On a ceiling fan, which way is summer? Which fan direction should you choose for winter?
Some homeowners might be surprised just how different the correct ceiling fan direction in summer/winter makes. Even more importantly, by picking the wrong ceiling fan rotation for a season, you will unnecessarily raise your cooling and heating bills by over $100/year.
We are going to explain which way should a ceiling fan rotate:
- In the summer. Ie. ceiling fan direction for cooling.
- In the winter. Ie. fan direction for heat.
We are going to tackle the clockwise vs. counterclockwise ceiling fan direction and make some savings calculations for cooling and heating (estimations). The key here is to understand just how much of a difference adequate ceiling fan direction makes.
Let’s first answer the most obvious question:
“Does ceiling fan direction really matter?”
Yes, to a surprisingly large extent. Here is a direct quote from the U.S. Department of 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.” (DOE on ceiling fan use in summer)
By adequately setting ceiling fan rotation direction in the summer, you can save up to 30% on your cooling costs (we’ll explain why, and calculate US dollar AC savings further on). In the winter, you can save up to 15% on heating costs if you know which fan spin direction to choose.
Of course, if you don’t correctly use the ceiling fan direction switch when the seasons change, you will not benefit from these savings. Even worse, you will likely increase the cooling and heating costs significantly only because the ceiling fan reverse switch was not turned on/off.
With all this said, here is the correct fan direction by season:
- In the summer, the ceiling fan direction should be counterclockwise. The downward breeze, generated by counterclockwise fan spin direction, will make us feel cooler. We won’t have to push the air conditioner so hard.
- In the winter, the ceiling fan direction should be clockwise. The upward cold air direction, generated by the ceiling fan clockwise direction, will displace the warm air at the top of the room, and push this heated air down. We won’t have to push heating so hard.
Let’s first look at what direction should a ceiling fan go in summer, and expected electricity savings:
Ceiling Fan Direction For Summer (Counterclockwise + AC Savings Calculation)
Counterclockwise direction is the ‘ceiling fan direction summer’.
When set to the counterclockwise direction in the summer, the ceiling fan pushes the air downward. This downward airflow direction creates a light cooling breeze.
The column on air increases the evaporation from our skin and stimulates the body’s natural cooling mechanism. That’s why DOE, according to their experimentation, determined that you can set the air conditioner setting 4°F higher in the summer.
Example: If you set the thermostat to 68°F in the summer, with the correct summer ceiling fan direction, you can now set it to 72°F. You will feel that the temperature in the room doesn’t change due to the evaporation cooling effect from your skin.
Now, it’s important to understand that the overall temperature of the room ceiling fan is in does not decrease, even if you have the correct summer ceiling fan rotation. The room has the same temperature with or without the fan. Nonetheless, the temperature we perceived due to the summer counter-clockwork fan setting is lower.
Correct ceiling fan direction with air conditioning will help us reduce the air conditioning costs. Just by choosing the correct ceiling fan direction for cooling, you can save up to 30% on your AC costs. How much exactly? Let’s calculate a bit:
How Much Does Correct Ceiling Fan Direction With Air Conditioning Save?
Of course, it always makes sense to set the ceiling fan rotation for summer when using an air conditioner. To adequately calculate how much less you will pay for electricity as a result of that, we need to take into account two factors:
- Reduction of air conditioning costs up to 30%. This reduced the electricity bill significantly.
- Increase in electricity costs because we have to power the ceiling fan. This increases the electricity bill less significantly.
According to the EIA’s 2015 study, we spend about 12% of all our energy expenditure on cooling alone. That’s $265 per year. The 30% reduction in cooling expenses saves an average household about $80/year.
Running a ceiling fan also adds to the electricity bill. However, running a 20W-50W ceiling fan vs. a 500W-1,200W window air conditioner, for example, is a big difference.
According to the DOE, in some cases, a ceiling fan can completely replace a room air conditioner:
“In temperate climates, or during moderately hot weather, ceiling fans may allow you to avoid using your air conditioner altogether.” (DOE)
Example: Let’s say we have a 12,000 BTU 1,000W window air conditioner and we use it with a 50W ceiling went (spinning in the counter-clockwork direction).
Due to the 30% AC requirement, the 12,000 BTU AC unit will have to run not on 1,000W, but on 700W. We need to add 50W for running the ceiling fan in the summer as well.
That means that, with the ceiling fan rotation for summer, we will:
- Not have to run 12,000 BTU AC on 1,000W.
- Run our AC on 700W and run our fan on 50W, for a total electricity draw of 750W.
With this summer fan + air condition setting, we can effectively reduce our cooling costs by as much as 25%.
