The circulate setting on thermostats has become increasingly popular in recent years. But what exactly does this setting do, and should you be using it in your home? In this blog post, we’ll take an in-depth look at thermostat circulation modes to help you decide if enabling it is right for you.
What is the Circulate Setting?
The circulate or fan setting on a thermostat controls the operation of your HVAC system’s fan. When enabled, it runs the fan continuously even when heating or cooling isn’t actively running.
Many modern programmable and smart thermostats have a dedicated “circulate” or “fan” button. On basic models, you may need to set the fan control to the “on” position to achieve the same effect.
Why Would I Use This Setting?
There are a few key reasons you may want to use the circulate setting:
Improve Air Circulation
Running your fan continuously improves air circulation throughout your home. This helps avoid stagnant air and hot and cold spots in certain rooms.
The constant air movement can make your home feel more comfortable, as it prevents cool or warm air from getting trapped in certain areas.
Enhance Indoor Air Quality
Circulating your indoor air constantly filters out dust, pet dander, and other particles more often. This can improve overall indoor air quality in your home.
It also helps expel lingering odors, stale air, and excess humidity that could otherwise build up.
Maintain Consistent Temperatures
Leaving your fan on provides a more consistent temperature throughout every room, rather than letting some areas become extremely hot or cold.
The improved air circulation allows your cooling or heating system to maintain the target temp more evenly in all spaces.
Reduce Operation Costs
Running the fan continuously can help lower energy bills in certain situations. During cooling months, the constant air movement allows you to set your thermostat a few degrees higher without impacting comfort.
Likewise, circulating air in winter permits setting the temperature a bit lower while avoiding cold spots. Both tweaks can yield energy savings.
Improve HVAC System Performance
Keeping air flowing puts less strain on your heating and cooling equipment. Turning your HVAC components on floods a system with hot or cold air.
Letting the fan run ensures gradual temperature regulation, rather than dramatic on-off cycling. This can extend the life of system parts.
What Are the Potential Downsides?
Using your thermostat’s circulate setting also comes with some possible drawbacks:
Increased Energy Usage
While circulate mode can reduce HVAC runtimes in some cases, the constant fan operation uses electricity on its own. This can outweigh any savings, increasing your energy costs.
The degree of impact depends on several factors like your HVAC system’s efficiency and your local energy rates. But it’s possible to see a rise in your utility bills from non-stop fan operation.
Excess Moisture Buildup
Leaving the fan running whenever humidity is high can lead to condensation forming on your cooling equipment. This moisture buildup promotes mold growth and impacts indoor air quality.
You may need to periodically turn it off to allow excess moisture to dissipate during humid weather. Running the AC also helps manage indoor humidity levels.
More Dust and Dirt Introduced
The improved air circulation also pulls in more dust and soil from outside. Your system’s air filter will catch some of this, but the rest gets recirculated through your home.
While the air movement helps expel particulates, it also acts as an intake without an active HVAC demand. Your indoor air quality could suffer as a result.
Some homeowners find the constant white noise from the fan disruptive, especially when trying to sleep. Newer systems are fairly quiet, but you’ll still hear air flowing at all times. For light sleepers, this can be an annoyance.
Turning it off at bedtime or buying a quieter replacement fan motor are two ways to address the issue. But the audible hum is unavoidable with standard models.
Best Practices for Using Circulate Mode
Here are some tips to use your thermostat’s circulate setting effectively:
- Only run it during appropriate weather. Don’t use circulate mode in moderate humidity or very hot/cold temps.
- Periodically turn it off for several hours a day to let moisture dissipate.
- Change filters regularly to catch more dust and soil.
- Set a programmable schedule to automatically turn it on and off.
- Use it in tandem with other settings like auto or programmable mode.
- Select circulating fans that promote airflow but operate quietly.
- Monitor your energy bills for increased costs from added run time.
- Use smart sensors to only circulate air as needed to hit set temperatures.
Making adjustments based on weather, your schedule, and room-to-room needs will ensure you maximize the benefits and minimize any downsides.
Should You Use Circulate Mode?
So when all the pros and cons are considered, should you use your thermostat’s circulate or fan setting?
