherwise, turn off the fan, climb up near the base of the fan, and look for a little button or switch that sets the fan to run in the opposite direction.

During the summer, you should have your ceiling fans running on high with the air blowing down directly below the fan. This creates the most air movement in the center of the room, which is where you need it most for the “breeze” effect, which will feel cool on your skin.

Ceiling Fan Hack #2: Run the fan on low in the other direction (usually clockwise) in the winter.

In the winter, however, your fan should be running in the opposite direction to circulate warm air through the room. (Again, just flip the switch or push the button near the base of the fan.)

Blades running in this direction will pull air up in the center of the room and push it down again near the edges. This forces warm air and cool air to mix in the room, keeping the room at a steadier temperature (not allowing heat to build up at the top and coolness to settle on the floor), so your furnace won’t have to work quite so hard to keep the house warm. You’ll feel this effect if you stand near the wall in a room – a gentle, warm breeze will blow over you.

Ceiling Fan Hack #3: Set your home’s temperature higher in the summer.

If you’re going to run ceiling fans constantly in your home on a hot day, raise the temperature on your thermostat by a few degrees. Your ceiling fan doesn’t directly cool the air by itself, but it helps circulate the cool air better. It also creates a breeze effect that makes the room feel cooler than it actually is.

Ceiling Fan Hack #4: Make sure to turn your ceiling fans off when you leave home.

With a programmable thermostat, you can set your air conditioning unit to turn off and on based on when you’ll be home. Unfortunately, most ceiling fans don’t offer this perk; instead, you’ll have to turn them on and off yourself.

Doing so can lead to big savings, however, which is why this step is important. If you’re worried you’ll forget, include turning off the ceiling fans in your daily ritual as you leave for work. Turn off the lights, lock the doors, and turn off your ceiling fans.

How to Select a Ceiling Fan

Almost any home can be made more energy efficient by installing a ceiling fan or two if you don’t already have them. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when shopping for a new ceiling fan.

Basic physics: If your fan’s blade angle is less than 12 degrees, it’s a waste of energy.

The very first thing you should look at with a new ceiling fan is the blade angle. If the angle is below 12 degrees, the fan will be largely decorative and will just eat energy without significant air movement.

Ideally, you want the blades to push air upward or downward. If your blades are at a low angle (meaning nearly flat), they won’t do either – instead, they’ll have much the same effect as an airplane wing. They’ll just cut through the air without pushing the air at all.

A 12-degree angle should be the minimum you purchase, and ideally you’ll buy one with a higher-degree angle. Blades with a 16-degree angle or above push a lot of air, feeling much like a box fan attached to your ceiling. That’s great for cooling off, but it might be overwhelming in some situations.

Get a fan with blades angled between 12 and 14 degrees in a room where you might have papers out or may otherwise not want a strong breeze. But in general-use rooms, aim for a fan whose blades are angled at 14 degrees or more.

Unless your room is very well lit, go ahead and get the light assembly, too.

You might not think it’s necessary now, but if you’re installing the fan in a room without perfect lighting – or replacing a light fixture with a ceiling fan – you’re going to want more lighting in the room. When in doubt, get the light assembly now – it’ll save you consternation and money later on.

Even better, ceiling fans with lighting are not much more expensive. And if you end up using the lights frequently, it could actually save you money over the long haul.

Buy the right-sized fan.

If you’re buying a new ceiling fan, you can expect to spend anywhere from $49 for a small, inexpensive model to $500 for one with a lot of power and a custom design. You can also look for used ones on Craigslist or building reuse stores. Just make sure the size of the fan matches the size of your room — otherwise, you’ll pay more for the fan itself and use more energy to power it than necessary.

A 44-inch fan is most common, and is about right for an average-sized bedroom or kitchen. A bigger, 50- to 54-inch fan is better suited to large living rooms or great rooms. And for a small bedroom, a 36- to 40-inch fan should suffice.

Budget for installation or plan on doing it yourself.

