- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conjure up an image of vacationers sitting on a veranda at a tropical resort, a ceiling fan rotating overhead and supplementing the cooling effect of the ocean breezes.

Well, you don’t have to go to the tropics to realize the benefits - or create the ambience - of ceiling fans. They can provide an energy-efficient supplement to air conditioning during the hot summer months.

The concept is simple. If you use a ceiling fan, you can raise your thermostat and still get the same cooling effect. That means lower electric bills in the long run.

Ceiling fans work by creating a wind-chill effect. As in winter, when the wind makes it feel colder outside, so the wind - or motion - created by ceiling fans makes you feel cooler in the summer.

“Ceiling fans don’t cool the room, they cool you,” says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman and brand manager for Energy Star, the government program designed to promote energy efficiency. Raising the thermostat by 2 degrees and using a ceiling fan can cut energy costs by about 14 percent over the course of a season, Miss Vargas says.

That makes them a good, low-cost supplement to air conditioning. Jeremy Tarr, director of marketing for Hunter Fan Co., says the energy cost of running a ceiling fan is similar to that of running a standard incandescent light bulb.

“You can save much more by raising the thermostat,” he says.

Some studies have shown that people can move their thermostats up 4 to 6 degrees and not perceive any real difference if they’re using a ceiling fan, Mr. Tarr says.

“Saving money is something that has never gone out of style,” says John Reeve, manager of Dan’s Fan City in Rockville, Md. But, he’s quick to add, that’s not the only reason people buy ceiling fans.

“It’s energy efficient, and some people like the feeling of air movement,” he says. “It takes the stuffiness out of a room. It could add to the decor.”

By adding some motion to a room, Mr. Tarr says, fans add “a little bit of character.”

The cost of a fan depends on the options.

At Dan’s Fan City, fans range from the simplest model, costing about $40, to builder-grade fans with a price tag of $3,000. Mr. Reeve says consumers should plan to spend $100 to $250 for a fan. A kit to add lighting to the fan increases the cost. The company has locations in seven states, most in the Southeast.

Miss Vargas says ceiling fans have been popular in that region and also the Southwest.

“We have also heard from a few manufacturers that there is a growing trend in the usage of ceiling fans in the northeast part of the country, especially in the winter, as a means to reduce electric bills by driving heat down,” she says.

Most ceiling fans are reversible. During the summer, the blades should move counterclockwise as you look up at the fan, creating a wind chill. In winter months, they should move clockwise. That helps bring the hot air down from the ceiling and even out the heating. Hunter Fan Co. says you can save 15 percent on your winter heating costs by lowering your thermostat 4 degrees and using a ceiling fan.

What’s the ideal spot for a ceiling fan?

Many people install them in bedrooms or great rooms.

“A lot of folks put fans in kitchens and eating areas,” Mr. Reeve says. “Anywhere you have a ceiling, you can have a fan.”

When you go to buy a fan, you’ll need to know more than just what style you like.

Consider the size of the room, Mr. Tarr says. For a larger bedroom, go with a 52-inch fan. For a great room, a 60- or 70-inch fan would work best. “For smaller rooms, a 44- or 42-inch fan may be just fine,” he says.

The measurement refers to the length of the blades.

Different motor sizes are available as well. “You need a fan with a properly sized motor to get an efficient air flow,” Mr. Tarr says.

When you leave a room, turn the fan off to get the maximum energy efficiency. Unlike an air conditioner, the wind-chill effect produced by the ceiling fan is immediate. You don’t lose anything by turning off the fan when you’re not there.

The energy savings can be even greater if your fan is certified by Energy Star. Although savings depend on the amount of use and the climate, Miss Vargas says Energy Star fans are about 50 percent more efficient than conventional ones, leading to savings of about $25 a year. In 2009, however, those fans cost about $80 more than a conventional one.

Energy Star and Hunter Fan also recommend using a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature during waking hours or when you are away or sleeping.

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