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Ceiling fans can provide a major cooling benefit

April 11, 2005|by GENE GARY/Copley News Service

Q: I am considering the installation of several ceiling fans to provide better air circulation and cooling during warmer weather. I have been shopping at several specialty stores and home centers. I find that pricing varies widely - from the $50 range to well over $500 per fan. Of course, the sales people have encouraged me to buy the higher-priced models, touting better efficiency and dependability. I was hoping to save money on my energy costs for air conditioning. If I spend too much on fans, any savings will be gone. I am not even sure that fans will make a difference.

Do you have any information on the important features I should look for in this type of purchase, and the cost benefits (if any) vs. running my air conditioning unit, which is already installed?

A: A ceiling fan can supplement or replace air conditioning and make a big difference in both the comfort of your home and your energy bill. With sufficient air movement, you can feel comfortable at higher temperatures.

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For instance, a fan that runs as a complement to your air conditioner can make a room where the thermostat is set at 78 degrees feel like it's 72 degrees. This means you can turn the air conditioner thermostat up and save significantly on your cooling costs. Some studies show that a ceiling fan can cut electricity used for cooling up to 30 percent. Even an expensive fan can pay back its cost in utility bill savings over time.

But while ceiling fans may basically look alike, there are significant quality and structural differences among them. It's not wise to buy the lower-priced models. Within a year, a cheaper fan may wobble excessively and the motor may hum. However, this doesn't mean that you have to invest in the most expensive models for durability and efficiency. Some expensive models are priced for their cosmetic features, not operational superiority.

Things to look for in fan construction are motor housing material, bearing type, motor size, blade pitch, range of speeds, automatic speed,lighting controls and sound/vibration isolating features.

Die-cast or cast-iron housings are best. These are made to close tolerances. This heavier metal, as compared to a thin steel stamping, dissipates heat better, is more durable and provides longer motor life. A larger, more powerful motor also runs cooler and quieter.

Double-shielded, permanently lubricated bearings are best as they are both quiet and durable. When fan bearings are shielded on one side only, they're exposed to dust and can wear prematurely. Look for other motor or housing elements that reduce wear. Corrosion-free parts and a housing that promotes thermal conduction means the fan will run cooler. Direct-drive motors have fewer moving parts, less friction and wear less. Look for sound-and-vibration-reducing components between all metal parts.

A steeper pitch angle (twist) of the blades is better and moves more air at a lower speed. Most better-quality fans have a blade pitch of 13 degrees to 14 degrees.

Moisture warps inexpensive or improperly sealed fan blades. The best fan blades are made of laminated or solid hardwoods, which resist moisture and warping. Fans can wobble when cheaply made rotors get out of balance or blades are unmatched in pitch and weight. Most fans are available in antique or polished brass, chrome, white, brown, black and decorator colors. A quality finish is tarnish-and-scratch-free and results from multiple plating or enameling processes. A final clear coating gives extra protection.

Before you buy, consult the manufacturer's brochures or catalog for add-on light kits, replacement blades, wall-mounted or remote control units, and other accessories that you may want to add now or later. Be sure the manufacturer of your fan has a network of repair or replacement parts facilities. Some of the major brands have toll-free numbers for information on servicing and repair centers for their products.

Proper installation of your new fan is paramount to the success of its operation. Be sure to carefully follow installation guidelines provided by the manufacturer. Check the manufacturer's warranty prior to purchase and compare coverage with units offered by other manufacturers. Limited warranties vary - usually running from five years to the lifetime of the fan.

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