Of course, buying a ceiling fan is only part of the equation. Then there’s the cost of professional installation, which can cost as much as $100 to $314.

You can hire an electrician or handyman to install a ceiling fan, and a pro can usually install a basic one in just an hour — however, it’s common for electricians and other tradespeople to charge a two-hour minimum for a service call, so get all of your fans installed at once if possible.

Installing a ceiling fan is a fairly straightforward do-it-yourself project, and can add to your savings tremendously. Follow this tutorial from This Old House or watch these YouTube videos for step-by-step instructions.

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  1. Doug says:

    I have always heard that you should run the fan blowing up in the summer so it would pull the cool air from the floor area up in the center of the room while the warm air would work down along the walls cooling as it goes. and in the Winter blow the warm air from the ceiling down into the middle of the room. Huh

  2. Rex says:

    “. . .instead, they’ll have much the same effect as an airplane wing. They’ll just cut through the air without pushing the air at all.”

    You’ve made a little mistake here. Airplane wings absolutely move air. The shape of an airplane wing directs air downward. An airplane wing, fan blade and helicopter rotor all do exactly the same thing, with different shapes and purposes.

  3. Lurker Carl says:

    Nice article. The high angle blades are best for very tall ceilings.

    However, I disagree with your comparison of a low angled fan blade to an airplane wing. The wing can lift 45 tons of Boeing 747, that’s a large displacement.

  4. Jon says:

    Is that “W” from Good Eats in the Home Depot video?

  5. Flea says:

    We have fans throughout the house. They are great for allowing us to keep it a few degrees warmer in the house during the summer.

    Flea
    http://beasurvivor.blogspot.com/

  6. Vicky says:

    Ceiling fans are great, but don’t forget tower fans too. We have one for upstairs and one for downstairs that we move from room to room as necessary. It’s surprising what a difference they can make.

  7. Bekki says:

    I adore my ceiling fans. We have one in every room except for the living room (ceiling is too low) and it’s great for keeping cool.

  8. Marcus Murphy says:

    For a great $50 fan for only $20 at Lowe’s see this deal offer.

    http://www.dealigg.com/story-Harbor-Breeze-Armitage-Ceiling-Fan

  9. Blake says:

    A couple of other things that you want to check out is how powerful the motor is. The cheap fans that you buy at Home Depot, generally under $100 do not push much air. While these may be fine for kids’ bedrooms, they don’t do all that much in the living room or a large master bedroom.

    Ceiling fans have changed to having candelabra base light bulbs. This is an EPA requirement that I just found out. Our house is three years old and I installed all the fans except for two, when we moved in. I just did the other two last month. Now I have to buy candelabra bulbs for these two fans, even though they are the exact same Monte Carlo fan, same light kit, but different bulb size.

    Also, on the boxes of most fans (unless you get a contractor’s box, which you should consider, as they don’t have the fancy marketing package on them), there is a cubic feet per minute rating as well as how many watts it uses. This is probably the most important factor in purchasing a fan, as it gives you a direct comparison between different models.

    This is coming from someone who did way too much research on fans last month.

  10. Sara says:

    We haven’t run our AC once since installing a couple of ceiling fans. Don’t forget that you can change the look of an “ugly” fan with metallic paint or wood stain (it still looks good on fake wood).

  11. Cade says:

    Trent, thanks for a timely post. You are right on.

    I live in St. Petersburg, FL where it is hot and humid, however I have not even turned on my AC yet. And yes, my windows stay open to allow a breeze.

    I have a ceiling fan here in the Florida Room above my desk and couch…and one in each bedroom. Everyone else in this condo has been using AC since the middle of May. (Fortunately, I am on the ground floor and that is a major factor.) My last electric bill was $34.

    I appreciate your practical post. Nice job.

    Say, were you able to deduct the ceiling fan in your home office?

    Cade

  12. Lynn says:

    Turn it off when you leave the room…ceiling fans cool people not rooms!

