Ceiling Fans Revealed
The history of the ceiling fan
goes back to the 1860’s. Back then, they were powered by a stream of
running water in conjunction with a turbine that enabled a system of
belts to turn the blades of fan units. These, by the way, are still in
use in the southern states of America. They also consisted of only two
blades as opposed to our current, more efficient, four-blade units. In
1882, the first electric fan was invented, which consisted of its own
self-contained motor unit and, shortly after this invention, a light kit was adapted onto the ceiling fans to add overhead light.
Ceiling fans consume far less energy than air conditioning units, which is why so many homeowners invest in fans and place them throughout their homes.
fans are available in many variations, from standard, inexpensive $50
units to more expensive units that offer features such as variable
speed dials, high-quality stator or rotor “stack” motors, and die cast
steel construction. Most ceiling fans can reverse the direction in
which the blades rotate, blowing air downward (counter clockwise) in
summer months to give a cooling effect. Drawing the air upward (blade
rotation is directed clockwise) takes the cool air from lower levels in
a room and pushes it up toward the ceiling; at the same time, it pushes
the warmer air from the ceiling down along the walls and into the room.
Components of a ceiling fan
- Electric motor
- Blade brackets or holders
- Mounting mechanism
Motors vary from oil bath motors, stack motors (oil lubricated,) direct drive motors, skeletal motors, and belt-driven.
The following list demonstrates major ceiling fan styles and the types of motors employed:
- Cast-iron ceiling fans, use heavy-duty oil-bath motors
that need to be oiled a couple times per year to maintain lubrication.
These fans are sturdily built and, because of their lack of electronic
components, last 80 to 100 years or more.
- Stack-motor ceiling fans
are powerful and energy efficient. They are designed with a basic
stator and squirrel-cage rotor and the fan’s blades mount to the
central hub known as the flywheel. Flywheels
are made of metal or reinforced rubber and are found either flush with
the fan’s motor housing (hidden) or below the fan’s motor housing,
known as a dropped flywheel. There is one disadvantage
of this type of fan if the flywheel is made from rubber, and that is
that over time it will degrade and you will need to replace the
- Direct-drive ceiling fans
use a motor that has a stationary inner core with a shell that revolves
around it (also known as a spinner motor) and the blades attach to this
shell. These are the least expensive motors to produce and the quality
is reflected in that fact as these fans are prone to failure and can be
very noisy. This type of motor is standard for most of today’s fans. Spinner fans
use a direct-drive motor and do not have a decorative cover or motor
housing. This type of fan is commonly found in the industrial market. Spinner motor fans
(not to be confused with spinners) use a direct-drive spinner motor and
do have a decorative cover or motor housing. This type of fan accounts
for almost all fans built today.
- Skeletal motors
are a high-quality subset of direct-drive motors, are found on
higher-end fans, and have a longer lifespan. Skeletal motors have an
open “skeletal” design that allows for better ventilation as opposed to
direct-drive motors that have little to no ventilation. The motor is
larger and more powerful than direct-drive motors.
- Belt-driven ceiling fans
are water powered and work off a system of belts to turn multiple fan
units. The “look” is still popular and found in many restaurants and
commercial buildings; however, the reproduction of these relics feature
an electric motor in lieu of the water powered motor.
mount under, on the side, or on top of the motor and are usually made
of metal, wood, fiberglass, or plastic. Most fans built for home use
come in either four or five blade units while commercial fans usually
have three blades. For covered patios or porches that have damp
conditions, choose a fan with wicker, bamboo, or rattan blades that are
arms, blade irons, blade brackets, blade holders, or flanges – these
are all terms used to describe the brackets that connect the blades to
There are various ways to secure the fan to the ceiling as the following describes:
- Ball and socket:
a metal or plastic hemisphere mounted on the end of the downrod. The
hemisphere sits in a ceiling-mounted metal bracket and allows the fan
to move freely – ideal for vaulted ceilings.
- J-hook: also known as a claw hook, this system comes in a variety of configurations and secures to a ceiling-mounted metal bolt.
- Low ceiling adapter: this is a kit that you must purchase from the manufacturer and is used on low ceilings where a downrod is impossible to use.
- Close-to-ceiling mount:
a ball-and-socket fan designed so that the ceiling cover piece can
optionally be screwed directly into the top of the motor housing; then,
the entire fan can be secured directly onto the ceiling mounting
- Motor housing – decorative encasement for the motor.
