The Ultimate Ceiling Fan Owner’s Guide

Everything to Know About Ceiling FansCeiling fans effectively move air around the room, helping to control the temperature and keep everyone comfortable. Built using a hub surrounded by several blades, these fans mount on the ceiling, often in the center of the room. They are powered by electricity and are useful through all seasons.

When set properly, these fans send cool air flowing downward during the summer and redistribute warm air in the winter. Unlike air conditioners, they are not meant to physically cool the warm air. Instead, they effectively move air around the room, creating a wind chill effect.

The sheer popularity of ceiling fans has opened the doors for the development of many different styles. To find the perfect ceiling fans for your home, take a look at this informative guide and learn all you need to know.

History of Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans show up across all recorded eras of human history, starting in 500 BC. Developed in India, these fans started as manually activated models operated using a pull cord. When ceiling fans appeared in the United States, they used this general design, but were driven by running water. The belts inside the housing activated as water flowed through the system, causing the blades to turn. With this design running several fans in tandem, these models appeared most often in commercial buildings, such as restaurants.

Phillip Diehl made ceiling fans much more accessible to everyone by making them electrically motor-driven in 1882. Since the electric motors turned the blades on their own, there was no more need for belts either. This simplified the ceiling fan considerably, making it a possible upgrade for residences as well as commercial buildings.

For this reason, electric ceiling fans could be found in nearly every US home by the early 1920s. They continued to spread across the world as people learned of their effectiveness. As air conditioning came on scene, ceiling fans started to decline in popularity, as they could not provide as much cooling power.  

As the US switched to AC, the energy-efficiency of ceiling fans kept them a popular choice in other countries. They also kept working at making the ceiling fan design more efficient, reducing the heat released by the motor. Through a joint venture, two companies in India and England succeeded by fitting these fans with induction motors. This allowed heat to dissipate much faster through its aluminum rotor and reduced energy consumption across the board.

As this occurred, the US was turning its attention to improving energy efficiency and using green products. This allowed the new ceiling fan design to gain favor, growing in popularity once again across the United States. Today, there are an incredible range of ceiling-fan styles to choose from, as brands work hard at outdoing each other.

Seasonal Uses

Since they operate using evaporative cooling, ceiling fans are an excellent way to keep temperatures under control when hot weather arrives. Ceiling fans should not be reserved just for the hot summer months, however.

Since they redistribute warm air, they are just as effective at keeping everyone comfortable during the cold winter months as well. Furthermore, when used properly alongside the heating and cooling systems in the household, ceiling fans can even save households a considerable amount of money each year.      

Summer Use

In the summer, ceiling fans need to run counter-clockwise, which is also known as the forward direction. When these fans run in this direction, they push the moving air downward and provide a wind chill effect. In fact, ceiling fans can make the room feel up to eight degrees cooler, despite not physically cooling the air in the room.

Due to this effect, households can set their air conditioners at a higher temperature without compromising on comfort. The reduction in air conditioner usage can then decrease cooling costs by as much as 40 percent. To make sure ceiling fans are running in the forward direction for the summer, stand underneath with it on and take a look. The blades should steadily turn counter-clockwise if on the right setting. If not, flip the switch and verify it is correct once again.

Winter Use

Once the warm weather ends for the year, flip the switch on the ceiling fan to make it turn in the reverse direction, or clockwise. When ceiling fans run in reverse, they continually pull warm air upward and redistribute it throughout the room. This allows households to turn down their thermostats without feeling chilly. They can then save up to 15 percent on their heating costs during the winter season.

For best results, only run ceiling fans on low in the winter. Any faster and the fan could still create a slight wind chill effect rather than simply moving the air around. This effect will not be sufficient in the summer months, however, so remember to switch the fan direction back as the warm weather comes around once again.  

Types of Ceiling Fans

Different Types of Ceiling FansAs they are an effective way to keep commercial and residential rooms comfortable, ceiling fans come in many different styles and configurations to best suit each application. They even have ceiling fans made to withstand the elements for use on verandas and other outdoor spaces. With a look into each type, it will become clear which ones may work well for the residence or commercial building in question.

Standard

Standard ceiling fans typically have five blades and attached light fixtures. The motor, blades, and light fixture all hang from a downrod of varying lengths. The rod length needed for the installation depends on the ceiling height and fan size. Standard ceiling fans are used most often in residential structures, as they are sized for smaller rooms than found in many commercial buildings.

