It seems like ceiling fans are everywhere. The funny thing is how little we think about them until warm weather comes around when it gets uncomfortable indoors.
But just how much electricity does a ceiling fan use? How does a ceiling fan compare to floor fans, tower fans, box fans, and the other cooling fans you might have at home?
To find out, I measured energy use for all of these and I’ve put it all together in one easy to understand guide.
Read on to find out more.
Infographic – Ceiling fan energy use facts
How much electricity does a ceiling fan use? Let’s find out
Shown: My test setup for measuring exactly how much electricity a ceiling fan uses. In order to get you the best information, I wanted to remove ANY guessing – so I hardwired my 52″ ceiling fan to a power plug and connected it to my handy Kill-A-Watt energy meter. I got great measurements and finally found out what I couldn’t find anywhere else!
Because I know that there’s no substitute for hands-on testing, to find out exactly how much electricity a ceiling fan uses I hardwired my ceiling fan to work with an energy meter.
What I’ve found is that the problem with many products like fans, air purifiers, and more is:
- Only the maximum power use is listed in the specs (not the other numbers like for low & medium speeds)
- Energy use measurements are often completely missing!
- Power use numbers are sometimes estimates, not what you’ll actually get in the real world
So, I decided to find out once and for all. To do so, I hardwired a 52 inch 3-speed ceiling fan to an AC power outlet plug.
I then connected it to a high-quality extension cord and used my trusty Kill-A-Watt power use meter to measure the power use in watts.
How many watts does a ceiling fan use? My energy measurements
Measurements I made for ceiling fan electricity use, in Watts. I honestly expected a lot more power to be used, but I was wrong! In fact, a ceiling fan set to the high speed uses less electricity than many other fans that cost less. (Note: When measuring only the lights be used, the power use in watts was for three 15W LED bulbs)
It was exciting to finally put the question of how much electricity a ceiling fan uses to rest once and for all. I was so tired of not being able to find good information anywhere just like you.
Ceiling fan power (watts) measurement table
|Fan speed or mode||Power use (Watts)|
|Lights only (3 x 15W LED bulbs)||33.9W|
As you can see, even on the highest speed (speed 3, or “high” when pulling the fan speed selector chain) I was really surprised to see that a standard, high-quality 52″ ceiling fan uses less than 50 watts of power.
Even more astounding was how little power one uses when set to the lowest speed: Only 12W! That’s even less than many air purifiers and small table fans I’ve tested.
Not bad at all!
How many amps does a ceiling fan use?
The basic formula for how to calculate ceiling fan power use in Amperes (Amps, also written as “A”). To find out how many Amps a fan is using, we can easily get a fairly accurate number if we know the power (watts) and voltage it’s using. Since fans are “inductive” motors, it gets slightly more complicated, as we need to use a power factory.
It’s not hard to find out how many amps a ceiling fan uses. The most important thing is to know how much power, in Watts, the fan uses and the voltage it uses too. In most homes, that’s around 120 volts (V).
However, since typical ceiling fans use an electric motor that works using alternating current (AC) and magnetic fields, it’s just a bit more complicated.
In that case, we need to know something called the power factor.
Direct current (DC) fans vs alternating current (AC) fans
Some modern fans use a higher-efficiency design that changes the AC power in your home to DC power using electronics built into the fan.
However, most sold today still use a standard inductive motor. Because of that, they use magnetic fields created by the AC voltage in your home to turn the fan motor.
In AC magnetic field motors some electrical current is wasted and so the motor draws more.
In this case, we use a basic number to multiply and adjust for the extra amps the fan draws. This number is called the power factor.
Power factors for many typical appliances including ceiling fans. The power factor is a number that describes how much electrical current is wasted on magnetic fields instead of power used to drive the motor. For example, 1 = 100% efficiency, while a power factor of 0.5 means an extra 50% of current is needed.
In this example I’ll use an example power factor value of 0.6. Then using our simple example:
Here’s are some typical numbers showing the amps used by a ceiling fan in my home.
Typical ceiling fan current draw (amps) at 120V:
|Fan speed or mode||Power (W)||Amps (A)|
As you can see, even on the highest speed a typical ceiling fan uses less than 1 amp of current. That’s a lot less than you might expect! (Note: This table shows the fan used with the light bulbs turned off)
In fact, that’s a tiny fraction of what electrical devices like heaters use (they often use 10-20 amps or more).
These are rough numbers but most typical ceiling fans should be very close too. Even if the voltage to your ceiling is a bit less than 120V AC, the results will still be in the ballpark as well.
Ceiling fan vs AC comparison
As it turns out, ceiling fans use a tiny fraction of the electricity that air conditioners (AC units) use. I measured the power draw of both to create an honest, accurate graph comparing the two so you can know what to expect.
Air conditioning (AC) units use a lot more power than a ceiling fan.
