How Ceiling Fans Work

Understanding Ceiling Fans

Most people understand the general concept behind ceiling fans, but have you ever thought about what really makes them work?  What about how to choose the best ceiling fan to fit your style as well as save you money?

  • Choosing a Ceiling Fan

When selecting your ceiling fan, you first need to decide what room you want it installed in, and whether the unit is going to be indoors or outdoors.  Choose rooms in your home or office that need more airflow, are considerably warmer throughout the year and are the most occupied.  The room will also impact the overall size of the fan that is needed.  For example, a large room with high ceilings would need a unit of greater diameter and possibly be installed hanging further down from the ceiling as opposed to say a room with average ceilings and less square footage area (i.e. a living room with vaulted ceilings as compared to the average bedroom).

Another thing to consider is what the main function of the fan will be.  Do you want to use it to make your room feel cooler or warmer?  Do you need additional lighting in the same area in question?  Depending on the desired function, you will want to think about the number of blades, fan rotation and direction, speed settings and the types of accessories that may be needed to complete the installation.  You can add light kits or even a remote control if desired.  Remote controls are a must for installations with high ceilings or hard to access areas.

What is your budget for a ceiling fan?  The cost of a ceiling fan can vary from as little as around $50 to as much as $750 or more.  The price of the unit will be based on a variety of factors, such as design, efficiency, size and even how loud or quiet the unit is compared with other units.  Generally as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Installation from a qualified electrician can range from as little as $70 to as much as $500 or more.  Electrician costs generally are determined by the amount of time it will take to complete the installation.  Generally speaking, installation will be lower if for example, you are having an existing ceiling fan replaced and the correct wiring is already available to properly control the unit as you desire.  Electrician costs will be higher if the installation is new in the area desired and additional wiring to the structure is required to be performed to allow the new unit to function properly and safely.  Ceiling fans are heavier than traditional light fixtures and therefore are required to be installed to special boxes that are UL listed to support the weight of the fan.  If the fan you have chosen also has a light kit installed and your desire is to have wall switching available to control the light and fan separately, then additional wiring will most likely have to be performed to allow this to take place.

  • How ceiling fans work?

Most fans have two pull-cords - one for the fan and the other for the light.  If no light is installed then there usually is only one cord.  In some cases where the fan is installed in an area with high ceilings or in an industrial or commercial setting, the cords are usually removed since they will not be used.  In a case such as this, a wall control is used or a separate hand-held remote control may be available.  There will also be a switch, normally located on the side of the motor housing.  This switch is responsible for controlling the direction the fan blades turn.  This is further explained in the next paragraph.

Ceiling Fan Air Movement

When you turn the fan on, electricity flows through the electrical wiring to the

fan's motor, which begins turning the blades.  The rotation of the blades creates airflow throughout the room.  You can change the direction in which the blades turn by moving a switch (generally located on the side of the fan motor housing) in one of two positions.  In the summer months, in most cases, you will want the fan to move air in a general downward direction.  This is helpful in circulating air to help the air conditioner more efficiently cool the room.  In the winter, just the opposite is desired.  An updraft or upward air direction is helpful to more efficiently warm the room and generally will help lower the cost of heating the room as well.  Occasionally, there are circumstances in which it is beneficial to set the blade to turn in the opposite direction.  One example would be a case in which an area of a building has a very high ceiling that extends to the next level or further of the structure in question.  By setting the direction for 'winter' in the summer months, it can help to circulate cooler air to the next level.  As expected, just the opposite is accomplished by setting the direction for 'summer' in the winter months.  These settings may or may not work in all cases and the end user will have to determine what works best in each situation.

  • Energy Savings

As briefly mentioned above, a ceiling fan can reduce the cost of energy usage by a significant amount.  Since the air in the room is allowed to circulate more, then less demand is placed on the structure's heating and cooling units.  The end result is that you may be able to adjust your thermostat a few degrees, without noticing a difference in temperature and therefore saving energy and money as well.  It is important to only operate the fan when the room or area is occupied and turning it off when you leave.  This helps even further to reduce your energy usage.

  • Ceiling Fan Maintenance

Dust can damage a ceiling fan's moving parts if the fan isn't cleaned regularly.  The easiest way to clean your fan is to simply use dusting spray and a soft cloth.  The dust may fall onto furniture, so you may want to put down a drop cloth or sheet prior to cleaning.  You should do this every week or two to ensure that your fan continues to work properly.  Every few months, you can carefully remove the fan's light globes and wash them in soapy water.  Please insure that any we items are completely dry prior to reinstalling.

Regularly check your ceiling fan to ensure that all screws and bolts are tight.  Over time, these tend to loosen up and can cause the fan to wobble or make excessive noise.  Your fan should also be lubricated once a year to make sure that all of the parts are well oiled and continue to operate smoothly.  If you are unable to, or uncomfortable doing this, you may contact a qualified electrician to perform this for you.