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Ceiling Fan Direction | Considerations With Two Story Houses

Ceiling fans are a great way to help heat and cool any room or house. Oftentimes, their help is limited, however, and heating or cooling a multi-story house becomes a struggle between having to deal with intense heat upstairs and freezing temperatures downstairs.

Luckily, skillful placement and use of ceiling fans can distribute air not only throughout a room but also throughout an entire house. So, let’s look into how to effectively use fans in multi-level houses.

To provide airflow in a two story house, place ceiling fans at the top of staircases. Open plan staircases are best. In summer, set the fan to winter mode to pull cold air up. In winter, set the fan to summer mode to push hot air down. Avoid flush mount fans.

Traditional Directions for Individual Rooms

Typically, ceiling fans are sized and installed to serve individual rooms. Therefore, whether your house has one or two stories, a ceiling fan will function the same.

When the fan is turning counterclockwise, this means that it is in summer mode. When the fan turns this way, it is pushing air downwards, creating a breeze that makes the room feel cooler, even though it cannot actually change the room’s overall ambient temperature.

When the fan is turning clockwise, this means that it is in winter mode. When the fan turns this way, it circulates warm air that gathers at the ceiling, making the room feel warmer, even though the overall ambient temperature remains the same.

Alternative Uses of Ceiling Fans in Two Story Homes

An issue that is common with multi-level floors is that, during the winter, the upper levels are excessively hot while the lower levels are excessively cold. This is because hot air naturally rises. Therefore, the upstairs areas gain heat from the downstairs areas.

Thermometers showing that upper floor is colder compared to ground floor during winter, a girl wearing a blue jacket feeling cold in the ground floor

However, this can be counteracted with skillful placement and the use of ceiling fans, which create airflow in more beneficial directions.

It is possible to use ceiling fans to evenly distribute heat (or cold) in multi-story houses, which will make your home more comfortable year-round.

By doing this, your ceiling fans will not be acting on you specifically or in an individual room. Instead, they would be acting on the house as a whole to ensure even heating/cooling.

Where to Place Ceiling Fans

Placement of ceiling fans is very important if you want to distribute air throughout your entire house.

If you are thinking in the traditional sense, placing a fan at the top of your staircase sounds impractical. After all, you aren’t hanging out on the staircase to benefit from wind chill.

However, if you are having trouble with distributing air temperatures in your house, this is a prime location to help fix that, as the fan is able to push hot air downwards or draw cold air up, depending on what direction the fan is rotating.

Note: by pulling cold air up, warm air is displaced down, and by pushing warm air down, cold air is displaced upward. So, to a certain extent, you achieve both effects regardless of which direction your fan is rotating.

When placing the fans, you should be aware that more open areas are better served than narrow halls. However, if you want to serve multiple rooms in a narrow hall, it is possible to do so if you keep the doors connecting to the hallway open. This allows air to easily move from room to room.

Making the Right Choice | Open Riser or Closed Riser Stairs

Direction of Ceiling Fan Rotation

The direction that your ceiling fan rotates should be dependent on what season it is. While traditionally the fan should turn clockwise for winter and counterclockwise for summer, the opposite is true if you are utilizing a ceiling fan in the staircase.

By turning clockwise, a ceiling fan pulls air up. This is known as winter mode, but you should use this mode during the summer on your staircase fan. This is because it will help pull cold air from the lower levels to the upper levels.

illustration of air being pulled from lower floor to upper floor by a ceiling fan rotating clockwise

This is especially helpful if you give the hot air a place to escape up at the top of the house as the ceiling fan would aid the naturally formed chimney effect.

On the other hand, you should use summer mode in the winter to help distribute heat evenly. In summer mode, the fan pushes air down.

Because the fan is at the top of the staircase, it would push hot air that pools on the upper levels down to the lower levels, which would help to increase the temperature of the lower floors.

Avoid Flush Mount Fans for This

If you plan to install a ceiling fan at the top of your staircase in order to improve air distribution, it is in your best interest to avoid a flush mount fan

Because they have little space between the ceiling and the fan blades, it is much harder for them to gather air and push it downwards. Therefore, they are not going to be as efficient or work as well as a regular ceiling fan with a downrod.

Ceiling Fans for Double-Volume Rooms

If, instead of a two story house, you are dealing with a double volume room (which is two stories in one), then there are certain considerations you need to take into account.

In double-volume rooms, it is much harder for fans to work properly because of the added distance between the floor and the ceiling.

To encourage airflow in the vaulted room and to prevent hot air from gathering here unchecked, you should center the fan in the vaulted ceiling. You can set it on a sloped ceiling.

Illustration of a brown ceiling fan installed in a vaulted ceiling

Choose a more powerful fan than you would need for a normal room of that size and place it low enough that you can feel the breeze created by the fan. You would set it to counterclockwise rotation. Winter mode would be nearly useless for a fan this high up.

While the ceiling fan may struggle to exert a cooling effect on you when placed so high up, it will provide good air circulation in the vaulted ceiling. There are other methods to achieve this as well, so if air circulation alone is your goal, you might forgo the ceiling fan altogether.


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