Why? It’s because while electric fans only need enough power to turn the motor that spins the blades, air conditioners need a lot of electrical power to drive an electrically powered compressor in addition to an electrical fan inside.
In order to compare the two, I measured the power draw in Watts of both. For the air conditioner’s power use numbers, I measured the power draw of a standard in-window small room air conditioner just like you might buy for your home.
Ceiling fan VS AC power use comparison table
|Fan speed/cooling mode||Ceiling fan power||AC power|
As you can see, a ceiling fan uses a tiny 12% of the power an air conditioner does when set to high.
If you’re wondering why the AC unit has 1.2W of power use when it’s turned off, it’s because of the power required to keep memory settings like the last temperature you set and other features or controls.
For an air conditioner that uses electronic controls instead of mechanical controls, there are usually some circuits that need backup power even if it’s not cooling a room, much like how a clock works.
What is an AC compressor and how does air conditioning work?
Left: A home AC unit’s compressor which circulates refrigerant using an electric motor. Right: A car’s AC compressor, driven by the engine and using a magnetic clutch to rotate the internal pistons when cooling is needed.
Air conditioning compressors are a critical part of an AC system, as cooling is made possible by thermodynamics (adding or removing heat) properties that happen when a coolant gas is pressurized.
In order for an air conditioner to cool the air it must circulate refrigerant (commonly called “freon”) using a pump so these pressure differences can happen.
Air conditioners in your home (both window mounted and central AC systems) contain a series of hoses for circulating refrigerant. The compressor pumps the refrigerant, under pressure, which cools the air indoors by removing heat as a fan blows through it. The heat removed from the air indoors is forced outside as it works.
Both at home and in your car this takes a lot of energy as the compressor requires a lot of force to turn the pistons it inside it.
A compressor is a type of pump that moves refrigerant within a cooling system.
Because it’s under pressure (and because of the friction of its moving parts) this requires a lot of physical force and more electrical power. When comparing a ceiling fan vs an AC unit, once you understand the differences in what they do it’s more clear why there’s such a big difference in power demands.
How do ceiling fans cool a room?
Ceiling fans and other types of fans work differently than AC systems. Instead of removing heat from the air contained in a room they directly blow air across your body & surfaces which removes heat. This results in a cooling effect.
Ceiling fans are much more efficient as they don’t need the heavy electrical power draw that AC units do. They work by forced air convection cooling which means they blow air across surfaces and remove heat as the air moves.
Ceiling fan vs floor fan power use
I measured the electrical power use of a standard 3-speed oscillating floor fan. Additionally, I measured power use both with and without the oscillating feature in use.
As it turns out in this case the floor fan used the same amount regardless of oscillation.
Graph showing how much electricity a ceiling fan uses compared to a floor fan. Aside from the lowest speed, they’re very close in power use.
Ceiling fan VS floor fan power measurements table
|Fan speed||Ceiling fan power||Floor fan power|
Both have pros and cons. For example, a floor fan is good for very powerful airflow in only a small range. For about the same amount of energy use, however, a ceiling fan is better for cooling a room.
Tower fan vs ceiling fan power use
Comparing a Honeywell QuietSet 5-speed tower fan to a ceiling fan is an interesting case. Note that not all tower fans use the same speeds as other brands and models.
In this case, I measured the power use of the 5-speed tower fan. As it’s designed to be a quiet room fan the fan speed isn’t as high as some others.
Since comparing 3 speeds to 5 isn’t exactly even I grouped the low and medium speeds to make it more clear.
Ceiling fan VS tower fan power measurements table
|Speed||Ceiling fan||Tower fan|
As you can see, a tower fan may use a lot less power than a ceiling fan.
Some models like the Honeywell shown above are designed to work very quietly. Since the fan runs more quietly this affects how much power is used.
They’re nice for quiet, gentle cooling in one specific direction while sleeping.
Ceiling fans vs box fans
Box fans are a favorite of mine because of how much white noise they can produce. That’s one advantage they have over ceiling fans.
Like the other products in this post, I measured the power used by a typical box fan. What I found was interesting – they can use almost twice as much energy as a ceiling fan on the high setting.
Ceiling fan VS box fan power measurements table
|Speed||Ceiling fan||Box fan|
As you can see above, the disadvantage of a box fan vs a ceiling fan is the extra energy use. However, for some people they’re a great choice especially if you have trouble sleeping, or relaxing due to outside noises.
In that case, the white noise they produce is very helpful for blocking outside sounds while keeping you cool.
Ceiling fan vs table fan comparison
Table fans are yet another choice for cooling you and small areas of a room. They’re often inexpensive but still offer an oscillation feature that turns the fan side to side while blowing air.
I was curious to see if they also offered any worthwhile energy use vs a ceiling fan. Here’s what I found when measuring a standard 12″ table fan.
Ceiling fan VS table fan power measurements table
|Speed||Ceiling fan||Box fan|
As you can see, a table fan does use a lot less energy than a ceiling fan.
