The summer heat is sizzling outside and you turn to your air conditioner to feel some much-needed cool and comfort. Yet you are not as comfortable as you think you should be so you reach to turn your ceiling fan on.
But you stop yourself, thinking, “Is it okay to run my AC and ceiling fan at the same time?”
DEFINITELY, YES. You should run your ceiling fan and air conditioner together to keep you from getting skyrocketing electric bills every summer. If you use ceiling fans with your AC system you can save up to 8% on your air conditioner's energy consumption.
If you are not convinced that running two appliances at the same time will consume less energy than using just one, then read on.
Let’s take a closer look at this fine combination and how you can benefit from lower energy consumption.
Why Should You Run the Ceiling Fan with the AC?
If you are ever in need of cooling on a hot and muggy summer day, you immediately think that the best possible solution is to turn on your air conditioner. And you’re probably right because air conditioners are exceedingly trusted and well-liked HVAC solutions for balmy weather.
Actually, if your AC unit is the right size for the room, it can easily lower the temperature within a 15 to 20-minute cycle. Almost 90% of American homes have air conditioning which proves that it is indeed the popular choice for home cooling and comfort.
But admittedly HVAC devices, particularly air conditioning systems consume a great deal of energy. An average room air conditioner eats up to 1,000 watts for 3 hours a day, while a central air conditioner consumes up to a whopping 3,500 watts for the same duration!
To put it in the dollar sense, a portable or window AC can cost you $30 per month if you run it for at least 10 hours each day, and $106 if you use your central AC for 10 hours each day!
The US Department of Energy (DOE) offers simple but tremendously practical advice to lower your cooling costs: Turn your ceiling fans on to run with the air conditioner.
“Say what?” you outrageously ask. How can turning on another electricity-powered appliance help me to conserve energy?
“If you use air conditioning to cool your home, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort,” the authority on effective and sensible consumption of the country’s energy resources confidently states.
The DOE goes even further by saying that for select climates where the temperature is only fairly warm, you may not even need to turn your air conditioning on and can rely on your fans to keep you cool.
The secret behind the brilliance of fans in lowering electricity consumption is that it circulates the air and helps your sweat evaporates with very little energy required to do so.
Did you know that fans only use 1% of the electricity being used by your air conditioner? No kidding!
So while air conditioners cool your home by gradually taking out the heat from the indoor air, ceiling fans speed up the evaporation process of your sweat so your body feels comfortable right away. This way, you don’t have to run your AC as long or as low as you used to.
If we crunch the numbers by comparing your energy consumption with the air conditioning alone to running a ceiling fan with it, you can accumulate 4% to 8% savings on cooling costs. Isn’t that fantastic?
Are You a Fan of the Fans?
A fan is the simple modest machine invented in the 1860s. The truth is, antiquated designs of a fan date back to 3,000 B.C.! Historical records show Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, and Chinese people have used the fan not only for cooling but for ceremonial and sometimes mythical purposes.
When the modern fan first came out, it did not use electricity but was powered by a turbine and a stream of running water. Since this method of operation can run several fan units at once, it is still popular in some stores, restaurants, and offices in the southern states.
There are various types of fans available in the market. Although quite similar in purpose and mechanism, each variety of fan has distinct characteristics that suit differing household needs.
Fans are categorized mainly to where they are situated. You could have easily guessed where a ceiling fan is installed. Mounted from the ceiling of a room, the ceiling fan is powered by electricity. If placed strategically, it can circulate the air to all parts of the room with minimal electrical consumption.
In most places nowadays, ceiling fans have electric motors that power them. It is suspended from the ceiling of a room, and it has hub-mounted rotating blades that circulate the air, producing a cooling effect.
Another cool thing about a fan installed in the ceiling is it can help both your cooling device in the summer AND your heating system in the winter.
How’s it possible?
Well, cool air is much more dense or heavier than warm air so the cold air collects near the ground or floor of your home, while the hot humid air stays above.
If the blades of the fan are running counterclockwise, it creates a current that pushes the air down and outward, forcing the cool air to your level. The circulated air with lower temperature then helps sweat to evaporate, making you comfortable.
In the winter, running the ceiling in a clockwise motion and at slow speed does the reverse. The fan pulls the cold air up so the warm air produced by your heating device gets evenly distributed throughout the room.
A fair warning, though. Only consider a ceiling fan installation if there is a distance of 8 feet or higher from the floor to the ceiling. Additionally, for a more efficient but safe operation, make sure the blades are hanging 10 to 12 inches away from the ceiling.
