Nothing says summer like a ceiling fan lazily (or furiously) circling above your head, but you can get your money's worth from one in the cooler months too, by using it to move warm air from the ceiling area down to the living area of the room.
Ceiling fans using an alternating current (AC) motor are the most likely type you'll find in an existing installation. And they tend to be cheaper – under $200.
Fans using a direct current (DC) motor are becoming more common and deliver even greater efficiency, further lowering running costs. Speed options with DC models also allow more control over air movement – up to seven settings – compared to most AC models, which have only three settings.
In our latest review of ceiling fans, models ranged from $69 to $1200. But price is not always an indicator of quality.
A good retailer should be able to answer your questions about any of the following features and considerations.
Ceiling fans can dominate your space, so depending on your decor and priorities, design might be a big factor in your decision. There are plenty of well-designed ceiling fans that can enhance the look of a room – a retro-style ceiling fan might suit your home much better than a bulky, wall-mounted air conditioner unit.
Minimum ceiling height needs to be between 2.1m and 2.4m, depending on the model you choose, for the best performance. If your ceiling is significantly higher, you may need an extension rod to lower the fan to an optimal level. A couple of low-profile models we tested allow you to install the fan in a room with a lower-than-standard ceiling height.
Fan blades can be wooden (timber, plywood or MDF), stainless steel, aluminium, or plastic. In testing we've found there's generally no difference in cooling ability between the different blade materials. Fans with wooden or plastic blades tend to be quieter, making them more suitable for bedrooms.
Controls and settings
Fan control options include:
- Pull-cord Connected to the bottom of the fan – simply pull once for the lowest setting, again for the next highest, etc.
- Wall switch Usually combined with the light switch. Easy to use, but requires professional installation.
- Remote control Also easy to use and allows for easier fan installation in situations that make it difficult to rewire to a light switch.
A light built in to the fan can be a useful feature. If you rely on an existing light fitting mounted above the fan, you could end up with a strobe lighting effect – great for parties, less so for relaxing on a warm evening.
- Tip: Some fans that have the option of an integrated light when you buy the product won't support the adding of a light at a later date. So if you think you may need a light, it might be a good idea to get it just in case.
Fan balance kit
This helps correct wobbles that can rob a fan of efficiency and create extra noise.
Reversible rotation in winter
Reversing the direction of the fan draws air upwards rather than downwards, moving warm air around in winter without creating a downward breeze in the room. This is useful on its own, or when used together with a heater or reverse-cycle air conditioner.
DC fans deliver up to seven speeds including reverse. But even if your fan can't go in reverse, you may find one of the slowest normal speeds works well for you in winter by driving warm air down from the ceiling without creating a significant draft effect.
Smart fans starting to appear on the market can automatically start when the temperature reaches a certain point, or using a proximity sensor associated with an app on your smartphone.
You may be able to DIY a pull-cord or remote control fan, but a fan with a wall switch will need to be professionally installed.
- Tip: Some fans have to be wired in by a qualified electrician or their warranties will be voided.
It's no fun choosing between a hot room and a noisy one.
If it's possible to hear the fan in operation before you buy it, do it! Check the noise with the fan on 'low', particularly if it's for use in a bedroom, and on 'high', a setting that's likely to be used in a living room.
- Tip: Fans with wooden or plastic blades tend to be quieter.
Humming and buzzing sounds
We've received reports of humming or buzzing noises in ceiling fans caused by ripple control signals sent through the electricity supply (to switch devices such as hot water systems on and off for off-peak tariff switching). This is a known problem that's unlikely to be covered by the fan's warranty. Your electricity supplier may be able (or even required) to fix the problem, so contact them in the first instance to see how they can help.
Ceiling fans don't actually lower the room temperature, but instead work the same way that a breeze does: by moving air around and over your skin, which cools you by accelerating perspiration evaporation. They can be an effective and low-cost alternative to air conditioners.
More cooling advice
- A fan (or air conditioner) will be much more effective if your home is as heat-proof as possible. Check out natural cooling guide for some heat-reducing tips.
- Can't stand the heat, even with a fan? See which reverse-cycle air conditioners we recommend.
- Renting or on a budget? We review pedestal fans and portable air conditioners too.