Styles and colors vary considerably to give everyone a chance to match their fan to their décor. These fans range from plain colors and details to sophisticated designs with embellishments throughout. If standard fans will not work for the building, or the owner’s preferences, there are many other options to consider.

Low-Profile

When the ceiling height does not allow for a downrod, low profile, or hugger, ceiling fans are the only way to go. These fans operate without the downrod and actually hug the ceiling at the base. For that reason, the motor housing changes from the typical circular shape to a cylinder. The base then affords the blades enough room to move the air effectively without hanging too low to the ground.

Although five-blade designs are the most popular, hugger fans can come with anywhere from two to nine blades. These fans also come in a wide range of styles, from simplistic to sophisticated, to work with any type of home décor.

Belt-Driven

Belt-driven fans take the building design back to the early days of ceiling fans. To drive the fans and spin their blades, the belts run from the motor housing to a pulley on the fan. Since the draw is the interesting appearance of these fans, they are often installed in groups of two or more. The fans are artistically arranged to create the most attractive display for everyone to enjoy.

Although they are interesting to look at, belt-driven ceiling fans do not boast the efficiency of their standard and hugger direct-drive counterparts. The motor does run on electricity, not water, keeping the system reasonably energy efficient. But their complex design just cannot compare to the efficiency of modern induction motors used in the direct-drive fans.

Dual-Motor

Not only do they look neat, dual-motor ceiling fans move the air in a different way than traditional fan designs. Consisting of two mini fans on either side of the motor, these models can push the air upward, downward, and to either side. Users can set these fans in one of three positions, moving the air through the room in the desired pattern.

Since dual-motor fans can move air more effectively than other designs, they are often a great choice for large rooms. With their unique design, they can even work in a long hallway to keep it from getting stuffy.

Outdoor

Outdoor ceiling fans work well in verandas and other partially enclosed outdoor spaces. In addition to outdoor installations, these ceiling fans are suitable for wet rooms, such as those housing indoor swimming pools. 

Although these fans are similar in design to indoor variants, they are built to code for outdoor use. This ensures they can withstand temperature fluctuations and exposure to moisture. Outdoor fans come with two or more blades in a variety of styles. Blades shaped like leaves are often a popular choice. Although natural wood tones are most popular, these fans also come in a wide range of colors.

Commercial

Since commercial spaces are many times bigger than residential rooms, standard ceiling-fan designs just will not cut it. Instead, building owners must invest in commercial ceiling fans. These fans have blades that span 52 inches and longer, creating enough airflow for even the biggest spaces. They also have more powerful motors to drive the longer blades.

Due to the increase in power and size, commercial ceiling fans can effectively push air through shops, warehouses, and other huge spaces. Like other fans, their direction can, and should, be adjusted with the seasons to maximize the efficiency of the heating and cooling system.  

Buying Tips

When buying a ceiling fan, there is an awful lot to consider. Designers have gone above and beyond in creating stylish and functional ceiling fans across all types. The results are staggering and can take quite awhile to consider. Thankfully, taking a close look at all the different factors can assist you in making the best decision in a minimal amount of time.

Budget and Efficiency

Before making a ceiling fan purchase, set a fair budget for this home-improvement project. Depending on their type, style, and functions, ceiling fans can range anywhere from $100 to $1,000. However, homeowners can usually nab a quality ceiling fan for under $400. Commercial ceiling fans tend to cost a bit more due to their larger size and efficiency improvements.

With a budget in mind, take a moment to weigh the importance of efficiency. Decide whether it is more important to have the ultimate in efficiency or the fastest airflow. If efficiency wins out, only consider ceiling fans marked as ENERGY STAR approved. These units are 40 percent more efficient than traditional ceiling fans due to their motor and blade design improvements. High airflow ceiling fans, on the other hand, will not win any awards for energy efficiency, but they are highly effective at moving air through the room.   

Style

Ceiling fans come in every style imaginable, from rustic to tropical. People can choose fans that elevate their current interior design or build a whole new look around their preferred ceiling fan style.

Ceiling fans also come in a lot of different colors, including:

  • White
  • Black
  • Natural wood
  • Chrome
  • Brushed bronze

Themed ceiling fans are also available in bright colors and patterns suited for kids’ rooms, playrooms, and other fun areas.

