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Most ceiling fans have a switch with two options. Forward spins one way and Reverse the other. But why? What for? Who made that rule?

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.

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?!

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 like they do. 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 hot air in winter is equally important because you will be able to increase your heat index while creating less actual heat.

The direction

The direction your ceiling fan should spin in the summer and the winter depends on the type of fan you have and at which angle the blades have been set by the manufacturer (or by you, if you altered them).

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.

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Set on Forward, the fan blows air downward onto the occupants of the room, making them feel cooler by increasing evaporative cooling of the skin.

During the winter, you do not want the fan to blow directly on you. You want to set the fan to Reverse so it blows air upward to the ceiling, forcing the hot air trapped up there to come down and 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.

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.

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, 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 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 it in Reverse, set it on Slow speed to make sure you are moving the warm air down but not creating a draft.

In closing ...

Ceiling fans are good at following orders. Give them good instructions — the right direction; the right speed; turn it on when you're in the room; adjust the thermostat accordingly; turn it off when you leave — and you could save 15% to 40% on your summer air conditioning costs and reduce next winter's heating bills.

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mary@everydaycheapskate.com|Everyday Cheapskate, Box 2099 Cypress, CA 90630

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