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Rudi Kiefer: Ceiling fans can help cool rooms, but don’t skimp on motor, installation
Rudi Kiefer
Electric fans are a good means to supplement air conditioning. The most effective solution is the ceiling-mounted fan.

Models with less than 52-inch blade diameter are intended for small rooms. The large ones come in fancy designs with huge-looking motors, at prices ranging from about $40 to well over $200.

This is where the “get what you pay for” principle comes into play. Inexpensive ceiling fans tend to be underpowered. The bulbous enclosure often hides a very small motor that has to work hard to turn the blades. The result is an annoying buzzing sound. A cheap fan like this also doesn’t move much air to speak of.

In order to make the motor’s work easier, the manufacturers set the blades at a low angle, which makes for a pretty ceiling decoration with little practical use. In the fastest setting, cheap fans often sway and shake to the point of being scary.

The best value for the money is in established brands of the middle-price class. Running in low gear, a ceiling fan of a major brand moves the air almost unnoticeably, but the room feels cooler. Most fans come with a switch that reverses airflow from “downward” to “upward.” I’ve never noticed a benefit from the upward mode in any season.

If the ceiling fan has a light fixture, the slight buzz from the motor seems to disturb modern LED bulbs. After several of them quit, I went back to the fluorescent spiral type, which seems to be more tolerant.

Installing a ceiling fan isn’t difficult for anyone with electrical experience. Things can go wrong, though, if mistakes are made. A ceiling fan mustn’t be screwed straight into the plastic light box. It isn’t designed to hold that much weight. Hardware centers offer a metal brace that screws between the ceiling joists, with a box attached underneath. This must be capable of supporting at least 40 pounds.

To my horror, upon moving into an older house I discovered a ceiling fan suspended from two nails in a children’s room. During the whole-house rewiring job, I found our county’s code inspector to be a good resource with helpful suggestions.

Spend about $140 plus installation, or install the fan yourself if you have the expertise and are familiar with electrical codes. A much fresher-feeling home environment will be the reward.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at