I lived for 13 years without air conditioning, and that was a blessing for me. On summer days, cross-ventilation and ceiling fans kept our midcentury ranch home comfortable. I despise AC, but it came with the townhouse I now live in, and my kids crank it up because they can. This year, before the heat strikes, I’m installing ceiling fans and reacquainting my kids with how to use them.
Philip Diehl invented the first electric ceiling fan in 1882. By the 1920s, most homes in the United States had ceiling fans, but their popularity faded with the onset of air conditioning. Ceiling fans made a comeback during the 1970s energy crisis and are again in vogue as homeowners look for ways to save energy. (Even if you can’t bear to be without AC, raising the temperature a couple of degrees and letting a good ceiling fan make up the difference could save you up to 14 percent on your energy bill).
Ceiling fans move air rather than directly changing its temperature, so reversing the blades' direction can help in both heating and cooling. In summer, the blades should blow air downward (usually counter-clockwise). In winter, the blades should turn the opposite direction (usually clockwise) on a low speed, so it pulls up colder air and forces warmer air near the ceiling to move down and take its place.
Run ceiling fans counterclockwise on medium to high speeds during hot weather only when the room is occupied, Ben Erickson advices on DannyLipford.com. Ceiling fans create a breeze that evaporates moisture from your skin, making you feel cooler. “This cooling effect doesn’t change the temperature of the air; it only makes you feel cooler,” he explains. “That is why you should turn the fan off when the room is empty. Otherwise, heat from the motor will actually increase the temperature in the room.”
Start your ceiling fan shopping by visiting the Energy Star site, which lists 368 fans that are at least 50 percent more efficient than conventional models. In this category, there is a clear green winner: Emerson Electric’s Midway Eco Fan, which moves more than 6,900 cubic feet of air per minute while consuming only 20.2 watts of electricity—a fraction of what a typical ceiling fan uses. The Midway Eco “brings new meaning to the concept of efficiency,” Greg Tillotson writes at HansonWholesale.com. Emerson’s EcoMotor uses up to 75 percent less energy compared to other ceiling fans, and the aerodynamic airfoil-shaped blades move up to 40 percent more air than typical fan blades. The built-in light uses four 13 watt fluorescent lamps. The Midway Eco is more than 3 times (or 300 percent) more energy efficient than any other Energy Star-rated ceiling fan with lights, Tillotson reports.
Emerson Electric's Midway Eco ceiling fan is three times more efficient than other Energy Star-rated models. Photo courtesy of Emerson Electric
Installation Tips for Your Ceiling Fan
--The U.S. National Electric Code requires ceiling fans to be supported by an electrical junction box listed for that use. If you are replacing a ceiling fixture, you will likely need to replace the electrical box.
--If possible, the fan should be anchored to a ceiling joist. If the joist is not located where you want it, install a special ceiling fan mounting bracket with spiked ends between joists.
--For safety reasons, the blades to be at least 7 feet from the floor.
--Follow manufacturer’s installation directions, using proper mounting screws.
--Do not locate the fan in a doorway or above a swinging door.
--The fan’s blade tips must be at least 18 inches from the wall.
--In bedrooms, fans work best when mounted above the foot of the bed.
--Do not install a fan close to or over a pool or spa unless it is Damp or Wet rated. High humidity and corrosive gases will destroy the finish and warp the blades.
Cleaning Tips for Your Ceiling Fan
--Dust the fan regularly. If you can, use a vacuum cleaner. If not, use a dust cloth or a lamb’s wool duster. Use a damp cloth on the blades.
--Do not spray water or cleaning fluid on the fan’s motor.
--To keep the blades dust free, polish them with a hard car wax.