There is no installation necessary to use a table fan and you can move it around the house anytime. This is probably why table fans are the second favorite of many homeowners in America.
A table fan is compact and electric-powered, and most versions come with a remote control so you can adjust the speed and settings even from across the room.
Although referred to as a “table” fan, it can be placed on any flat and solid surface such as desks, countertops, or even on the floor. Unlike the ceiling fan where there is a distance requirement from the ceiling to the floor, the table fan is more flexible and works in areas with low ceilings.
If you don’t have a lot of free surfaces to place a fan on but your ceiling is not that high either (or too high), a wall fan may be your best bet.
Unlike the ceiling fan which consists of complex wiring that is often permanently installed, wall fans can be placed on any sturdy wall with a nearby active outlet. Because they are lightweight and fairly portable, you can move them around the house depending on the need for extra air circulation.
Most designs also come with a battery-operated remote control for easy adjustment of settings. Not like the ceiling fan that pushes the air down (or pulls the cold air up), wall fans simply push the air out from its place throughout the room, moving the air kind of horizontally rather than vertically.
While most fans are generally quiet, there is still a slightly audible whirring sound ensuing from them. But thanks to advanced technology, there is now an even quieter variety of fans for you to pick from.
The tower fan is sleeker and more sophisticated in appearance, and as the name suggests tall and narrow. As opposed to rotating rounded heads with bulky blades, tower fans have a thin drum with vanes.
Despite its slender design, a tower fan can circulate the air in a much larger space because of its rotating base at a 90-degree angle. Some advanced versions of tower fans have a built-in ionizer that filters and removes dust particles and smoke as the air passes through it.
Remember when we said that cool air pools close to the ground because they are denser than warm air? Well, no other fan can take advantage of more of that scientific fact than the floor fan.
Floor fans are often placed on the floor of houses and offices and it can offer a good amount of airflow. They have wide sizeable blades and it can be tilted upwards for more room coverage. To get the maximum comfort from this type of fan, face it toward the wall where most people are in or moving about so the circulating air can bounce off of it, distributing it to a much larger space.
Economical Comfort of Ceiling Fans
Because of its uncomplicated design, the purchase price of a ceiling fan is relatively inexpensive. Home Advisor, a digital marketplace where homeowners can find and book local service professionals to do their home improvements, maintenance, and remodeling projects, lists the price range for ceiling fans in 2020 as between $40 to $3,000.
Even the labor cost for a ceiling fan installation is remarkably inexpensive. It ranges from only $85 to $600. What about its energy consumption?
The New York Times published an article about the results of a study by Mr. Danny Parker, a principal research scientist at the Florida Solar Energy Center, comparing the energy consumption of a central air conditioner, window or wall-type AC, and a ceiling fan.
The figures his research revealed were astounding. A 3-ton central air conditioner draws 3 kilowatts per hour and costs $0.36 per hour when in use. A window-type AC uses 1.2 kilowatts per hour and costs $0.14 per hour to run. Meanwhile, ceiling fans only draw 30 watts when set at medium speed. And before it costs you a penny, it would have to be running for three hours nonstop! This means it costs $0.0033 per hour to operate a ceiling fan.
CeilingFan.com puts this finding shown in the NY Times in a monthly electric bill comparison format. In theory:
• A central A/C unit would cost about $129.60 per month
• A window A/C unit would cost about $50.40 per month
• Each ceiling fan would cost about $1.20 per month
The blog section of the website claimed that there would be a 99% decrease in cooling costs by using a ceiling fan instead of an air conditioner.
How Does a Ceiling Fan Save Energy?
Many people might think that you will be consuming more energy by running two appliances together. But in truth, ceiling fans can help distribute the cool air released by the AC. This will also help to alleviate the stillness of air in the room which can feel stuffy and hot. A good ceiling fan allows you to run the air conditioner at a higher temperature. This is another way to save money on your energy bill.
Another advantage of running fans is that it provides continuous airflow during periods when the AC is not running. This helps to maintain the level of comfort inside your home even without consuming more energy. The cost of operating a ceiling fan is much cheaper than having a full-blown AC chilling your living space full time. To save even more money, only turn on your ceiling fans when someone is home.
It might not seem logical that running two energy-consuming devices would cost less than running one. But even HVAC experts see the benefits of taking advantage of the features of an air conditioning system and then combining them with the attributes of a ceiling fan. The two work very well together.