  13. Christine says:

    We live in a house built in the early 1900’s, so we don’t have central AC (we do have limited central heating). In the summer, we install window AC units, but we’ve made sure that each one is backed with Energy Star. My fiance is like a polar bear, though, so he likes it extra cold while I’m comfortable in blazing heat. If he had his way, we’d run the AC units 24-7, but luckily they all have mini-thermostats built in, so in combination with the ceiling fans, the house stays relatively cool. We also make sure that if we’re upstairs, only the upstairs AC units are on, and vice versa.
    I’ve also been secretly setting all the thermostats on the AC units a little bit higher so that they don’t run quite as much ;)

  14. ArcAngel says:

    I’m a big fan fan :)

    But one thing that should also be added:

    Even though a fan may cause some minor benefit to an empty room with absolutely awful airflow (or to move heat away from something that is particularly hot), fans are essentially making people feel cooler (moving the heat off of you). Essentially putting a fan (of any type) on you will really make you instantly feel cooler. As a result you shouldn’t keep fans on when you are out of rooms as they are not waste.

    You can verify this by the fact that temperature doesn’t actually change. If you don’t raise the temp on your AC it will stay on just as often and just as strongly regardless of whether you have a fan.

  15. Yeah, I think I might have to agree with ArcAngel…seems like if you leave the fans on all of the time the motors will go out on them faster and you will have to replace them more often. Is that cost effective considering the fans do not actually change the temperature of a room?

  16. Lurker Carl says:

    The ceiling fans in my house are 28 years old and are used frequently all year around. Abuse, not use, is the most likely reason for one to fail. So avoid trendy styles to keep them from appearing dated after a few years, stick with the classic look.

  17. Sarah says:

    I was genuinely surprised at how much comfort the ceiling fan my mother installed brought to her living room.

  18. Anne says:

    My husband and I haven’t turned our air on yet either, although all our neighbors (in St. Louis) have. One thing we’ve found is that it can be worth it to spend a little more on a fan. We have one $200 fan and then we have the $90 fan. The more expensive fan is sturdier, and doesn’t make any noise when it runs. The $90 fan is noisy and looks less stable. But any fan is better than no fan. The rest of our fans came with the house, and we won’t replace them until they stop working.

    We’re hoping to go all summer with AC. If we have to leave the fans on all the time in order to make that work, we will!

  19. FrugalZen says:

    I too am in Florida near Orlando and Fans are reallly a big help though sometimes the only need for the A/C is to remove Humidity from the air.

    You do “Get What You Pay For” with them…it is worth it to pay several hundred dollars for a top quality fan like Hunter. A good fan will be almost totally silent and last for years..one in my parents house in the living room is a jumbo seven-blade six foot across Hunter with lights, two speeds, and reversable and has run almost continuously now for 30 years and cost Dad almost $300 back then.

    ~ Roland

  20. VM says:

    Love ceiling fans!! Have 5 in the house, and want another. We live in upstate NY, and hardly use the A/C at all. Most people when they come over think we have central air, but the fans work so well…… They are all at least 5 years old and work as if they were installed yesterday. Well worth the near $1K we spent on all of them ‘back then’. Not to beat-up the pun, but we are big FANS of these. ~V

  21. Anitra says:

    Is it worth it to use a ceiling fan if your ceilings are very low? We have one in our living room, but it’s low enough that our tall friends need to make sure they don’t wave their hands above their heads…

    We can feel it moving the air, but it’s hard to tell how much good it does in the relatively cramped space.

    (We have one in our bedroom too, but it hardly ever gets used, in favor of a window fan pulling in cool air from the outside at night.)

  22. Holly says:

    I don’t disagree with any of the points made, but I still intend on getting AC as soon as I can afford to. I live in Australia, where Summer days can get to around 45 degrees celcius (113 degrees fahrenheit), and sometimes the nights only dip down to 27 degrees (80 degrees fahrenheit) before climbing back up again.
    On this horrible, humid nights my ceiling fan just doesn’t cut it and I just don’t get any sleep.
    God, I hate Summer.

