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.
How they work
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 alternative to portable and ducted reverse-cycle air conditioners, and are much cheaper to buy and run. There are also plenty of well-designed options that can actually 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.
A current of air: AC vs DC
Ceiling fans using an alternating current (AC) motor are the most common kind, and are an economical and cost-effective option. On the flip side, 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, with only three settings.
Ceiling fans can dominate your space a little once installed, so depending on your decor and priorities, design might be a big factor in your decision. A good retailer, no matter how fancy, should be able to answer your questions about any of the following features and considerations.
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.
While most fans have wooden blades (timber, plywood or MDF), a few are stainless steel, aluminium, or plastic. In testing we've found there's generally no difference in cooling ability between fans with wood and stainless-steel blades. Fans with wooden or plastic blades tend to be quieter, making them more suitable for bedrooms.
Reversing the direction of the fan draws air upwards rather than downwards, aiding in 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.
Fan balance kit
This helps correct wobbles that can rob a fan of efficiency and also lead to extra noise during operation.
Fan control options include a pull-cord control on the bottom of the fan or a wall switch that usually replaces the light switch. A remote control not only provides a good level of control, it also allows easier fan installation in situations that make it difficult to rewire to a light switch.
Settings and ease of use
Some fans are regulated with a pull-cord that dangles from the fan itself (pull once for lowest setting, again for the next highest, etc.). Remote-controlled fans are the easiest to use and to change settings on. Wall switches are also easy to use, but they require professional installation.
This 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...
Wiring and mounting
Some have to be wired in by a qualified electrician or their warranties will be voided.
Screaming fans: a note on noise
If it's possible to hear the fan in operation before you buy it, do it! There's nothing worse than having to choose between a hot room and a noisy one. 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 for faster and more effective air circulation.
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.
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.