For illustration, a 50W ceiling fan running at full speed 24h per day will spend 1.2 kWh of electricity. That’s less than $0.16/day. If we run a 1,000W window AC at full speed for 24h per day, we will spend 24 kWh of electricity. That’s more than $3.16/day.
Essentially, running a ceiling fan spends about 20 times less electricity than running an air conditioner. With that very small amount of electricity for a fan, however, we can effectively reduce the electricity bill for air conditioning up to 30%.
In short, using a ceiling fan in the direction for summer presents one of the easiest ways how to reduce cooling costs. We just need to use the counter-clockwork setting that will produce the ceiling fan downward airflow direction.
Now, let’s have a look at what ceiling fan direction we should choose for winter (and accompanied savings on heating):
Ceiling Fan Direction For Winter (Clockwise + Heating Savings Calculation)
It’s quite obvious that in the summer, a column of downward airflow will cool you down. With the clockwork fan direction ‘Winter’, it’s less apparent why we should set the ceiling fan direction in winter clockwise to produce the upward airflow.
Here’s the thing:
We all know that hot air rises. According to Wikipedia at 59°F, the air density is 1.2250 kg/m3. At 77°F, the air density is 1.1839 kg/m3. This 3.5% in air density is the reason why we find cold air at the floor level and hot air at the ceiling level.
If, however, we ceiling fan direction in winter to clockwise, the upward airflow direction will push the colder floor level air up. This air will displace the warmer ceiling level air, and push it downward.
That’s why we should set ceiling fan rotation in the winter clockwise.
What effect does pushing this warm air down to the floor level have on heating costs?
Quite a significant one. It’s commonly quoted that you can save up to 15% on your heating bills just by using the ceiling fan direction switch to set your fan from a counterclockwise direction to a clockwise direction.
The indoor air will feel warmer and you can even lower the temperature on your thermostat without losing the warmth.
Let’s calculate a bit how much you can save by switching the ceiling fan direction to clockwise in the winter:
How Much Does Correct Ceiling Fan Direction In Winter Save?
We again turn to EIA’s 2015 heating costs study for vital data. An average US household spends:
- $578 on heating with natural gas.
- $1,437 on heating with propane.
- $1,392 on heating with heating oil.
- $930 on heating with electric heating.
If we use adequate ceiling fan position and clockwork direction in the winter, we can see how much we can save if we reduce our heating costs by 15%. Here are the heating savings numbers in a household with correct winter ceiling fan rotation:
- $86.70 savings when heating with natural gas + clockwork direction fan.
- $215.55 savings when heating with propane + clockwork direction fan.
- $208.80 savings when heating with heating oil + clockwork direction fan.
- $139.50 savings when heating with electric heating + clockwork direction fan.
Of course, to be fair, you have to account for ceiling fan running costs throughout the winter as well. In the winter, it is sufficient to run a ceiling fan at the lowest speed setting. The total winter ceiling fan running costs are very likely to be much lower than $50.
Effectively, you are saving more than $100 per winter season with most heating fuel options.
All it takes is to correctly switch fan direction by season.
Now, in some cases, homeowners have difficulty telling if a fan is going clockwise or counterclockwise. We will look at how to tell these two ceiling fan directions apart, and how you can switch from clockwise to counterclockwise and visa-versa (winter to summer, summer to winter).
How Can You Tell If A Fan Is Going Clockwise Or Counterclockwise?
In principle, it’s very easy to tell the direction of the fan. If the blades spin in the same direction as the clock handle spins, you have a clockwork or ‘winter’ fan direction. If the blades spin in the opposite direction as the clock handle spins, you have a counterclockwork or ‘summer’ fan direction.
That’s in theory. It can be quite difficult to tell which way the blades on a ceiling fan are actually spinning.
The best way to tell if a fan is going clockwise or counterclockwise is by checking for downward or upward air movement.
Here’s what you do in a step-by-step way:
- Stand below the ceiling fan and face the fan.
- Do you feel that the fan is blowing air in your face? That’s the downward airflow direction. In this case, the ceiling fan is spinning counterclockwise or in the ‘summer’ ceiling fan direction.
- You don’t feel any air blowing in your face? That’s the upward airflow direction. In this case, the ceiling fan is spinning clockwise or in the ‘winter’ ceiling fan direction.
If you see that the ceiling fan direction is not right for the season (counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter), you can easily switch the fan direction. You can switch the ceiling fan direction from counterclockwise to clockwise or clockwise to counterclockwise by:
- Using a remote control for the ceiling fan. Some remote controls will even have the ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ fan directions labeled on the controller.
- Flip the direction switch on the ceiling fan itself. You will usually find it on the side of the motor housing.
With all of this, you are now set to take all the advantages of correctly setting your ceiling fan rotation both in the summer as well as in the winter.