Since style matters almost as much as function and efficiency, take the time to ponder how each fan option will work in the home. Look at its design details and color scheme to verify it either complements or contrasts the other décor items just right.

Location and Size

To further narrow down the options, consider where the ceiling fans will be installed. Are they going to be inside or outside? Will they be in a room that has a lot of moisture? This will help determine the models to buy in order to achieve the best results and ensure the building remains up to code.

The size of the ceiling fan is another top consideration to think about during the buying process. Ceiling fans come in a wide range of blade lengths and motor sizes. Different blade spans will work in rooms of various sizes. For bathrooms and breakfast nooks, use a ceiling fan with 29- to 36-inch long blades. For rec rooms and other large areas, only fans with blades spanning longer than 60 inches will suffice.

Features

Modern ceiling fans are chock full of amazing features designed to elevate their function and convenience. Depending on the selected model, the features may include:

  • Light fixtures
  • Remote control
  • Decorative pull chains
  • Reversible blades
  • Smart home connectivity

Features tend to pile on as the price of the ceiling fans climb. Ceiling fans with all the bells and whistles tend to cost several times more than their barebones counterparts.

Decide which features are a must, and then start comparing ceiling fan models. By taking the time to look at all the features, it is possible to find the perfect model. Then, it is time to think about the install.

Ceiling Fan Installation

Installing a New Ceiling FanAlthough ceiling fan installs only cost about $50 to $100 per fixture, this expense is one that can be skipped. The installation process only takes a couple hours and requires basic tools, making it an approachable project for the average DIYer. Before attempting the DIY ceiling fan install, take the following into consideration to achieve optimal results.

Considerations

Before getting started, look at the room dimensions to verify the ceiling fan is the right size. Use the square footage and blade length to figure this out. Sizes that often work best include:

  • 29- to 36-inch ceiling fans for small rooms up to 75 square feet
  • 42- to 48-inch fans for bedroom ceiling fans, kitchen fans, and other rooms up to 175 square feet
  • 50- to 60-inch ceiling fans for rec rooms and other spaces 350 square feet and beyond

After verifying you have the optimal ceiling fan size for the room, peek at the mount to see if it needs any modifications. Mounts used for light fixtures will not have the strength to support a ceiling fan. In this case, it will be necessary to have an electrician install a proper junction box in that fixture before installing the ceiling fan. When replacing an old ceiling fan with a new one, the old mount will likely work for the installation.

Other ways to ensure the installation goes smoothly include:

  • Verifying the ceiling-fan blades will sit at least 18 inches from all nearby obstructions
  • Checking for damage to the ceiling that could compromise its strength
  • Making sure you can safely lift and hold 40 pounds above your head
  • Reading all installation instructions in full and gather the required tools
  • Checking local code requirements to see if a permit is needed

Plan to move slowly through the first install, reading each step several times before completing it. Verify it was completed as instructed before moving onto the next step to prevent issues with the install.

Replacing an Old Fixture

Ceiling fans are easiest to install in the place of existing fixtures. Placing them in a new location would require that you run the electrical wire, cut a hole in the ceiling, and install a junction box — all tasks better suited for a skilled electrician.

To replace an existing ceiling fan with a new model:

  • Turn off all power to the room where the install will be completed
  • Remove the fasteners holding the base to the ceiling while bracing the fan
  • Disconnect the wires at the wing nuts holding them together
  • Brace the motor and remove the safety cable holding the fan, then set it down
  • Remove the old mounting bracket and place it to the side
  • Verify the junction box is designed to hold the weight of the new ceiling fan
  • Install the new mounting bracket, sliding the wires through the center
  • Assemble the motor housing and downrod, then attach it to the mounting bracket
  • Connect all the wiring by following the installation instructions for that fan model
  • Attach the blades and light fixtures to the ceiling fan using the supplied hardware

Upon completing these steps, all that is left to do is turn the power back on and check that the ceiling fan works as expected. If not, remember to turn the power back off before starting to troubleshoot the problem.

Calling a Pro

If the existing fixture is a light and not a ceiling fan, then installing a junction box will be necessary. An electrician can help with that, as they have the tools and expertise needed to complete the project to code. They are also an excellent resource to call when adding a ceiling fan to a brand-new location. These professionals can also help verify the fan suits the space and will work in the preferred location before completing the project.

