Energy Adviser: Ceiling fans make for cool summers



When the weatherman forecasts those high temperatures, consider using an old technology to cool you without burning up your wallet. Ceiling fans provide one of the best investments for energy savings and for remaining cool in the summer months. They also cost little to run.

“Because ceiling fan motors are typically low wattage, running a ceiling fan six hours a day for a month — 180 hours — only adds about 90 cents to your monthly utility bill,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor at Clark Public Utilities.

A single room air conditioner consumes a thousand or more watts a day. Whole house air conditioners gobble up to 5,000 watts daily. This can add up. Running a whole house air-conditioning system costs around $1 to $2 a day — that’s $30 to $60 for the month. Running your heat pump for cooling will only be slightly less.

The reason for this difference is simple. Air conditioners change the temperature of the air and then use a fan to circulate the cooler air. This takes a lot more energy than a fan, but lets you have a cool home to return to after work.

Ceiling fans simply move the air around. Remember ceiling fans cool people, not rooms. During the summer, it serves no purpose to run one if you’re not around. The fan cannot cool a room. It’s the air blowing across your body and evaporating your body’s moisture that makes you feel cooler.

Be cautious. Sure ceiling fans can reduce summer energy use, although one with a light could chew up any energy savings, and incandescent bulbs add heat to the room.

Usually fans house several of the brighter bulbs in a home. They also tend to be turned on four hours or more a day. These lights suck up more electricity than the fan motor, even though you’ll probably run the fan more hours a day during heat spells. For fans with lights, consider installing an LED bulb to lower energy consumption and reduce the amount of heat coming off the lamp.

Helpful hints

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

In the summer, operate the ceiling fan at a higher speed to move air. Stand directly under it and you should feel a cool down draft. This flowing of air produces a wind-chill effect, making you “feel” cooler.

Also, take advantage of the cooler outside temperatures during the morning and evening. Open the windows and flush out warm air from your home. During the early morning hours, close drapes, blinds or other window coverings to keep out heat. Sunshine on windows heats up a room and makes an air conditioner work twice as hard.

In the winter, operate the fan in the opposite direction so the blades move warm air down, and at a low speed. A switch on most fan motor housing changes the direction the fan turns.

“Don’t fail to adjust the thermostat when using a ceiling fan,” Dunham said. “This provides you extra energy savings.” Simply raise your air conditioning thermostats to around 76 degrees and let the fan circulate the cooler air. Combined, your home should feel comfortable while helping to keep your electric bill lower.

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