Energy Adviser: Ceiling fans smart choice to beat heat

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Summertime is finally here, and while that means more sunshine and warmer weather, it can also mean having to turn on expensive air-conditioners. However, there are ways you can keep cool while reducing wasted energy.

One effective way to move air in the home and keep cool is a ceiling fan. These circulate air in the home, creating a nice cooling breeze. “Ceiling fans are very inexpensive to operate,” said DuWayne Dunham, an energy counselor at Clark Public Utilities. “Operating a ceiling fan six hours a day for a month adds about 90 cents to your utility bill.”

The reason these fans are so inexpensive is that ceiling fan motors consume only 10 to 100 watts a day. Even a single-room air conditioner gobbles 1,000 or more watts a day. Whole-house air conditioners eat even more energy, up to 5,000 watts.

While ceiling fans do not lower the actual temperature of the air the way air-conditioning systems do, they help circulate the air, causing a person to feel 8 degrees cooler than the air around them. Ceiling fans may be less effective on sweltering hot days; however, for moderate temperatures they’re a great option.

To save a lot of energy in the summer, raise your air conditioning thermostat and let the fan circulate the cooled air.

But be careful: While ceiling fans can reduce summer energy use, one with a light may burn up any energy savings. Usually they hold one or more of the brighter bulbs in a home and tend to be on at least four hours a day. These lights gulp more energy than the fan motor, even when the motor runs more hours. And they also generate heat. This may be a place to invest in a low-energy, low-heat LED bulb.

Ceiling fans are not only effective in the summer, but can help in winter as well. When installed properly, they can help circulate the heat and move warm air down. This works best on tall ceilings of 12 feet or more. If you use a ceiling fan on an 8-foot ceiling, the fan will merely create a cooling draft.

Energy Star-qualified ceiling fans use improved motors and blade designs. With or without lights, they are over 50 percent more efficient than conventional fans. This can save you more than $15 per year on utility bills.

Although ceiling fans install easily, you do need to follow a few basic rules, because their performance and energy savings rely on proper installation.

Use the appropriate UL-listed electrical box designed for ceiling fans. If you are replacing an existing lighting fixture, count on replacing the metal box in the ceiling as well.

Anchor the fan to ceiling joists, because it weighs up to 50 pounds. If the joist isn’t in the room’s center, install a special ceiling fan mounting bracket spiked at both ends between the joists.

Make sure the blades are balanced before installing your fan. Use a yardstick to check the alignment of the blades. Gently bend any misaligned blades. If the fan wobbles after you mount it, use a balancing kit available from the manufacturer to pinpoint the problem.

For more tips on keeping energy costs down during the summer cooling season, visit Clark Public Utilities’ website or stop by and pick up more information on outsmarting energy waste.


Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.