Cleaning Tips

Properly Cleaning a Ceiling FanAs ceiling fans circulate air through the home, they accumulate a lot of dust. Grease and other contaminants can build up on the blades as well. The dust and debris then flies through the airspace once again when the fans are turned on at any speed, causing the home or business to look filthy in no time. Thankfully, despite their location close to the ceiling, there are many smart ways to get them clean.

Vacuum Cleaner

When only caked in dust, ceiling fans are easy to clean with a household vacuum cleaner. This will not work for grease removal, however, as the bristles will only remove a small portion of the stains.

Set up the long-handled attachments to reach the top sides of the fan blades. Attach a tough brush head to the end as well to easily scrub away the dust particles stuck on the surface. Repeat this process at least once every two weeks to keep the dust accumulation manageable.

Long-Handled Duster

A long-handled duster can reach both the top and bottom surface of ceiling fan blades with ease. They are even long and flexible enough to clean around the motor housing, downrod, and base.

Magnetic dusters can provide even better results due to their ability to attract dust and debris much more easily. Whichever tool is used, wipe from the inside of the blades, closest to the motor, outward. This motion will push dust away from the housing, helping keep the motor clear of debris.

Pillowcase

Despite their efficiency, both vacuums and dusters can send dust and debris flying onto the ground below. To avoid this scenario, just use an old pillowcase to clean the ceiling fan blades. Without the long handles of the other cleaning tools, it will be necessary to use a stepladder to get in reach.

Once in range of the fan blades, slide the pillowcase over each one and wipe them clean. The vast majority of the dust will stay trapped inside, keeping the floor clean. After finishing wiping up each blade, shake the pillowcase out over a trashcan. Then, throw the pillowcase in the washer to ready it for the next cleaning session.

By Hand

When the above methods do not cut it, cleaning the ceiling fan by hand is the only remaining option. The cleaning process will require:

  • Duster
  • Soft rags
  • All-purpose cleaner

Using the duster, clear off all the visible debris to prepare the surface for cleaning. Spray the all-purpose cleaner on a soft rag and test its use on a small hidden area. If the cleaning product does not mar the finish, use the cleaner-covered rag to wipe down the motor housing, fan blades, and other components. While cleaning, never spray the cleaner directly on the fan components — especially not near the motor housing.  

Very Dirty Fans

Ceiling fans located in kitchens, outdoors, and other challenging areas can often accumulate large amounts of dirt in a short span of time. Worse yet, the grime often stays despite the best efforts to clean it using a vacuum, duster, or even by hand. When this occurs, cleaning will require partial disassembly of the fan. Using a stepladder, climb up toward the fan blades until close enough to remove them with a screwdriver. Then, place them on a nearby surface for later cleaning.

Focus on wiping down the rest of the ceiling fan using a soft rag moistened with all-purpose cleaner. With the fan’s motor housing, blade brackets, and other parts cleaned up, scrub the blades clean. Use a soft brush dipped in a cleaning solution to scrub the grime off their surface and make them shine once again.  

Troubleshooting

Even with all the right installation and care tactics, ceiling fan troubles can still crop up from time to time. Thankfully, whether the ceiling fan is wildly wobbling or simply failing to spin, there are plenty of things to try before calling in an expert — or buying a new fan. Here are a few troubleshooting tips to follow in the event of ceiling fan issues.  

Dead Fan

When the ceiling fan just will not spin, an immediate fix is in order. Most times, the problem stems from power failing to reach the switch or ceiling fan. To troubleshoot issues related to ceiling fan switch failure, follow these steps:

  • Check the circuit breaker and GFCI outlets to see if they are in need of a reset
  • Turn off the circuit breaker to prevent power from reaching the ceiling fan
  • Remove the cover on the ceiling fan switch plate and unscrew the switch
  • Use a circuit tester to verify the wires are not live, and then remove from the terminals
  • Flip the circuit breaker back on to perform the test

If the ceiling fan turns on at this point, then the switch needs to be replaced with a new one. If not, then move on to checking the wiring in the motor housing in the same manner. Between these two areas, it is usually possible to find the cause of the “dead” ceiling fan.

Speed Not Working

When ceiling fans will not run at a steady speed, the capacitor is the likely suspect. This small part controls the conversion of electricity to mechanical energy that keeps the fan blades steadily turning. This part often goes bad slowly, yet shows clear signs of the problem all the while.

