Ceiling Fan Hacks to Save Energy (and Money)

The thick heat of summer is almost 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.

As in winter, remember that the whole point of climate control is to keep you at a comfortable temperature, not the dishes in your cabinets or clothes in your closets. And ceiling fans can help with that tremendously.

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, counterclockwise on most models.

Otherwise, turn off the fan, get on a step stool so you can examine the base, 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 rise and build up at the top and coolness to settle near 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 (like wind chill in winter).

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 less than 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, with LED bulbs, 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. If you decide to go this route, see if you can find a handyman who accepts credit cards for no additional fee – that way you can pay with a card that offers cash back or rewards to save a little more.

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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Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.