The Great Ceiling Fan Switch

Reader Contribution by Staff

Ceiling fans are great, especially in this hot weather, and this week, I’ve been sitting under the fan a lot. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about how to adjust the fan just right for maximum efficiency and coolness. Theoretically, if you get this right, you don’t have to run the air conditioning as much, and therefore you save energy. So sitting under the fan isn’t just about staying cool, it’s about protecting the environment, right?

Whatever your motivation, the conventional wisdom on how to get the most from your ceiling fan is pretty simple: You set each fan to counterclockwise in the summer, so the downward flow of air makes you feel cooler. In the winter, you flip the switch on the fan that changes the direction it turns. As the fan spins clockwise, it forces warm air down from the ceiling and makes you feel warmer.

But in practice, is this actually true? I’d never tried switching the direction of my ceiling fans before, but Stephanie, one of my coworkers at Mother Earth News who — not coincidentally — edited our recent article on natural cooling, said that she just switched the ceiling fans in her house from clockwise to counterclockwise, and it made an enormous difference. That sounded good to me.

So I went home and checked the direction on my ceiling fans. There are three, and while the one in the living room was already spinning counterclockwise, the other two were not. I just flipped the switch on the fan, and — wow. It’s true. It does make a difference. Now I’m planning to switch the direction on the fans every time I change the clocks for daylight-saving time.

I’m also getting better about turning off the fans whenever I leave the room, because apparently ceiling fans don’t reduce room temperature in the way air-conditioning does — the air movement created by the fan only makes you feel cooler when you’re sitting underneath it. The Energy Star program has a good page of information on ceiling fans with this and other helpful tips. You can check it out here.

Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on .