Energy Conservation – Ceiling Fans and Other Considerations

There is no question that one of the most significant economic issues facing the average homeowner is how to cope with the ever-increasing cost of energy. We all know what many of the major reasons are behind this continual escalation in the cost of what it takes to heat and cool our homes, condos, townhouses and apartments. Our dependency on foreign countries for oil and increases in the prices of this oil is no doubt the major reason we are paying more and more for consumable energy resources. The cost of electricity is also on the rise as a result of domestic factors too many to mention in this brief paper.

The bottom line is that we have to somehow cope with what appears to be an ongoing problem with no relief in sight. We have no alternative.

Before discussing the energy saving benefits of installing ceiling fans, I'm going to briefly outline some other measures you can take to help reduce your energy bills.

How often do you have a professional evaluate the efficiency of your furnace and air conditioning system? Most of you will probably have to check the label pasted on your furnace to answer this question. If that's the case, the answer to my question is that it has been far too long since you've had a professional checkup by a qualified HVAC professional. An inefficient furnace will typically not give you any indications that it is not working in the most cost-effective manner possible. Like anything mechanical, a furnace and air conditioning system will begin to work less efficiently over time. I assume that you check the oil, etc. in your automobile at regular intervals. Why aren't you doing the same with your heating and air conditioning system?

Most homeowners are delinquent when it comes to replacing the furnace air filter. The principle of "out of sight – out of mind" applies here. The air filter is located in a seldom-visited area and consequently gets little attention until someone happens to say, "When's the last time we changed the air filter?" Sound familiar? An air filter doesn't take long to become a liability. The more debris the filter collects, the harder the motor needs to work to satisfy the thermostat's requirement. The harder the motor works, the more electricity it takes to get it to do the job. In extreme cases, a seriously plugged up air filter can even be a fire hazard. The filters I use cost about a buck and I make it a point to change them every month with the help of a reminder penciled in on the calendar.

Cut down on your energy costs by making sure that the doors in rooms that are seldom used are kept closed. If these rooms don't have a heating vent, they will be colder in the winter than other parts of the house. This cold air migrates out through doors that are left open and increases your heating costs. As a side note, if you live in a multi-level home, the upper floors may be warmer than the lower floors where the thermostat is located. Get the heating balanced in these upper-level rooms or at least close the heat source in the room to get the heat consistent with the lower level rooms. Use a thermometer to check the heat in these rooms. In fact, these small, wall mounted units are so inexpensive you should consider installing one in every room on the upper level.

Window insulation is another part of the home that is often neglected. One of the easiest ways to do a self-check is to shutdown your furnace fan and use a candle to produce a small amount of smoke near each window. Take care not to set fire to the curtains. If the smoke drifts toward the window, there's a very good chance that your insulation is not doing its job the way it should. A significant smoke drift may indicate that you need to completely re-insulate the window (s). Heating leaks due to poorly insulated windows is one of the major energy wasters for the typical homeowner.

Caulking windows and doors (actually, re-caulking them) is also an energy saver. Most caulk has a limited useful lifetime when it comes to the flexibility necessary to prevent warm (or cool) air from escaping from doors and windows. Sometimes you can get away with just patching the existing caulking. However, in extreme cases, get ready to chip out the old before replacing it with the new. Check with your home center or hardware pros to find out what the latest and greatest technology is in terms of caulking material. If the best costs a little more, it's money well spent.

It's time to get to the topic of the ceiling fan and are they really a cost-saver when it comes to energy conservation? To start with, believe it or not, the average ceiling fan costs less than a nickel an hour to operate while a central air conditioning unit costs around a half-dollar an hour to operate. Ceiling fans differ from air conditioners in that they don't really cool the air. What they do is produce what is known as a cooling effect because of the breeze that they create. This breeze evaporates skin moisture and makes you feel more comfortable.

In many areas, a ceiling fan will not produce a sufficient cooling effect to keep you comfortable, particularly during the warmer weather. One energy saving trick is to install ceiling fans, turn up the thermostat five to ten degrees (running the air conditioner less) and then turn on the ceiling fan. In most cases, the comfort level will be about the same as it would be if you just ran the air conditioner at a lower thermostat setting without a ceiling fan.

While some of the more powerful ceiling fan motors will use more energy to operate, the amount of air they will circulate usually offsets this additional cost and may even save money in the long run.

A little known fact is that ceiling fans can act as a heat balancer in the winter months. Warm air naturally rises leaving a layer of cooler air near the floor where you happen to live. Set the rotation of the fan to reverse the normal, cooling direction. The fan will then effectively break-up the layering of cool and warm air in the room by forcing the warm air trapped near the ceiling towards the wall. As it reaches the wall, this warm air will move downward and eventually mix with the cold layer near the floor (without creating a draft). The cool and warm air will effectively mix and provide a warmer, and more even temperature level throughout the room. This warmer air will "tell" the thermostat that it doesn't need to turn the furnace on so frequently to keep the temperature at a comfortable level. The result is that you save on energy costs.

The relative energy cost of using ceiling fan lighting rather than conventional light fixtures depends on the types of bulbs you are using. Incandescent bulbs waste the most energy in proportion to the amount of light they produce. Fluorescent lights are far more energy efficient and can be used in many ceiling fans and other conventional lighting fixtures.

A final note about the most recent innovations in ceiling fans and lighting fixtures: There are ceiling fans available that are Energy Star rated. Energy Star is a designation awarded to appliances that conform to governmental standards for energy efficiency and conservation. Ceiling fans that are Energy Star rated have motors that run more efficiently and use fluorescent lighting if the fan is a lighted model. Although there are not as many models available that meet the Energy Star's requirements, it's worth looking into.

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