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25 Years of Innovation: Ceiling Fans

Today's models are marvels of quiet efficiency, available in almost every style imaginable

"Ceiling Fans, 25 Years of Innovation"
Photo by Bilderberg/Photonica
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You might not think it to look at one, but there's a pretty dramatic story behind the electric ceiling fan. Invented in 1882, its early applications were commercial—in city meat markets for instance, to turn away airborne pests. But fans' breeze-generating abilities soon made them staples in homes. That popularity wouldn't last long, though. By the mid-1900s, with the rise of air-conditioning, ceiling fans came to feel old-fashioned. It took the energy crisis of the 1970s to make them cool again.

The Past
Twenty-five years ago fans were still stuck in the Victorian era, with brass-finished motors, wood blades, and frosted-glass lights (that's if they weren't all-white "builder's specials" designed to disappear into the ceiling altogether). Mechanically, they weren't all that advanced, either. A fair amount of wobbling was considered normal, and most had only two speeds—on and off. But change was in the air. Over the next decade, improvements both inside and out would give rise to fans that were truly modern.

And another decade was needed for the fans to become truly stylish. In the 1980s, designers started experimenting with form, using a variety of materials and shapes to give fans a more architectural look. The technology got better too, with motors that self-cool and better-balanced blades. Today's ceiling fans are marvels of quiet efficiency, in just about any style you can imagine.

You might not think it to look at one, but there's a pretty dramatic story behind the electric ceiling fan. Invented in 1882, its early applications were commercial—in city meat markets for instance, to turn away airborne pests. But fans' breeze-generating abilities soon made them staples in homes. That popularity wouldn't last long, though. By the mid-1900s, with the rise of air-conditioning, ceiling fans came to feel old-fashioned. It took the energy crisis of the 1970s to make them cool again.

The Past
Twenty-five years ago fans were still stuck in the Victorian era, with brass-finished motors, wood blades, and frosted-glass lights (that's if they weren't all-white "builder's specials" designed to disappear into the ceiling altogether). Mechanically, they weren't all that advanced, either. A fair amount of wobbling was considered normal, and most had only two speeds—on and off. But change was in the air. Over the next decade, improvements both inside and out would give rise to fans that were truly modern.

And another decade was needed for the fans to become truly stylish. In the 1980s, designers started experimenting with form, using a variety of materials and shapes to give fans a more architectural look. The technology got better too, with motors that self-cool and better-balanced blades. Today's ceiling fans are marvels of quiet efficiency, in just about any style you can imagine.

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The Present

 

The Present

Ceiling Fan with blades connected directly to the motor
Photo by Bilderberg/Photonica
Want metal blades? Wood? How about canvas? Uplights, downlights, or no lights at all? Today's fans are as much about asthetics as they are about function. Here's just a sampling of what the major manufacturers have to offer.



Modern Fan Company's Stratos, introduced in 1988, was one of the first fans to embrace a modern aesthetic. Its blades connect directly to the motor, rather than fastening into the traditional blade irons. Doing away with exposed screws not only makes for a sleek design, it also eliminates rattles.



Polycarbonate blades and a brushed-nickel housing give Quorom International's Angel the look of sculpture. But it's more than just a pretty fan; the blades span a respectable 42 inches, and the cable comes in lengths from 6 inches to 6 feet for a variety of ceiling heights.



It's called the Enigma, but Jaws might be a more apt name for the single-bladed model by Fanimation. It's 30-inch blade slices through air like a fin through water. With an 18-degree pitch, the uniblade still manages to push a lot of air.



The Clairion's blades have air filters built in, so as it circulates air, it also reduces odors and allergens.



The integrated uplighting on Hunter's Charmaine illuminates a room without glare or strobing.



Island style is hot these days, and Hampton Bay's Tahiti Breeze plays right into the trend — plus it's rated for damp locations (just right for that seaside veranda). Pull chains add to the tropical charm, but don't be fooled: The fan is remote-control ready.

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The Future

 

The Future

Ceiling fan with polycarbonate blades and a brushed-nickel housing
Photo by Bilderberg/Photonica
So where do fans go from here? We asked Ron Rezek, founder of the Modern Fan Company, whose designs in the late 80's reinvented the industry, to help us imagine the fan of the future. Here are some of the features he sees on the horizon.

  • With their bird's-eye view, ceiling fans will make ideal housing for the home's security devices, including smoke detectors and burglar arms.

  • Fans work by evaporative cooling, so they're really only effective when people are present. Proximity sensors will keep the units whirling only when the room is occupied.

  • Outdoor fans are increasingly popular. The next step: built-in insect repellents. Coatings on the bulbs will react with a fan's fluorescent light to produce the repellent.

  • Fan lighting will continue to get more sophisticated. In one scenario, fluorescents provide ambient light, while pinpoint LEDs accent a piece of artwork.

  • Fans are efficient, but the government wants better. Aerodynamic arched blades, made from lightweight graphite, will push more air using fewer watts, in accordance with the EPA's ever-tightening energy specifications.


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Innovations

 

Innovations

single-bladed ceiling fan
Photo by Bilderberg/Photonica
Improvements over the past quarter century have focused on making fans more efficient and easier to operate, with quieter motors and better lighting.

LIGHTS


Integrated lighting (as opposed to light kits that attach to the bottom of the motor) makes for sturdier construction and sleeker design. Many fans now feature glare-reducing uplighting as well as energy-efficient fluorescent or halogen bulbs.

REMOTE CONTROL


First it was pull chains, then wall switches, and now remote controls. The most advanced have thermostatic sensors and built-in timers to save on energy costs.

MOTORS AND BLADES


Today's motors are stronger and quieter, and their multiple speeds and reverse settings help circulate heated air in the winter. Four blades used to be the standard; today it's five. Blade spans are wider too—up to 60 inches—and where old fans had blades that sat parallel to the ceiling, now blades tilt at angles as great as 20 degrees. The result is far better movement of air.

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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

ceiling fan with air filters
Photo by Bilderberg/Photonica
The Stratos:
The Modern Fan Company
Ashland, OR
888-588-3267
www.modernfan.com

The Enigma:
Fanimation
Zionsville, IN
888-567-2055
www.fanimation.com

The Clairion:
Clairion Home Care Products
Quebec, Canada
800-633-9007
www.clairion.com

The Charmaine:
Hunter Fans
Nashville, TN
800-448-6837
www.hunterfan.com

Tahiti Breeze:
Hampton Bay
available at The Home Depot
800-553-3199
www.homedepot.com

Angel:
Quorum International
Fort Worth, TX
817-626-5483
www.quoruminternational.com



 
 

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