Replacing the capacitator will likely restore the consistent rotation of the fan blades. But if it does not, there are other things to check. If you have a remote control ceiling fan, for example, then check the dip switches to see if they are set at the right frequency. For new fans, it is best to check for any packing material that may be blocking the rotation of the blades. On older fans, check all hardware, such as bolts and screws, to ensure they have not come loose. Checking for all these issues will likely resolve the problem, but if not, then it might be time for a new ceiling fan.

Wobbling Fan

All ceiling fans wobble a little bit with their natural spinning motion. But once the wobbling makes the ceiling fan sway to and fro, it is time to perform some repairs. Restore the stability of the ceiling fan by:

  • Turning off the power at the circuit breaker for the house
  • Using a screwdriver to disconnect the bracket from the ceiling
  • Verifying the junction box is properly rated for use with ceiling fans (If not, replace the junction box with one that includes a support bracket. Otherwise, check the droprod to verify its ball joint sits firmly against the bracket)
  • Reinstalling the bracket on the ceiling and tightening all hardware on the fan

After completing these steps, measure the distance between the ceiling and fan blades. The distances should all match up. If not, then the fan blades may be warped and in need of replacement.

Buzzing Fan

When ceiling fans start to buzz, the sound often travels all through the home, annoying everyone in the range of hearing. New fans often hum or buzz in the first 24 hours until the lubricants evenly cover the moving parts. But after that, this is a problem that can be fixed by following these steps:

  • Tighten down all screws and other hardware
  • Check that the light bulbs are tightened down properly
  • Verify the wall switch is a stepped speed control unit
  • If the ceiling fan is an oil bath unit, refill the oil in the housing
  • Look at the fan blades and replace if there is any damage

By addressing these areas, it is usually possible to eliminate humming and buzzing noises coming from the fan. If the excessive noise continues, then replacement may be the next step.

Ceiling Fan Safety

Safely Operating and Installing Ceiling FansAs they have rapidly moving parts, ceiling fans have a few safety concerns to keep in mind. These safety considerations are especially important to pay attention to when installing a new fan or moving into a new place with ceiling fans. Here are all the top things to look for in using ceiling fans safely.

Low-Hanging Fans

Ceiling fans need to hang at least seven feet from the floor to allow people to safely walk underneath. Check this distance by measuring from the bottom of the fan blades to the floor. If it is not at least seven feet, the fan will need to be replaced with a low-profile unit with the right specifications. When possible, aim to position ceiling fans at least nine feet above the ground to optimize the airflow patterns. In commercial buildings, however, ceiling fan blades must sit at least 10 feet above the floor to comply with regulations.

Poor Location

When positioning ceiling fans, it is important that the edges of the blades are at least 18 inches from walls and potential obstructions. This not only ensures the fans can safely operate without hitting anything, but also work at peak efficiency. Beyond walls and other static structures, look for any doors, cabinets, or other moving objects that the fan blades could hit. Plan to move any ceiling fans that are too close to other objects to operate effectively.

Unstable Fans

Wobbling often starts to occur as the ceiling fan sits off balance or due to flaws in the motor. Improper installation can also leave the fan unstable, allowing it to wobble as the fan blades spin. Without addressing the wobbling, parts could become loose and hit the ground. Light covers could shatter and send glass flying across the floor. And parts inside the fan could suffer damage, causing the motor to malfunction. Only replacement can remedy the situation at that point, so fix wobbling early to prevent hazardous and costly issues.

Old Fans

As ceiling fans are used day in and day out, their parts experience wear and tear that eventually results in noticeable damage. The fan blades may start to warp and get loose over time, impending the normal function of the fan. Wobbling may arise as a result and accelerate the wear and tear significantly. Parts may fail to operate altogether or even break off over time. Only replacement can fix this problem, as ceiling fans are not fully rebuildable.  

Bladeless Fans

In rooms where even low-profile fans will not cut it, bladeless fans are here to save the day. These fans are also a great option for those who need a bunkbed safe ceiling fan installed. The bladeless ceiling fans have a cool futuristic shape and quiet operation. They create the desired wind chill effect without any exposed fan blades to worry about but their high cost can be prohibitive. They are best reserved for areas that do not have room for a ceiling fan yet need one badly.

Although ceiling fans are such a common item, there is so much more to them than what meets the eye. By building an understanding of their construction, installation, and care, everyone can use their ceiling fans safely and with confidence. The fans can then work at peak efficiency in keeping the house comfortable for everyone.