How to find a good energy-efficient ceiling fan

As the mercury starts to rise, so too does the urge to flip on the air conditioner. For those days when it's warm, but not quite hot enough to turn on the air conditioner, a ceiling fan is a great option - if you buy a good one that is energy-efficient.

In the last 10 years ceiling fans have become more technologically advanced, providing cooling in the summer months and warming in the winter months and ultimately helping you save on your energy bill.

Ceiling fans don't actually reduce the temperature, but during warm weather, they have a wind-chill effect. So if it's 85 degrees in your family room and you have a ceiling fan purring above, it will feel like 78 degrees. And in the winter, fans recirculate the heat to the living areas.

An efficient ceiling fan can reduce your energy bill up to 40 percent in the summer and 10 percent in the winter, using only as much as energy as a 100-watt light bulb.

Fans can coordinate your individual home style, and most offer options in color, finish, blade design, size, accessories and lighting. Styles include polished brass, antique brass, iron, copper, nickel, pewter, chrome, black, vibrant colors, oak, rosewood and other real wood veneers.

And as with most other appliances, you can even find energy efficient models from Energy Star, a national symbol for energy efficiency developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ceiling fans that have earned the Energy Star label are 10 percent more efficient than standard ceiling fans, which translates into saving $13 to $24 a year on utility bills.

EPA officials say the proper way to operate a fan includes switching the fan and light off when you leave the room; reversing the fan motor in winter months; and hanging the fan so that its blades are at least one foot below the ceiling, seven feet above the floor, and two feet from the nearest wall.

The American Lighting Association and EPA offer these suggestions for choosing the most efficient fan:

Size: For rooms up to 225 square feet and larger, use a fan with a blade span of 50, 52, 54, or 56 inches. In rooms up to 144 square feet, use fans with blade spans of 42 or 44 inches. Smaller rooms up to 64 square feet should use a fan with a 32-inch blade span. Fan blades must be at least seven feet above the floor. A blade height of eight to nine feet above the floor will provide the most efficient cooling effect. Downrods are used with eight-foot ceilings, though some fans do require a nine or ten foot ceiling to hang properly. Extension downrods may be used when hanging a ceiling fan on either flat or sloped ceilings.

Motor: Poor motor design can create most of the problems that are associated with ceiling fans. If the fan has an annoying click, buzz, or hum during operation, the motor is the most likely culprit. A motor that works too hard will burn itself out. A motor that is too powerful will be inefficient, wasting energy. Ideally, a ceiling fan should be designed to strike a balance between power and efficiency, ensuring that the blades are the proper pitch to move large amounts of air. Different motors are designed for different operating conditions.

Blades: These can complete a room's d®¶cor, but they also need to perform effectively. Look for a blade pitch of at least 14 degrees, which is excellent for maximum air movement efficiency. Steer clear of blades constructed of particle board, printed paper or solid wood. Blades should weigh the same to avoid a wobbly fan.

Lighting: Either built-in or added on, lighting can enhance your room's d®¶cor while meeting your lighting needs. Energy Star offers fans with and without lighting. If your fan doesn't include lighting, be sure to purchase an Energy Star-qualified light kit, which has either pin-based compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or screw-based CFLs. This lighting is compact, attractive, efficient, and long lasting, so you won't have to make frequent bulb changes.

Controls: These make the difference between a fan that is merely functional and a fan that offers a world of convenience, energy efficiency, and even home security advantages. The most basic fan controls are a pull chain on the fan that varies the fan speed, and a switch on the fan that controls the blade direction. This is all many homeowners want to control their ceiling fan. You may also purchase a variety of optional controls to upgrade three-speed pull-chain models.

Price: The prices of ceiling fans can vary. Cheap ceiling fans will wobble, click, and hum over time. They will not move air in your home efficiently or effectively, and they are likely to fail within a few years.