Ceiling Fans

Once considered the white elephants of home decor, today's ceiling fans are as stylish and versatile as they are practical.
Robert Martin, Rebecca G. Warren

A Lot of Hot Air
Okay, so we know how good it feels to sit under a ceiling fan on a hot day, but how effective are they, really, in cooling things off? "Air circulation is the key to optimizing both cooling and heating, and ceiling fans are still the best way to accomplish this," says Mona Pearson, owner of a lighting and home decor business in Birmingham. She can attest from her own experience and customer feedback that ceiling-mounted or rod-extended fans do make a difference. "It's about those fundamental things we learned in grade school concerning gravity and hot air rising," she explains.

By setting fan blades to revolve counterclockwise in the summer, you ensure both a downdraft and windchill effect from your fan, which forces the lighter, hotter air collecting near the ceiling to mix with the lower, cooler zones to level out the room temperature. By reversing the blade rotation to clockwise in wintertime, hot air is forced to recirculate without creating a cooling effect. There is a switch on the side of the fan housing that can be adjusted manually to change the rotation of fan blades.

While air-conditioning units are truly a godsend, Southerners still cherish a good ceiling fan (or two or more). If you think little has changed with these handy air stirrers, you may be surprised. We've highlighted what is new and helpful, both in terms of energy savings (see above) and popular trends.

Cool Trends
As Lowe's home-improvement stores' director of trend and design, Melissa Birdsong is keenly aware of what homeowners are looking for in ceiling fans. Here are her observations on these consumer criteria.

  • Eighty percent of all fans are purchased with light kits, and of the remaining number, many homeowners end up adding a lighting component. This versatility enables you to change or update a unit's look without having to buy a completely new model. "Fandiliers" (the newest hybrid of ceiling fans and stylish light fixtures) are a great choice for dining rooms and more formal spaces.
  • Ceiling fans operated by remote control (which regulate speed, blade direction, and lights) are very popular and typically outsell units that function with wall-mount controls.
  • Oil-rubbed or textured bronze, nickel, antique brass, and pewter are all popular finishes right now. Polished, high-sheen brass is less common but is showing signs of revival as a finish option. Fan units with a more industrial or streamlined stainless steel look are becoming vogue as well. Certain manufacturers even offer multicolored blades for children's rooms. Still, white units remain the top sellers because of their inconspicuous appearance against white ceilings.

Wobble Woes
Does your ceiling fan produce more than just pleasant breezes? Maybe it's making a noisy, humming sound or an off-center grind? The problem could result from several things. For one, blades that are not properly sealed can absorb moisture, causing them to warp. Also, blades set at different pitches, even ever so slightly, lead to less efficient functioning. Other issues might be how the fan is mounted to the ceiling or a subpar fan motor and inner workings. Securing the fan with additional screws or fasteners could solve matters. Also try carefully taping a penny or two to one of the blades to help ones that are out of balance. More detailed problems might require an electrician's help, returning the unit back to the store or manufacturer, or buying a new one altogether.

Prices for new ceiling fans run anywhere from $40 (fans with no light components) up to $120 for traditional units with lights. More contemporary or detailed models can run into hundreds of dollars. Because of weather-resistant finishes and other engineering, outdoor-safe fans tend to be higher in price than comparable interior ones.