  23. Paul says:

    Great post. I never thought about the angle of blades before. Good information.

  24. TParkerson says:

    Count me among the legion of fan fans…DH will tell you that I am a fanatic about ours! Here in hot sticky FL, they really do help. If you study the way our grandparents built their homes, they were usually raised foundation with large shady overhanging porches and windows for cross breezes. I have also found that ventillating the house aalows them to breathe, thus ridding them of allergens and contaminants…open up folks, you’ll be healthier!!

    For those of you with low ceiling, you should look into corner mounted oscillating fans. They are like the old style fans with metal blades and a metal “cage” over the blades. A company called Fanimation makes several styles and I’m sure there are others. Or, Vornado makes and ABSOLUTELY amazing floor fan that moves air like a tornado, yet takes up only a small amount of space. Either way, the air is moving in your room and that is the goal.

    Here’s to many happy, breezy days for you and yours!

  25. Angie says:

    Thanks for this. I feel kind of dumb. I never realized they can go in different directions. The fan in the bedroom always worked great (was pushing air down) while the one in the living room never did anything! Apparently it was on winter mode… Who knew.

    Apparently winter mode only has two speed settings while summer has 3. Solved the mystery of why the fan was never turning off when we clicked it!

  26. K says:

    Fans can make you feel much cooler but I agree with ArcAngel. They are only effective when you are in the room. But even more so, if you keep the windows closed, the fan motor actually increases the temperature in the room. So if the temperature is the same or even slightly warmer outside, it’s best to do without AC and run the fans. But if it is much hotter outside and you must keep the windows closed, Trent’s advice is right on.

  27. Kitty says:

    Oh Thank you! thank you, thank you, we just got 2 freecycled ceiling fans to put in our and our daughters bedrooms we have one in the living room and it makes a HUGE difference in how the room feels.. the video will make installing these so much easier.. we are going to try and go the whole summer without our AC.
    Kitty

  28. John says:

    Helpful article. I always wondered about the angle of the blades, now I know, over 12 degrees. I’ve seen little fans that would blow you over and I’ve seen big fans that couldn’t blow a feather. As with other things why would “someone” design a fan, manufacture it, distribute it, and sell it, if it doesn’t work ?

    john b.

  29. Rob O. says:

    We’re planning to install a ceiling fan outdoors under our tall patio cover to help cool things off and – so we’re told – keep flying insects away. Any advice on this? We don’t have humidity to worry about here, but still are there certain models more suited to outdoor use?

    And what about 3-blade versus 5-blade models – do the number of blades really affect the amount of air the fan can move or is the overall fan diameter a more relevant factor?

  30. Linda O says:

    Thanks for the great article! I always get the fan directions mixed up. I’ll keep this bookmarked, just in case I forget again :-)

  31. Baker says:

    Honestly if you don’ know what you’re doing don’t install a ceiling fan by yourself. That video is not completely correct and really doesn’t apply in areas where houses must have all electric in conduit.

  32. Catherine says:

    I would say that install it yourself might be OK in some cases, but in general, I would say HIRE A PROFESSIONAL! It won’t be that much more expensive. Also, make sure you hire a TRUSTED professional with good references. My uncle had a ceiling fan installed in their bedroom when his house was renovated and it fell – right onto their bed. Fortunately it was during the day and they were in another room. The fan was not installed according to the directions that came with it so it didn’t last very long. Make sure your professional reads the directions even if they think they know what they are doing!

  33. Trent,

    I had no idea there was such a HUGE difference in the power consumption between a fan and a central air unit. It makes sense… after all why shouldn’t a fan take up MUCH less energy? I think this post is very practical advice and I congratulate you for it.

    I’ll be linking to this post on my blog roundup this weekend!

  34. Val says:

    We have a high ceiling in our livingroom, with a great fan. My mom’s room is upstairs. It gets hot up there at night while the downstairs stays cool. This is less of a problem with the fan on at night, as it draws the air down. So that air circulation can be significant even if it isn’t blowing on you.