- Switches – adjusts the speed, changes the direction of the blades, turns the fan on and off, and operates a lamp if present.
- Switch housing
– a metal cylinder that is mounted below and in the middle of the fan’s
motor and is used to conceal and protect various components.
- Downrod – available in many lengths, this is the metal pipe that is used to suspend the fan from the ceiling.
- Blade badges
– these decorative pieces hide the screws that are on the underside of
the blades (the screws that attach the blades to the blade irons).
- If you want to save a lot of money on energy, then look for the Energy Star label. Energy star ceiling fans are not only 50% more efficient, they also have lower price tags as well.
also known as low profile, are ceiling fans that are installed as close
to the ceiling as possible. Usually installed in rooms with low
ceilings, these fans are never used in rooms with vaulted ceilings.
- Outdoor ceiling fans
are specially designed to withstand dampness and should be “damp”
rated. These ceiling fans are designed for the porch or covered patio
and are not intended to be used anywhere where rain or other water
sources can come in contact.
ceiling fans consist of styles such as contemporary, traditional,
tropical, rustic, dual motor, carved wood, Victorian, and ceiling fans
includes uplights that are installed on top of the fan’s motor housing
and project light onto the ceiling for ambiance. Downlights are light
kits that shine down into the room. Decorative light bulbs are mounted
inside the motor housing surrounded by glass panel sections, allowing
light to shine through.
Ceiling fan control options
– a metal chain or cord is attached to the ceiling fan (2 chains if
lamp kit is attached) and operates the on/off function of the fan and
or lamp, and the speed of the blades when the chain is pulled. This
style is the most common form of operation for household fans.
- Wall-mounted controls – instead of the controls being attached to the fan, these specialized wall-mounted controls are mounted on the wall.
- Digital control – all of the fan’s functions are controlled by a computerized wall control. This style of control usually has three to six fan rotation speeds.
- Choke – usually mounted in a standard wall gang box with about four speeds.
- Wireless remote control
– some ceiling fans come with this feature; however, anyone can convert
their current ceiling fan. Available as an after-market kit, you can install it
on your existing fan with relative ease. The remote control transmits
infrared signals to the receiver unit installed in the fan, which
interprets and acts on the signals.
A fan’s efficacy in generating airflow is measured by the cubic feet of air moved per minute rating (CFM.) As you start comparing fans, there are many things to pay attention to in order to make the right decision.
- Total surface area. The larger a blade’s surface area, the more air it is able to move.
- Length of the fans blades.
The longer the blades, the larger amount of the room’s air will be
impacted. Most blades come in one of three sizes: 36”, 42”, and 52”.
- Blade pitch.
The steeper the pitch, the greater the airflow. Increased pitch also
means increased drag. Only fans with well-built motors can support
steep pitches. Cheaper fans usually have a pitch between 9 and 13
degrees. If you want greater airflow then don’t even look at anything
with a pitch less than 15 degrees. In fact, for superior airflow you
should look at pitches in the 20’s.
- Speed of rotation. This is the speed at which the fan rotates and is measured as revolutions per minute (RPM.) Faster rotation = greater airflow.
- The space between the fan and the ceiling. If
your fan is too close to the ceiling, the airflow will be restricted
because the fan won’t be able to draw enough air through its blades. A
ceiling fan that doesn’t use a downrod, such as a hugger, is at a
disadvantage. The more space between your fan and your ceiling, the
more air-moving potential. In order to meet safety codes your ceiling
height would need to be a minimum of 9 feet because blades must be
mounted a minimum of seven feet from the floor (though eight or more
feet is desired.)
- Blade surface area to air-feed ratio.
More blade surface area means greater airflow. If there’s too much
blade surface area there won’t be adequate space between the blades to
draw air up through. You’ll want to stay away from decorative blades
such as palm leafs or systems that have six blades because they do not
have enough space between the blades for unrestricted air to be drawn
- Number of blades.
Less is more when it comes to the number of blades you have on your
fan. More blades don’t equal more airflow. Four bladed fans will move
more air than a five-bladed fan spinning at the same speed.
- Energy efficiency. Airflow
generated versus energy input; divide the fans CFM rating by its input
wattage (e.g., if the fan moves 6630 CFM on its fastest speed and uses
85 watts to do so, then its energy efficiency is 78.) You can apply
this same equation to objectively compare different fans for energy