Ceiling fan

Solved: The Mystery of Ceiling Fan Direction

As a toddler, I must have driven my parents crazy. And I am still doing it, but now to my husband. I can’t help it. I want to know the “Why?!” about everything. Take ceiling fan direction for example. Most ceiling fans have a switch with two options. “Forward” spins one way, “Reverse” the other. But why? What for? What difference does it make?

white Ceiling fan rotating against white ceiling

Years ago, a reader sent in her handy tip, passed along from her husband, a heating and air conditioning specialist: In the winter, make your ceiling fans spin counterclockwise. Or was that clockwise? To be honest, it totally slipped my mind as soon as I shared it with my readers.

A woman posing for a picture

But I do remember the barrage of responses I received. Some thanked me for printing the correct answer to the burning question, while others told me I was wrong and it should spin in the opposite direction. But why?! Who makes up these rules? Does anyone know for certain?

Today, I have the answers.

The science

To make this easy, first, we need to understand the principle behind moving air. You may be familiar with the terms “wind chill” and “heat index.” These terms indicate what the temperature feels like, not what it is in reality on the thermometer.

Ceiling fans cannot reduce the temperature inside your home in the summer, but they can certainly make you feel as if that is the case. Ditto for making you feel warmer in the winter. A ceiling fan that is set properly can make you feel as if the temperature is either cooler or warmer.

Knowing how to use fans in summer to send a rush of air downward, cooling your skin and making it seem up to eight degrees cooler than it is, lowers the chill factor.

Knowing how to use fans to circulate the hot air in winter is equally important because you will be able to increase your body’s heat index or how warm you feel, while creating less actual heat and keeping the heating bills down.

Forward or reverse?!

The direction your ceiling fan should spin in the summer and in the winter depends on the type of fan you have and at which angle the fan blades have been set by the manufacturer (or you, if you have altered them). Even so, this is not difficult. In fact, once you know a simple trick and way to test how your ceiling fan is designed, ceiling fan direction will cease being a mystery.

First, look to see if there is a switch marked “Forward” and “Reverse.” If so, and you are sure the blades are angled properly, you want the fan to spin Forward during the summer and Reverse in the winter.

Set on Forward, the fan blows air downward onto the occupants of the room making them feel cooler by increasing the evaporative cooling on our skin. Most people know sweating is a process your body uses to cool down. Your body is always trying to maintain an even body temperature. Sweating reduces body heat through evaporative cooling.

During the winter you do not want the fan to blow directly on you, which would increase your wind chill factor and make you feel even cooler than what the thermostat is set to. You want to set the fan to “Reverse” so that it blows air upward to the ceiling, forcing the hot air trapped up there to come down to warm the occupants of the room. And you want to set it on a slow speed to make sure you are not creating a draft.

But which way?

Now, is that clockwise or counterclockwise? There is no definitive answer because it depends on your specific fan, where it was manufactured, and the way the blades are set. There are no universal laws regulating ceiling fan manufacturers.

The solution

Are you all mixed up now? Not to worry. Here’s a super easy way to remember which way to set a ceiling fan for the season.

Step 1

Set the fan to High so it is spinning at its top speed and stand under it. Do you feel the air blowing down on you? Then that is your “Forward” direction and the setting you want for summer. Make a note. Set it on High speed for the greatest cooling impact.

Step 2

Now switch the fan to go the other direction. If you do not feel air blowing down on you, that means it’s blowing upward. That is your “Reverse” direction. This is the direction you want for winter. To use the ceiling fan in Reverse, set it on Slow speed to make sure you are pulling the warm air down from the ceiling and into the room, but not creating a draft.

In closing …

Ceiling fans are good at following orders. But you must give them good instructions:

  • the correct ceiling fan direction
  • the right speed
  • turn it on when you’re in the room and adjust the thermostat accordingly
  • turn the fan off when you leave

Be diligent to make sure your ceiling fan is working for you, and you could save 15% to 40% on your summer air conditioning costs and reduce next winter’s heating bills, too.

First published in the pages of Everyday Cheapskate 7-8-19; Updated 9-16-20


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26 replies
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  1. Gail says:

    I’m trying to wrap my brain around all these fan dynamics!

    Question: So basically you only want the fan to be on in the room you are occupying at the moment. Is this correct? – that since the fan doesn’t really change the temperature of the room, turning fans off in unoccupied rooms has no bearing on how the thermostat is set? Right? In other words, the thermostat remains at the same settingeven while fans are turned off and on as needed??

    Reply
  2. DD says:

    When the summer gets into the hottest months I always set the ceiling fan to pull the hot air up, rather than keep blowing it back down into the house/room. And use portable fans down in the room and around the house to keep the cooler air circulating around us below, where we are. Same concept in winter but in reverse. Warm air rises so ceiling fan is set to blow the warm air back down into the room rather than up to the ceiling. A space heater situated on the floor or a few inches off the floor and under the ceiling fan will actually blow the warm air from the heater as well as the warm air rising to ceiling back down around the room and does not feel like a cold fan blowing on you. I live in a very cold winter climate and have tried the fan direction experiment years ago and this is what I have found to work best. It is indeed the opposite of what the fan company recommended!

    Reply
  3. Sheri says:

    Hi y’all,
    My ceiling is a Hampton Bay fan has an up/down switch.
    I was told to down for summer and up with winter.
    I hope this helps anyone who has a Hampton Bay ceiling fan!
    God Bless and Stay Safe!

    Reply
  4. Alba says:

    I see it super simply…either you want to feel the air hitting you (for summer) or you don’t want to feel the air hitting you (for winter).

    Reply
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