  35. Jane says:

    @Rob O. About out door ceiling fans. I just moved into a new house and one of the few things that stuck out in my inspections was that the inspector said I had a good outdoor fan. MAKE SURE THAT IT HAS PLASTIC BLADES. As far as size I think like with rooms it depends on the size of the area you want to cool smaller area smaller fan diameter bigger area bigger fan.

  36. sue says:

    We live in India and are frugal by nature. We have found that running a window Ac for some time to cool down the room, then switching it off and using only a fan will keep you comfortable for several hours. One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you put on a fan AFTER you switch off the ac- you will push all the warm air down, and the room will heat up. So both ac and fan should be on for 2 hours or so. Then the ac can be switched off.
    Sue

  37. Alyson says:

    I just thought i would share a website with everyone. http://www.CSNCeilingfans.com has a huge selection of top quality ceiling fans including a large amount of enegry star rated fans. If you’re looking to save money this summer on electricity bills I think you should check it out.

  38. Cole says:

    Okay ya’ll need to give it up a little on the whole “airplane wing” deal (from the posts at the top). The wings do help keep the plane up in the air but it is not the wing that lifts the plan. When the Jet Engines or Propellers are going on a plane it causes it to move straight. The plane will not go up or down if it weren’t for the flaps and the elevators; they are what angle to direct the air and allow the aircraft to climb or descend. Sorry just had to get that out. Don’t like it when thing are criticized out of negligence. I’m a mechanic on planes and flight controls are just basic principles that don’t change.
    Anyways, love the article and I’ll try the whole fan deal. My energy bill double when the hot months hit. Looking for anything to cut the bills down.

  39. Lisa says:

    Late to this. Just bought a condo (1st home), and in lieu of using $ I don’t have right now on ceiling fans, bought 2 $20 “platform” fans – the tall kind. In 115 degree (albeit dry) heat, I can attest to the absolute power of blowing air. I can turn up my a/c even at night and sometimes I grab a little blanket during the night- unheard of in these parts. Try it. The worst that happens is you spend $40 … but at least in the low-humidity area, it works!

  40. Jimmy says:

    I agree with everyone on how efficient using a fan is…mine is on all the time. However I felt the need to comment on all of the incorrect ‘airplane wing’ comments. A wind doesn’t move air down, nor do the control surfaces lift the plane up (well sorta, but beyond this comment to explain) A wind has a unique shape, called airfoil, and when the plane is pushed forward (via thrust) air is moved across the surface. The air traveling across the top of the wing actually moves a farther distance due to the shape than the air on the bottom. This creates an area of low pressure above the wing. The higher pressure air (on the bottom of the wing) then pushes up on the wing to equalize the pressure, this is known as lift. If you were to replace the fan blades with airplane wings (scaled down of course) and they weren’t at an angle, the wings would pull up from the lift created, but ultimately would not move much air. Therefore, the author was correct in his assesment.

  41. BoeZoe says:

    The airplane thrust & lift analogies are getting a bit over the top of late, but I’d really like to know how Holly in Australia (comment #22) would have a problem when by the time she wrote it was winter there!
    I installed all 6 ceiling fans over 17 yrs. ago in my “old house” by myself(all were K-Mart sale units <$30/ea. with 10 yr. warranties). They still run flawlessly, but that central A/C I got just B4 the turn of the century was necessary to cut humidity. Besides window a/c units were killing my view, inefficient & leaked heat too much in winter. After 20% rate increase granted power co. 2 months ago I went on budget plan. Now I’m wondering if I should look for 14+ degree blade angles on Energy Star rated replacement ceiling fans to boost savings & allow a higher thermostat setting in summer. Any updates to consider before I buy?

  42. PsychNYC says:

    Great information! It confirmed what I imagined but was unsure of. Thank you. Question: is it dangerous to increase angle myself by adding a few washers to one side of bracket attached to blade? It would save on purchasing new fan…

  43. I am really delighted to read this web site posts which includes tons of valuable data, thanks for providing these data.

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