Save Money Using a Ceiling Fan With Your Air Conditioner

Growing up in my grandparents’ house in Ontario’s hot and humid summers, they had high ceilings and three ceiling fans in their main living space, with no air conditioning. The ceiling fans and closed curtains made a huge difference to our comfort all summer long. But many people use their ceiling fans in their home until it just gets too hot, then they turn the fan off and crank up their air conditioner.

That’s a mistake.

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Why not optimize and take advantage of what you have? Combining your ceiling fan use with your air conditioner together can save you some serious dollars, especially in Ontario where electricity ain’t cheap.

But to do that, you have to use them properly.

Here’s how.

First, Make Sure Your Fan is Spinning in the Right Direction

The ceiling fan needs to turn in the right direction in the summer months to properly cool you off. Don’t worry about clockwise or counterclockwise necessarily, because some fans might have blades that are angled opposite the standard blades.

Just make sure that the blade is turning with the higher side of the blade leading the way. The fan should be pushing air down. You should be able to feel a breeze when standing directly under your fan. If you do not feel the breeze, turn off the fan reverse the fan’s rotation. Usually you simply flip a switch on the motor that changes the direction of the blades. If you don’t know how to change the direction of your fan, click that link for pointers.

Next Step in Saving Money: Turn Up That Thermostat

When your ceiling fan helps to cool your body, even though the air temperature may not change, you will not feel the need to lower the thermostat, right? Right.

Setting your thermostat at a higher temperature is the KEY because if you only turn on your fan, you’ll actually be using more energy than you were without it (although not much since fans don’t use much energy). Turn up your thermostat up a few degrees — test it 2 degrees at a time to see if anybody in your household complains. Aim for 78 or 80 during the day, and see if you can handle 75 degrees at night. If not, experiment and adjust.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with thermostat settings that normally would be too warm. The breeze created by your fan should keep you comfortable even with the thermostat set at or even above 80 degrees.

“If you use air-conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort.”

 U.S Department of Energy

If your body is cooled off, you can comfortably set your thermostat at a higher temperature in the hot summers, giving your AC unit a rest, thus saving you energy and money. Using your AC unit less also lessens the wear-and-tear on your machine from everyday use, thus potentially improving the longevity of your unit.

So, ceiling fans save you energy because they help you handle a warmer indoor temperature when you turn your thermostat up. 

And Remember to Turn Off Fans in Unoccupied Rooms

It’s important to note that fans do NOT lower the temperature in your home. They simply make the air feel cooler. This is the same reason windy days feel colder than normal days even if the temperature is the same (wind chill). So leaving fans on in rooms that have no one in them wastes money.

The Money-Saving Part Isn’t Really the Ceiling Fan

As you may have noticed, the ceiling fan itself doesn’t save you the money on air conditioning costs—the savings come from turning up your thermostat in the hot months. (And every degree you can raise your thermostat saves you more money).

But the ceiling fan enables you to remain comfortable while raising the thermostat.

And every degree in temperature that you raise your thermostat in the summer, corresponds to around a 1% change in your electricity bill.

Do Ceiling Fans Help Lower Heating Costs, Too?

If you have an older, pre-90s built home with poor or non-existent duct work, ceiling fans can help distribute heat around your house keeping you more comfortable in the winter.

Do ceiling fans help heating? Yes, they reduce the amount of heat needed by helping you benefit from the warm air already produced by your heating system and can reduce the risk of needing a furnace repair in the dead of winter. Ceiling fans work to evenly distribute air in the room; older homes benefit from this air circulation and by turning your thermostat down a degree or two, you will notice a difference in your heating bill (or the amount of wood burned).

On the lowest setting, your ceiling fan’s blades draw warm air up toward your ceiling, and the rotating motion pushes this air out toward the edges of the room before circulating it back to the ground. With air warmer pooling naturally at the top of a room, this air re-distribution helps the whole space feel warmer by pushing warmth back down to reach your body.

You benefit with more of the warmth produced by your heating system. This helps you feel comfortable even if you set the thermostat back a few degrees.

How Low Can You Go?

I’ve experimented and found that turning the fan on the lowest setting is still too chilly combined with a thermostat set between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit in the colder months; setting the temperature to a minimum of 67 degrees Fahrenheit with the fan makes the room comfortable for me, and nobody else notices that the heat isn’t cranked.

For me, a ceiling fan only makes sense when I’m in a room that has warm air to recirculate. That means I turn the fan off when the temperature drops below around 67 degrees F, or the fan breeze gives me a chill. That’s just me.

Using a Humidifier and Ceiling Fan

If you use a humidifier in your home (which you should — and aim to keep the indoor relative humidity at around 55 (or at least between 40 and 60 percent) percent to allow the air to hold the right amount of heat without causing mite, mold, or mildew problems), the same advice for ceiling fan direction applies: clockwise spin to warm indirectly, and counterclockwise to push air down to give and wind chill effect.

Or Skip the Ceiling Fan for Ultimate Savings, If…

If your home is relatively new (built since the 90s) and has wall and attic insulation and decent duct work, you might be better off skipping the ceiling fans if you want to save money.

Why? Because people with ceiling fans don’t always remember to turn the thermostat up while using the fans. And that is the whole point — to adjust your furnace or AC thermostat so your units don’t work as hard — if you’re going for energy savings.

If you’re using fans because you like the look of them or whatever, then more power to you.

But if you heard that using a ceiling fan saves energy and money, consider that you will likely save even more money by simply turning your thermostat up a bit and dealing with the summer heat.  A 2002 Utility Ceiling Fan Study conducted by the California Measurement Advisory Council (CALMAC) found that only two percent of people actually do turn up their thermostat when using their ceiling fans. And of those TWO PERCENT, the best possible outcome would be a 15 percent reduction in energy costs.   

15 percent is a decent cumulative, but does that savings pay for the ceiling fan purchase(s) to being with?

Ceiling fans cost at least $100, plus if you plan on living in your home for fewer than 18 years, you won’t recoup the savings ceiling fans might provide in allowing you to turn your thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, unless your energy costs are going way up.

Remember to buy the right size of ceiling fan — and make sure it has enough power to move enough air to in fact cool you — and you just might come out ahead!

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