Ceiling Fans

By Tom Roebuck

December 31, 2009 4 min read

The arrival of spring means the days get longer and the frigid air is replaced by warmer weather. When temperatures rise, electric bills drop, as heaters are turned off and windows are opened, letting in fresh air that isn't frozen. However, those electric bills will rise again as spring turns into summer and air conditioners are turned on to beat the heat.

In an effort to keep the AC off for as long as possible, portable fans of all sizes will be dragged out of storage and into living rooms and bedrooms, where they take up valuable real estate, only to provide minimal relief. A better idea is to take advantage of the wide-open space directly overhead: the ceiling.

Installing a ceiling fan is a one-time expense that will pay off for many years. Once it's in, a flip of the switch will get the air moving and provide comfort for a fraction of the cost of running the air conditioner. It adds a touch of class to any room and provides a platform for overhead lighting, often accentuated by a dimmer switch. It's no wonder that ceiling fans' popularity has grown steadily since their introduction in the 1880s.

Just about any room with a standard ceiling is a good candidate for a fan, just as long as it's not so low that anyone taller than 6 feet is in danger of decapitation. Seeing as ceiling space goes largely unused, finding a spot should be a snap.

"Generally, you want them in the center of the room," says Nathan Frampton of Fanimation. "If it's a really big room, you may want two or three that are evenly spaced."

A fan can make you feel cooler, but it doesn't actually lower the temperature of the room. It's the downward motion of the air that provides relief.

"When you have it on in the forward motion, which is counterclockwise looking up, the fan blows air onto you and creates what we call the wind chill effect. It makes you feel cooler," Frampton says. "What that allows you to do is raise the setting of your thermostat. You feel like you're at 72, but your air conditioner is only working to get the temperature to 75."

The wind chill effect is created moments after turning a fan on, so you can turn it off when you leave, unlike an air conditioner, which hums along all day.

"We would recommend that you have fans on only when you're in the vicinity of them," Frampton says.

Outdoor patios are favorite gathering spots, but they're out of reach of the air conditioner, making them prime spaces for ceiling fans. Because they're exposed to the elements, wooden blades are not recommended. Composite materials last much longer in an outdoor environment.

Ceiling fans and summer are a perfect match, but fans also have a role in the winter months, pushing hot air that has risen to the top of the room back down.

"If you can get the hot air that's rising to the top of the ceiling to dissipate throughout the entire room, it will raise the average temperature of the air in the lower portion of the room," Frampton says. "If it's a 20-foot ceiling and it's 80 degrees at the top and only 65 degrees in the first 8 feet of the room, a fan circulating the air will balance it out to something like 74."

During the winter, operating the fan at a slow speed prevents a wind chill effect while still churning the air and warming the room. Reversing the direction (so the blades are moving clockwise) is recommended for most rooms for an even circulation, avoiding a direct downdraft that will create a wind chill. Rooms with tall ceilings benefit the most during the winter because there's more room for hot air to collect at the top and go to waste.

"A ceiling fan, by nature, is an energy-saving device," Frampton says.

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