For the uninitiated, yes, the direction of your ceiling fan can be changed, and which way it’s spinning does make a difference in how cool or warm the room will feel. You might not think to run a ceiling fan at all in the winter, since fans are most traditionally used for cooling purposes, but in fact, switching the direction of your ceiling fan in the winter so that it’s running clockwise and setting it at a low speed can better circulate warm air in the room, according to energy efficiency and HVAC specialists. And as the fan shuttles warm air down from the space near the ceiling, you may be able to lower your thermostat, too, which can reduce your energy footprint and save you money.
Below, learn how and when to switch the direction of your ceiling fan for winter (and when to switch it back for summer) and why this trick is surprisingly effective for keeping your space more comfortable, plus other energy efficient tips for warming your home this winter.
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Which direction should your ceiling fan spin in the winter?
If you’ve ever lived on the top floor of a building during the dog days of summer, you already know that heat rises. Changing your ceiling fan direction for winter capitalizes on this law of thermodynamics by making it work in your favor. “When you switch a ceiling fan to spin clockwise at a low speed, it helps bring down that nice, toasty air that naturally goes up to the ceiling,” says Tom Moor, HVAC specialist for HVAC.com.
“When you switch a ceiling fan to spin clockwise at a low speed, it helps bring down that nice, toasty air that naturally goes up to the ceiling.” —Tom Moor, HVAC specialist for HVAC.com
Still hesitant to use a ceiling fan at all during the winter? Moor emphasizes that when done correctly—again, clockwise at a low speed—using your ceiling fan in the winter “is like a secret weapon for a cozier home.” Essentially, circulating air clockwise helps counteract the stratification of air that would otherwise cause warm air to collect at the top of the room, says Leslie Jones, media and public affairs specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program.
The result: Warm air comes down to where you’ll be better able to feel it, so you can also turn down your thermostat a few degrees and ultimately conserve energy. (The key is just to make sure the fan is set at a low speed in order to reverse the direction of airflow without actually making the air feel cooler.)
Which direction should your ceiling fan spin in the summer and in-between months?
The direction of your ceiling fan can have just as big of an effect on how well it cools a space in the summer (and the in-between months of spring and fall) as it can on how efficiently it warms a space in the winter. To optimize your fan’s direction for keeping things cool, you’ll want to do the exact opposite of what you’d do in the winter, and set it to spin counterclockwise at a high speed.
“When your fan is moving counterclockwise in the summer, it creates a cool breeze effect by blowing air downward, making you feel cooler without [having to] touch the thermostat,” says Moor. This is one of the most energy efficient ways to cool your home and is an especially great trick for anyone who doesn’t have air conditioning (or doesn’t feel like blasting it on a warm spring or early fall day but still wants to feel cooler). Not to mention, cooling your space without cranking the A.C. (if you have it) can keep the air from becoming extra-dry and improve your summer indoor air quality as a result.
When to change the direction of your ceiling fan for winter and for summer
Figuring out when to make the switch will depend on the weather in your region, which can certainly be sporadic in some areas during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
Moor advises popping open your favorite weather app and taking a look at the 10-day forecast where you live as cool weather is approaching in the fall and as warm weather is coming in the spring. Once you see temperatures starting to dip over a period of time in the fall, it’s a good idea to change your fan(s) to clockwise. And using the opposite logic for summer, if you see a 10-day forecast predicting consistent warm weather in the spring, it’s a good idea to set your fan(s) to spin counterclockwise in order to keep your home on the cool side without adjusting the thermostat (if you have one), says Moor.
To ensure you don’t forget, you can also use daylight saving time as a reminder: When we “fall back,” which we just did on November 5, change your fan(s) to clockwise, and when we “spring forward,” switch them to counterclockwise.
You can absolutely change a fan’s direction on a daily basis, too, if your home seems to fluctuate between feeling drafty and overly warm in the shoulder seasons, but it’s likely more convenient to change it once in the fall ahead of cold weather and once in the spring ahead of warm weather, says Moor, in order to keep your space comfortable and your home as energy efficient as possible.
How to change the direction of your ceiling fan
It’s easy to make the switch and doesn’t require any handy skills whatsoever (well, maybe standing on a ladder if you have high ceilings). Just make sure your fan is completely still before you get started.
Nearly all ceiling fans with a pull chain have a switch on the base of the motor, which you can find by looking at the central body of the fan. If it has a light fixture, you may need to remove it (or the glass covering surrounding it) to find the fan switch. Then, just toggle the switch by sliding it toward the opposite side in order to switch the fan’s direction, replace any light fixture or glass you had to remove to access the switch, and turn the fan back on, explains Moor.
If you control your fan with a remote or with an app on a smart device, you may be able to change the direction of the fan even more easily by clicking a particular button on the remote or within the app (no ladder required). For specific instructions in this case, refer to the directions that came with your fan.
4 tips to keep your space comfortable and reduce energy usage this winter if you don’t have a ceiling fan
1. Cover up every drafty spot
If you’re an apartment dweller with no access to ceiling fans and little control over the heating in your building, or you just want to make your pad as cozy as it can possibly be, grab some draft stoppers to place at the base of doors and windows so as not to let in chilly outside air from any crevice, suggests Moor.
Sealing up the drafts can reduce your energy usage and save you money on your heating bill, too, according to Courtney Moriarta, director of single family residential at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). One quick trick that won’t cost you anything is making sure all windows are fully closed and locked as soon as you turn on your heat for the season (or as soon as your landlord does so). “Locking windows helps make a tight seal to reduce cold drafts from coming in and heat escaping out,” says Moriarta.
2. Make savvy use of a portable fan
No ceiling fan installed? No problem. A portable reversible fan can do the trick. Place it on an elevated surface in your space and change the airflow mode to clockwise (typically the reverse setting) to coax warm air down, says Moor.
If your apartment or condo feels more like a sauna in the winter (thanks to a radiator you can’t adjust), you can also make use of a portable fan to cool your space. “Crack a window just a bit to balance things out, and position your portable or box fan on low right in that area to get the air flowing like a gentle breeze,” says Moor.
3. Use your window shades wisely
When you notice any little bit of sunshine this time of year, take advantage of it. Open up your window shades and blinds during the day to let the room absorb both daylight and heat from the sun, suggests Moriarta. Then, be sure to close them as soon as it gets dark so that things don’t get drafty, and you don’t have heat loss through the dark windows, she adds.
4. Adjust your thermostat during the night and when you’re out
If you have a thermostat in your home and can control its temperature, Jones says you can potentially save energy (and some cash while you’re at it) by setting it four degrees lower than normal when you’re sleeping and seven degrees lower when you’re not going to be home.