Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
A ceiling fan can’t lower the temperature by a single degree, but it can make you feel cooler. That wind chill effect can bring real relief during the hottest weeks of the year, and it can even let you bump the thermostat up a few degrees without feeling the difference. But there’s a little more to proper ceiling fan use than just flipping the switch.
Over time, your fans will get dusty and may get a little out of balance, causing them to wobble. But before we get to those maintenance issues, let’s touch on the biggest mistake homeowners make with their ceiling fans — neglecting to reverse their direction for year-round use.
Seasonal Fan Direction: Left for Summer, Right for Winter
When a ceiling fan rotates counter-clockwise, it produces a downdraft that creates a cooling sensation in the space below. The faster the fan spins, the greater the effect.
But when a ceiling fan rotates clockwise, it generates an updraft — this pulls air up from the floor, which forces the air nearest the ceiling out toward the walls and circulates it around the room. Because hot air rises, this makes ceiling fans useful in the winter by redistributing the warmest air that would otherwise be lingering above everyone’s heads. This is most effective with slow fan speeds.
As a general rule, you should change the direction of all of your ceiling fans whenever you switch your HVAC setting from cool to heat, or vice versa. Just be sure they’re spinning counter-clockwise when the air conditioner is running and clockwise when the furnace is running.
Most ceiling fans have a directional switch on the motor housing, which is the cylinder positioned just above the fan blade hub. If your ceiling fan has a remote control or a sophisticated wall switch, the directional settings may also be there. On some models, the switch is either hidden beneath a motor housing cover or is on top of the motor housing, where it can be hard to reach without a ladder.
You should only use the directional switch when the fan is off and the blades are at a complete standstill, or else you could damage the motor.
Using your fans year-round can make a big difference in your home heating and cooling bills, but only if you adjust your thermostat accordingly. If you don’t set it a few degrees higher in the summer and lower in the winter, you’ll just use the usual amount of energy plus a little extra to power the fans. Also, be sure to turn fans off in unoccupied rooms. Since they don’t actually affect the temperature, it’s a waste of energy to run them when nobody is around.
Spinning Out of Control
After years of service, a ceiling fan can get a little out of whack. A wobbly fan can be disconcerting and even dangerous if it becomes far out of balance at full speed. But you may be able to avoid a repair by tightening your ceiling fan hardware yourself. For this project, you’ll need a stepladder and a screwdriver that matches the screws on your ceiling fan — usually a Phillips head.
Start by removing the screws on the canopy cover, which is the decorative plate that sits flush against the ceiling and covers the mounting bracket. Tighten any loose screws you find underneath, including those on the electrical junction box and the mounting bracket itself. You’ll also see that the ceiling fan downrod connects to the mounting bracket with a ball-and-socket joint — make sure the ball is centered and seated snugly in the socket. Replace the canopy cover when you’re done.
Next, check and tighten the screws connecting the downrod to the motor housing. Finally, tighten any loose screws at the base of each blade. Depending on your fan design, you may need to remove another decorative cover to access the screws connecting the blades to the hub.
Everything in Balance
If you’ve tightened all the screws and your fan is still wobbly, you may still be able to DIY a solution with a balancing kit. A balancing kit consists of a weighted clip and several flat weights with an adhesive coating on one side. These are usually included with new fans, but if you don’t have one, you can obtain one directly from the manufacturer.
To use a balancing kit, slide the clip onto the middle of one of the blades and turn the fan on. Observe whether the wobbling improves, and if it doesn’t, stop the fan and move the clip to the next blade. Continue this process until you find the blade that’s throwing the fan off balance.
Once you’ve identified the right blade, experiment by running the fan with the clip attached at various distances from the hub. Try to get the clip to a position that prevents the wobbling completely. When you find this spot, stop the fan and attach one of the adhesive weights to the center of the topside of the offending fan blade, placing it even with the clip. Remove the clip and test the fan again to confirm that it’s balanced. You may need to repeat the process and place more than one weight.
Round Up the Dust Bunnies
Ceiling fans are virtually maintenance-free — just make a point of dusting them thoroughly every couple of weeks. Dust buildup can contribute to throwing a fan out of balance, and this can stress the motor, so it’s very important.
If you have large dust bunnies stuck to your fan blades, use a handheld vacuum or hose attachment to remove clumps before following up with a duster. This will help prevent dust bunnies from falling onto your floor and furniture. Another handy trick is to slide an empty pillowcase over each fan blade and use that to remove and collect the dust with one motion.
There’s one last maintenance step that only applies to some ceiling fans: oiling the bearings. Most ceiling fans have sealed ball bearings that require no maintenance and are designed to last the life of the fan. But in some models, there is a small oil reservoir on top of the motor housing that must be periodically refilled. If you’re not sure whether your fans require this maintenance, check the manual or call a licensed electrician for a professional inspection.