The tradeoff, however, is that they’re only really useful for a small area such as near your bed, near a desk, work table, and so on.
They do also give a small amount of white noise which is nice. It’s not as effective as that from a box fan, but it’s worth considering.
However, again if cooling the room is your goal then a ceiling fan is still a better choice.
Ceiling fan wiring connections & wire color diagram
Click on the image to view the original/zoom or click below to download a copy
Ever wondered how hard it is to connect a ceiling fan or how they get their power? As it turns out, they’re actually not very complicated in terms of wiring.
They’re almost as simple to wire up as light fixtures in your home. In fact, I’ve added new ceiling fans as you can install them in the place of a light fixture.
Many homes have metal boxes pre-installed in the ceiling where it’s possible to find wiring ready to connect and mount a ceiling fan base too if needed.
As you can see in the diagram I’ve provided, there are typically only about 4 wires needed for ceiling fan power connections.
Ceiling fan wiring colors & connections table
|Fan wire color||Description|
|Black||120V power “hot” wire for the fan motor circuit. Connects to home’s black (hot) wire|
|White||Neutral power return wire. Connects to white neutral (return power) wire|
|Blue||Fan light circuit power. Connects to the black supply wire|
|Green / Lt green||If present (or another color), connects to the home’s ground wire. Some fans also have a ground wire on the mounting base to connect.|
Ultimately it depends on the particular fan so remember the wiring colors listed here are just examples of my own. Always double-check the installation instructions to be sure.
In my case, the ground wire had its own label attached.
Why does my ceiling fan hum?
Electric fan motors contain a huge amount of copper wire windings inside. These windings create magnetic fields that turn the fan rotor (the central rotating part inside the motor) and spin the fan blades. Alternating current (AC) from your home’s electrical system changes direction constantly at 60 times per second (60 Hertz per second) and can cause a humming sound.
Electric fans of many kinds, including ceiling fans, are subject to a mild humming sound you may notice.
It’s a very common side effect of the type of electrical power supply that homes use. As time goes by it can actually increase in volume as a fan and its parts age. That’s because the tiny vibrations move components over time and parts can lose the resistance to vibration they had when new.
AC power is in the range of human hearing
The 60 Hertz (Hz) frequency for the alternating current (AC) power supply in your home is within the range of sound your ears can hear. In fact, AC current produces a “humming” sound in the range of bass you sometimes hear in music.
It’s especially common in fans like box fans. They’re more prone to vibrating and more likely to create a humming sound that’s easy to hear.
In some situations, the fan’s humming vibration due to the power source can transfer through surrounding ceiling parts and the sound can carry further, making it even more pronounced.
Electric motors & magnetic fields
Electric motors rely on magnetic fields created when electricity flows through copper wire windings. This creates a magnetic force that turns the central part of the motor called a rotor.
The rotor is attached to a spindle that the fan blades are mounted on and spin from there.
These magnetic fields, which change direction 60 times per second, can cause fan parts to move rapidly and therefore create a humming sound your ears can hear.
It’s also why when you’re close to outdoor power transformers used by the power company (or other electrical devices) you may hear a hum there as well.
To summarize the electrical power use and pros & cons of ceiling fans, let’s review what I’ve covered here today.
As you can see from the power use I measured, they’re very reasonable in how much electricity they use. That’s especially true when compared to how much an AC unit uses!
They do have pros and cons though, of course. While they’re good for cooling a whole room (and pay for themselves in only a few months as compared to air conditioners) they aren’t good for white noise or for cooling an exact area of you or your room.
Overall, however, they’re a great choice.
Suggestions for even more power savings
To keep energy costs low and still get good quality lighting, choose an energy-efficient LED bulb with good brightness output level (measured in Lumens).
For best results, I recommend using good quality LED bulbs that produce light that’s easy on your eyes. These days you can find high-brightness LED bulbs that work well in ceiling fans and consume 15W or less.
Compared to the power use of incandescent bulbs of years gone by (45W, 60W, and even 100W) that’s a big energy saving!
Brightness and light quality matters
Many offer several choices of color “temperature” (the yellowish or white tint they produce) and brightness. I recommend getting bulbs with enough brightness, measured in Lumens.
Personally, I recommend bulbs with a lumens rating of 800 or higher, although you can find some putting out 1,200 or even 1,500 with only 15W power use if you shop carefully.
These days good LED bulbs can be found for around $3-$10 each or in bulk quantities for even more savings. Avoid the absolute cheapest bulbs as they have higher failure rates and tend to have a poor light quality that isn’t good for your eyes.
Cheap bulbs also have poor color rendering which means that colors won’t look natural or appear as well as they should.
Considering a box fan instead of a ceiling fan because you need white noise? Have a look at my great post with some of the best box fans for white noise here.
Need a quiet, gentle tower fan that won’t disturb you? Here’s a helpful list of some of the best tower fans for cooling.