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Ceiling fans can cut your electric bills year-round, but before you run out and buy one for every room, it’s important to understand how fans can help you save energy. If you install a ceiling fan and don’t adjust your thermostat settings accordingly, you may be more comfortable – but you also could be increasing your monthly electric bills.

For example, during summer months keep in mind that a fan doesn’t cool air or things. Instead, it cools you – which is why you shouldn’t leave the fan running \when the room is empty. 

In fact, ceiling fans cool the skin by creating a downward breeze, which should make you feel comfortable enough to turn up the air conditioner thermostat a few degrees. Look at the pitch of the blades to determine which rotation direction makes the air blow downward; it’s usually counterclockwise, when you look up at the fan. 

In general, during summer run the ceiling fan on medium or high speed to create a greater cooling effect. Setting the thermostat higher because you’re using a ceiling fan saves much more electricity than the ceiling fan consumes. 

During winter, flip the small switch on the side of the ceiling fan housing to reverse the blade rotation. Run the fan on low speed so it creates a gentle upward breeze away from people in the room. This will push the warm air – which naturally rises – back down into the room, where it’s needed. Then you can set your furnace a few degrees lower and save energy there too. 

Some new ceiling fans also have a built-in electric heater with a handheld remote thermostat/control. It functions the same way as a standard ceiling fan during summer. During winter, it automatically reverses rotation when switched to the heating mode. The heater allows you to take advantage of zone heating – only warming the room you’re currently using. 

The size (or capacity) of a ceiling fan is rated by the diameter of its blades. This is more important during summer when you want to feel the breeze on your skin. A common rule of thumb for sizing is to use a 36-inch fan for rooms up to 150 square feet, a 48-inch fan for up to 300 square feet and a 52-inch fan for up to 450 square feet. In larger rooms, use two fans spaced about one-quarter of the way in from opposing walls. 

For the greatest energy savings, look for an Energy Star® rated fan. In addition, better ceiling fans typically have a greater pitch (twist) on the blades. This requires a more powerful motor, but it moves more air at a lower rotation speed – and results in less sound and less chance of annoying wobble. 

A handheld remote control is a convenient feature included with both inexpensive and pricier models. Natural wood blades are attractive but inexpensive ones made of synthetic materials generally are well-balanced. And a rubber-mounted hub reduces noise and vibration, but even the best ceiling
fans may require you to attach small balancing weights to stop blade wobble at high speed.

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