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Ceiling Fans 101: The Basics

We see them on a daily basis: ceiling fans. Marvelous devices that help to keep us cool during the summer and warm during the winter. Many people don’t even realize that ceiling fans are able to help you reduce the costs of heating or cooling your home when used properly. They’re supposed to be easy to install, but with so many options and types, this isn’t quite as true as it once was.

How they work

A ceiling fan moves air. That’s it, in a single sentence I’ve described the entire job provided by ceiling fans. But that isn’t exactly how they work, just what they do. Ceiling fans don’t actually cool your room down. The temperature in the room stays the same while a fan is running. You feel cooler because moving air helps water evaporate from your skin. So sitting under a spinning fan cools you off.

At the same time, moving air helps to balance the overall temperature of the room, removing hot and cold spots. For example: a fan running in reverse during the winter forces warm air from the ceiling back into circulation, balancing the temperature to a warmer average throughout the room. Fans provide heating and cooling relief through ventilation, by regulating average temperature.

How can this save you money on utilities? Using a ceiling or floor fan allows you to adjust the thermostat a few degrees. By raising the thermostat in the summer and lowering it in the winter, you save furnace fuel and electricity, while still keeping a comfortable home temperature.


Of course, fans come in many different types and styles. There’s a reason behind every mechanical choice on a fan. The basic differences are in mounting, blade type, and whether or not the fan has a light kit. But recently fans have been released with two different types of motors, AC and DC motors. The electrical explanation is a lengthy one, but for now, it’s best to remember that, while a DC motor is the more expensive version, it takes less energy to run.

Blades – The number and tilt of each blade affects the ventilation in your room. Longer blades will move more air, but they tend to move it more slowly. A higher blade count provides a more balanced (quieter) fan, but moves less air per blade. Higher blade counts are also heavier fans, and often require two people to install them. This is why the standard ceiling fan has between three and five blades. If you want a quiet fan with smooth airflow, choose a five blade fan.

Mounts – Where are you going to place your ceiling fan? It’s recommended that you have at least 8 feet of space beneath any ceiling fan you install. For vaulted ceiling you can use a special drop rod (which is necessary for slanted ceilings). But if you have a very low ceiling, surface mounted fans may be necessary. Don’t forget the cramped ceiling fans will be less effective since they have less space in which to circulate air around the room.

Lights – Whether it’s an aesthetic design choice or a utilitarian decision, adding a light kit to your fan will increase the difficulty of installation (more wires, more power to the fan, and additional controls). Adding lights to your ceiling fan can free up floor space if you’ve been using floor lamps. Most ceiling fan light kits also help to prevent the cave lighting effect given off by recessed lights. Just keep in mind that light kits are heavy, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a very sturdy mount for the ceiling fan if you use a light kit.

When you install a ceiling fan, it may be best to consult a licensed professional. The more complicated the ceiling fan, the more likely you are to connect something incorrectly. Smart fans, fans with multiple speed controls, light kits, and fans that are connected to more than one switch can all be very difficult to install. Add in the time and the weight of the fan and you’ll be better off seeking help. We trust you can do it yourself, but if you’d like help, feel free to call us at Mainstream Electric.