Can the Ceiling Fan Replace Your AC?
While fans and AC offer almost similar cooling solutions, you can not just simply ditch your precious air conditioner and keep using a ceiling fan year-round.
Our body has a natural way of lowering its temperature by releasing heat through our skin, producing sweat. When the perspiration from our skin evaporates, it removes some of the heat and leaves a cooling sensation in our body. But the more sweat evaporates, the more humid the surrounding air becomes. That excess moisture makes it a lot harder for your sweat to evaporate continually, which soon makes you feel sticky and uncomfortable.
The wonderful thing about the humble fan is that it speeds up the evaporation process of the sweat from your skin by circulating the air around it. Although it cannot remove the humidity like an AC or a dehumidifier, a ceiling fan forces the air to move around dispersing the humidity in the process.
If we want to be technical about it, we can define what ceiling fans do the way the resource Energy Education of the University of Calgary does: forced convection. It is “a special type of heat transfer in which fluids are forced to move, to increase the heat transfer.” This is also known as the “
They deemed it special because the air naturally moves around the house, though somewhat unevenly. But forced convection of a ceiling fan solves that problem by “[creating] a more uniform and therefore comfortable temperature throughout the entire home.”
As mentioned above, another unique feature of ceiling fans is that it is useful both during scorching summers and chilly winters. If the rotation of the blades is set to blow downward (during summer), the fan will create a breeze that helps evaporate the sweat on our skin rapidly.
When winter comes, all you need to do is to reverse the rotation of the fan blades. There is usually a simple toggle switch on the base of the fan. The cooler air, which is heavier, naturally sinks to the ground. The reversed direction of the fan will draw the air upward and the warmer, lighter air near the ceiling will then be pushed downward.
To know if your ceiling fans are moving in a way that fits the climate, check the direction of their rotation. If it moves counter-clockwise, it is blowing the air downward making the room cooler. If the blades of the fan are going in a clockwise direction, it is drawing the cold air up and replacing it with the warmer air.
However, no matter how excellent you find your choice of fans is, it cannot work by itself in all types of climates and give you the same amount of relief from the heat. A ceiling fan running on an extremely hot summer cannot compete with the cooling comfort of an air conditioner blowing.
Let’s dive more into that fact and why running the ceiling fan WITH the air conditioner is more advantageous than having separate appliance work solo.
The Perfect Combo of Air Conditioner and Ceiling Fan
With all the benefits of ceiling fans considered above, you might think it would be most beneficial to switch completely to a ceiling fan.
If you live in an area where the weather is moderate with slight humidity, then you may be able to successfully use fans exclusively.
But keep in mind the two major limitations of ceiling fans:
- Ceiling fans DO NOT lower the temperature of the room. The wind chill effect only aids the rapid evaporation of your sweat which cools your skin.
- Ceiling fans DO NOT remove the humidity from the air. It moves the air around which diffuses the humidity away from your skin, thus, making you feel more comfortable.
Air conditioners, on the other hand, are designed specifically to perform functions that fans cannot. It does lower the temperature and humidity of your living space and expels them outside. Yet, there is extra cost involved.
The best solution is to use these two devices TOGETHER. Some turn on the AC first as they enter the room to blast it with the cool air and get rid of the humidity, and after a while switches it off and let the ceiling fans circulate the cool air around the space to help maintain the level of comfort and keep the excess moisture at bay.
Another cost-saving option that homeowners can take advantage of is to run their AC together with the ceiling fan, but with a higher thermostat setting. The level of comfort remains much the same but with significantly lower energy consumption. Imagine the monthly savings!
You will also gain long-term savings because using them at the same time would mean that your AC and your ceiling fan will not work as hard on their own. This will save you from costly air conditioning repair expenses and extend the life of your units to their maximum potential.
Just to remind you, the US Department of Energy supports this tandem use of AC and ceiling fans saying that if you use air conditioning in your home, a ceiling fan will let you have nearly 4°F higher on your thermostat without sacrificing your comfort. This suggestion is also well-founded by research entitled, Thermal Comfort Enhancement by Using a Ceiling Fan (2009), which looks into the effect of using a ceiling fan in an air-conditioned room. Researchers have found that “as the normal airspeed from the fan increases, thermal comfort significantly shifts toward the cooler scale to allow higher supply air temperature or higher heat load in the room while maintaining the same comfort level.”