In the warm sponge we call summer, ceiling fans by themselves can provide little relief. When the temperature in the room equals the temperature of your body, the fan is just rearranging the hot air.
Yet in concert with an air conditioner, a ceiling fan can help distribute the cooling. In fact, a fan may help so much that you can adjust your air conditioner to compensate and save energy. If you have basic knowledge of electricity and some do-it-yourself skills, you might be able to install a ceiling fan. But in most cases, it's best left to a professional.
* Need to know: The size of your room, which dictates how big your ceiling fan should be. Fan blades range from 29 to 54 inches; the most popular size is 52 inches. Measure the room and follow these guidelines, established by the American Lighting Association: For rooms up to 75 square feet, the fan-size range is 29 to 36 inches; for rooms 76 to 144 square feet, the fan should be 36 to 42 inches. For 144 to 225 square feet, buy a 44-inch fan; for a room of 225 to 400 square feet, 50 to 54 inches.
* Operating manual: Place the fan in the middle of the room, at least seven feet above the floor and 18 inches from the walls to prevent injury and damage. If you have unusually high ceilings, installing the fan eight to nine feet above the floor will get the greatest volume of air flowing. In the summer, fan blades should move in a counterclockwise direction, so the flow of air creates a wind-chill effect that makes you "feel" cooler.
* Be sure to ask: Does the fan come with a light, or can lights be added? Most fans can be adapted to universal light kits, but some light kits are compatible only with fans made by the same manufacturer. The information will be on the package.
* Bad advice: "Any ceiling fan can be installed anywhere." Not true. If you're planning to install a fan in an area of high humidity such as a bathroom, you'll need to purchase one that has been given an Underwriters Laboratory "damp" rating. Fans being used on a patio or front porch require a UL "wet" rating.
* Good advice: "Never leave a ceiling fan on when no one is in the room." If the room is unoccupied, you're wasting energy.
* How much will it cost: Prices range from $65 to about $300, often based as much on style as size, whether a light is included, and the sophistication of the motor and the controls. (Fans that have self-lubricating motors tend to be more expensive.) Light kits run from $25 to $100.
* Jargon alert: A fan's "pitch" refers to the angle of the blades, which is measured in degrees. Higher blade pitches typically move more air, expressed as cubic feet per minute.