Which Direction Should My Ceiling Fan Rotate?

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the driveway here in North Carolina.  We’re still in the upper 80s at night, which means my usual moments of relaxation on the back porch are filled with the smooth sounds of air conditioners humming into the thick air.

If you have air conditioning, you’d be crazy not to use it right now.  That said, you may be using it more than you need to…

This week’s question comes from one of my very favorite people in the entire world: Amy Murphy Anderson.  Aside from being one of the most beautiful (inside and out) women on Earth, she also happens to be one of the best production pros in the film and TV business.  She asked…

I can never remember which direction my ceiling fan should rotate in winter and summer. Any suggestions on an easy way to remember?”

I’m asked this question more often than any other, and for good reason.

The wind chill produced by a good fan can make you feel so cool that you can turn down your air-conditioning by nearly 8 degrees without noticing a difference during the summer months.

In the winter, a properly rotating ceiling fan can keep your heated room warm by minimizing the amount of heat that rises through your ceiling, maintaining a more even room temperature.  Both applications will provide some solid savings on your energy bill.

Before I get too far off track, I’ll share my mnemonic for remembering the direction your fan should rotate for the season:

Remember Clockwork Orange.  Orange is a warm color and clockwise fans promote warm air.  Keep your fan rotating clockwise when you want to be warmer, counter-clockwise when you want it to be cooler.

Weird, yes. But it works, so whatever.

So, right now your ceiling fan should be rotating in a counter-clockwise direction if you want to maintain your cool.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should look at your ceiling fan’s motor housing (the thing that the fan blades go into) for a button or switch.  On most models, it’s a little up/down switch on the side that changes the direction.  Please remember to turn the fan off before you go meddling with this.

Got it? Awesome.  Let’s take this to the next level…

Breaking Wind

You can save up to 15% on your cooling costs if you raise your thermostat and use the fan instead.  You can figure in another 2% for every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter. 

A decent ceiling fan will cost between $50 and $500.  Obviously they can be even more expensive depending on design.  Our bedroom fan cost $120 and it came with a remote control.  You may not need this, but you do need to make sure you buy one that has a control to reverse the direction as described above.  (believe it or not, some cheap ones don’t have this feature)

Ours is also an ENERGY STAR model, which means ours is theoretically 50% more efficient than a non-certified model.  To be completely honest for those unfamiliar with this label, these performance standards are self-reported by the manufacturer under their own (presumably optimal) conditions, so I wouldn’t take that percentage to the bank.  They are undoubtedly much more efficient, but how much exactly depends largely on how you use them.

No Matter What She Told You, Size DOES Matter

Like so many other things in life, proper placement and size make all the difference in the world.

When you are choosing a fan, you’re going to need to know the square footage of the room where it will be installed.  Smaller rooms can have a smaller blade span.  It should say right on the box what size room the fan can handle.

Also, you’re going to experience a difference in performance if you install the fan in a room with cathedral ceilings as opposed to a room with a standard 8-foot ceiling.  Some will tell you that you’re not going to get all the benefits if you have a normal room, but I disagree.  I will concede, though, that angled ceilings will benefit more from the wind than flat ones.

Likewise, you’re going to have a better wind chill if your fan isn’t super close to your ceiling.  While it may seem like a good idea to buy whatever model will keep the blades as far from your head as possible, you’re losing the benefits for every inch you bring it closer to the ceiling.  You need to give it room to bring in fresh air or it won’t work like you want it to.

So Fresh and So Clean, Clean

You can keep your fan operating at optimal efficiency by keeping the blades clean.  This will also improve your air quality and will save you from looking like a disgusting person who doesn’t care that the breeze is laced with dust and skin particles.  Gross.

Another way to keep your fan moving in all the right ways is to find out what kind of motor you’re working with.  Some motors have sealed ball bearings that stay lubricated, while others rotate in an oil bath.

If you have the latter, make sure you add some oil when necessary so you don’t burn it out.  You will know there are issues because it will sound like a squeaky squirrel is attempting an escape from the motor housing.  If you do burn it out, go ahead and buy a nicer fan that has the sealed ball bearings.

Gone With The Wind

I’ve said this before and was surprised how many people didn’t know that fans cool people, not rooms. Flip the switch or pull the chain as you leave so you’re not needlessly wasting energy.  Yes, really.

And with that final tip, I’m off…

A few quick notes before I go:

  • I give advice on this blog that assumes a certain level of handiness on your part.  Please do not mess around with motors, electric wires or anything like that if you don’t know what you’re doing.  It’s always best to consult a professional if you think there’s a chance you may lose a finger or burn your house down.
  • If you have an energy-related question that you’d like me to answer in a future post, tweet @Renewabelle or get in touch with me one of a few other ways over here.
  • If you have any follow up questions or notes you’d like to add about the information I’ve included here on ceiling fans, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I hope this information proves useful and that it finds you well.



  1. This is awesome, Jess. I never know what direction to move the fans in. Plus, I usually realize it when I’m sweating in the middle of the night, and try to rectify the situation by switching directions while the fan is still on. It’s amazing that I still have a head on my shoulders. ;)

  2. This is one of the greatest debates in my house as to which way keeps you cooler. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Thanks, Vee. I’m quite glad you haven’t lost your head or any fingers in your attempts to rectify the situation late at night. This is really a “set it and forget it” kind of thing. Only without the chicken.


  4. Uh oh… Did I take your side? And you’re quite welcome. This post has been a long time coming :)

    Thanks for reading and commenting…


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jess Commins, Lawrence Ingraham. Lawrence Ingraham said: RT @renewabelle: If you're sweating and questioning the direction of your fan's rotation, I have just the blog post for you: http://bit.ly/d5JoId (ooh, new!) […]

  2. […] Which Direction Should My Ceiling Fan Rotate? » RenewabelleIn the winter, a properly rotating ceiling fan can keep your heated room warm by minimizing the amount of heat that rises through your ceiling, maintaining a more even room temperature. Both applications will provide some solid savings … […]

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