For most homeowners, running the fan continuously provides more benefits than drawbacks. The potential energy savings, comfort improvements, air quality enhancement, and HVAC performance gains make it worthwhile.
But you’ll achieve the best results by customizing when and how often it runs. Use programmable options or smart thermostat automations to strike the right balance for your home’s needs.
The added humidity and noise are also legitimate issues to consider. Whether you can tolerate these potential negatives depends on your climate, HVAC equipment, and living preferences.
In general, adjusting circulate mode to match your system, schedules, and weather conditions is recommended. Turn it off periodically and modify use based on real-world testing in your home. With the right settings, you can take advantage of this feature’s many benefits year-round.
The Bottom Line
The circulate setting on modern thermostats certainly has advantages. But you need to utilize this feature thoughtfully to maximize benefits and efficiency.
Test it out in your own home while monitoring humidity, noise, and energy costs. Adjust run times and speed to find the sweet spot based on weather and your family’s comfort needs. Used properly, a thermostat’s circulate mode can be an asset for both comfort and efficiency.
Optimizing Circulate Mode for Maximum Benefit
Now that we’ve covered the basics of thermostat circulation modes, let’s look at how to optimize the settings for ideal performance in your home. With the right schedule and adjustments, you can maximize energy savings and indoor comfort.
Set an Automatic Schedule
One of the best ways to use circulate mode efficiently is to put it on a programmed schedule. This allows you to customize run times based on your household’s habits.
Here are some scheduling tips:
- Run it during mornings and evenings when home. Turn it off at night and during daily away hours.
- In humid climates, add breaks in the schedule to allow moisture to dissipate.
- If hone all day, use more intermittent periods. For example, on for an hour, off for 30 minutes.
- Modify the program seasonally as heating/cooling needs change.
- Allow extra run time on extremely hot or cold days to maintain even temps.
- Ensure the fan shuts off if the AC or furnace isn’t actively heating/cooling during the set program.
Creating a customized program prevents unnecessary overuse while still circulating air when you need it most.
Adjust Fan Speeds
Modern systems typically offer various fan speeds, often ranging from low to high. Running your fan at a lower setting can provide sufficient air circulation using less energy.
Test different speeds to find the minimum required in each season. This may vary between cooling and heating needs. Quieter performance is another benefit of slower fan operation.
Just ensure the speed is high enough to properly condition air and avoid stagnant pockets in rooms. Low speeds can also introduce more humidity in summer.
Use Smart Thermostat Features
Smart and WiFi-enabled thermostats offer advanced options to refine circulate mode use. These can include:
- Room sensors that only run the fan when needed in each zone.
- Automatic humidity adjustment to prevent moisture buildup.
- Integration with other smart home devices and schedules.
- Air filter status monitoring and alerts to prompt a change.
- Remote adjustment via mobile apps and voice controls.
Leveraging these smart optimizations prevents unnecessary fan runtime while maintaining set temps and air quality.
Monitor Energy Usage
Keep an eye on your utility bills as you test different circulate settings. This allows you to gauge the real-world impact on your home’s energy use.
While savings are possible, constant fan operation may increase costs in some situations. Adjust speed and run times to find the optimal balance.
Advanced thermostats can provide energy reports to isolate the impact of circulation modes vs. normal heating and cooling. Review this data as you modify settings over a full seasonal cycle.
Listen for Sound Levels
Noise is a key downside that’s very subjective. While you tweak schedules and fan speeds, pay attention to audible levels in frequented rooms.
Make adjustments to minimize disruptive fan noise. This may mean turning it off or reducing speed during certain sleeping hours. But balance this against your airflow needs.
With smart placement of the thermostat itself, you can also mask fan sounds in bedrooms by locating it farther away in a hallway or main living space.
Maintain Your HVAC System
To enhance the benefits of circulating air, be diligent about regular maintenance. Replace filters often to remove more soil and allergens. And stay on top of professional cleanings and tune-ups for your HVAC components.
This ensures your system can efficiently heat, cool, and circulate air as needed. Well-maintained equipment will have fewer issues with constant fan operation.
By following these tips to optimize settings and schedules, you can maximize the benefits of your thermostat’s circulate mode. Adjust to your home’s conditions for enhanced air quality, comfort, and potential energy savings all year long.