Is Your Ceiling Fan a Friend or a Foe?

Recently, there has been some fast and loose talk about ceiling fans being ineffective for cooling. Are these claims true or false? As with so many issues, the answer is “both.” Read on to learn how to make the most of your ceiling fans.Are ceiling fans effective in cooling down a room?

The reason some energy experts disapprove of ceiling fans has more to do with how people use ceiling fans than with the fans themselves. Unlike air conditioners, which contain cooling agents called refrigerants, fans don’t actually cool the air. In fact, the motor that runs the fan actually warms the air around it! However, the air movement that the fan creates gives the feeling of cooler air. It’s the same principle as the wind-chill factor that meteorologists use when determining outdoor temperature; a cold wind will make the air feel colder, even though the wind doesn’t register on the thermometer.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that for users of both air conditioning and ceiling fans, the wind chill factor of ceiling fans allows users to raise their air conditioning temperature four degrees without sacrificing any real-feel comfort. During milder weather, ceiling fans can actually replace air conditioning, drastically reducing energy usage.

So why would energy experts complain about ceiling fans? Note the Department of Energy’s recommendation that users can reduce or even eliminate their air conditioning usage by using ceiling fans. Many users only take the second piece of that advice; that is, they keep the ceiling fans on, but they don’t bother raising their AC temperature or turning their AC off when it’s not necessary. This results in a greater energy expenditure than if the ceiling fans weren’t turned on at all.

Furthermore, most people leave ceiling fans on, even when they’re not in the room. As the DOE says, fans cool people, not rooms, so it doesn’t do any good to leave them on if you’re not in the room. To get the most out of your ceiling fans, follow these simple steps:

  • Raise your AC temperature a few degrees if you’re using a ceiling fan.
  • In temperate weather, use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning.
  • Turn off your ceiling fan when you leave a room.

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