Energy-Saving Ceiling Fans: Fact or Fiction?

home ceiling fan

August 25, 2017

The air conditioner is one of the most energy-hungry appliances in your home. It costs, on average, $0.36 per hour to operate, and accounts for about a fourth of all energy costs in an average home. You may have heard that ceiling fans can help you lower that cost. But is that true, or just wishful thinking? Can ceiling fans save energy, or are they an outdated cooling option now that ultra-efficient air conditioning units and programmable thermostats are widely available? Can they either lower the need for air conditioning or replace air conditioners altogether? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of ceilings fans.

Ceiling Fans are Cheaper to Operate

Ceiling fans are cheap to operate compared to air conditioners. The average cost of running a ceiling fan is about one cent per hour – a fraction of the cost to run an air conditioner. However, ceiling fans do not actually cool the room like an AC unit. Instead, they create a wind-chill effect that can make it seem cooler. They can also lower humidity levels, which makes the room more comfortable without actually lowering the temperature.

Ceiling fans can provide cost-saving benefits when used together with air conditioning: if you turn on both your ceiling fan and air conditioner, you can increase the thermostat by four degrees without losing any comfort. The air conditioner will not be any more efficient to operate, but it will turn on less often, saving money overall.

Year-Round Benefits

According to Energy Star, ceiling fans can provide year-round energy-saving benefits. In addition to making a room’s occupants feel cooler in the summer, they can also help save money in the wintertime. Most modern ceiling fans have reversible motors, and when they operate in a clockwise direction, it creates a gentle updraft. Hot air rises toward the ceiling so that the updraft will push this warmer air around and then downward into the living space. This effect could allow you to turn the thermostat down a few degrees without sacrificing comfort.

Most ceiling fans include a small switch on the side of their motor housing that reverses the fan.

Efficiency Depends on Lighting

A ceiling fan’s efficiency depends on lighting more than on anything else. Approximately 80 percent of the energy savings from efficient Energy Star certified ceiling fans comes from LED lighting fixtures in the fan. A fan that can use fluorescent, CFL, or LED bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs can help you save on energy costs, as long as you use the lower-energy bulbs.

Ceiling fans have different designs, and some have multiple light bulb fixtures. In addition to the bulb type, the overall wattage of the lighting (not the number of fixtures) will determine the cost of powering the fan. According to Home Energy Magazine, however, a single higher watt bulb will generally provide more illumination than several lower wattage bulbs.

Ceiling Fans Have Limits

As we’ve seen, ceiling fans can increase comfort and lower cooling and heating costs. However, they are circulation devices, not ventilation devices – an important distinction. Ceiling fans can only move air that is already inside the house. They cannot bring cooler air (or fresh air) from the outside. For ventilation, a simple, cheap box fan is superior to a ceiling fan. Window fans can be useful not only for bringing cool air in but also for sucking warmer, more humid air out of the building. Ceiling fans can’t do this, so they should not be considered a “complete” fan solution.

How Much Can You Save?

As mentioned above, in the summer, you can turn on the ceiling fans and then raise the thermostat by four degrees without sacrificing comfort. But how does this translate into dollars and cents? It’s a question of wattage. Fans use 15 to 100 watts of energy, depending on their efficiency and speed. Air conditioners use between 1,000 (smaller window unit) and 5,000 watts (large central air conditioner). Turning the thermostat up will mean the air conditioner turns on less often, thereby saving overall wattage. On average, ceiling fans can help save four to eight percent on cooling costs when combined with an air conditioner. However, these savings could be lost if you are not careful. Ceiling fans are more about comfort and less about cooling the room. If no one is in the room to benefit, then the fan is wasting energy. The obvious way to avoid this is to turn off the fan when you leave the room. Therefore, these appliances are only practical in commonly occupied areas (bedrooms, living rooms).

Are Ceiling Fans Worth the Investment?

Ceiling fans cannot replace air conditioning. They could lead to energy savings because they allow you to adjust the thermostat without sacrificing comfort, and they may convince you to leave the air conditioning off on marginally hot days. Special financing, such as PACE programs, can often help with the installation of efficiency-improvement features like ceiling fans. Basically, these programs provide upfront financing, and you pay for the project over time using the money saved on your energy bills. Ideally, the savings (four to eight percent, in the case of ceiling fans) will cover the cost of the project.

Would a Larger Improvement Save More?

Larger upgrades, such as a new, more efficient HVAC system, may also qualify for PACE financing. These new systems can provide energy savings of over $100 per year versus equipment that is 15 to 20 years old. So, while ceiling fans do provide energy-saving benefits, other improvements could be better investments. A reputable PACE provider can determine if you qualify for financing to help make these larger improvements (a new Energy Star certified central air conditioner, for example) more financially realistic.

PACE can help you finance an array of improvements to make your home comfortable and energy efficient. Contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; to see if PACE is available in your area.