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Check Out What’s Going Around

Annie Groer(c) 2007, The Washington Post

The electric ceiling fan has been around since the 1880s, circulating air that cools the skin to make summers more bearable. Today there is a dizzying array of models – ranging from $29 to $3,500 – and choices involving room size and ceiling height, blade length and pitch, accessories and weather resistance. Oh, yes, and decorative style. One easy way to gauge efficiency amid all of those variables is the CFM rating – cubic feet per minute of circulated air per watt of electricity – says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating program. The higher the number, the more air gets moved. Federal regulations won’t require CFM data to be displayed on fan packaging, brochures or Web sites until January 2009, says David Lathrop, engineering manager for Emerson Electric, which has made ceiling fans since 1895. Only those carrying an Energy Star rating must list CFM now. Sandy DeWald, ceiling fan marketing manager for Memphis-based Hunter Fan, advises consumers to ask retailers for the CFM numbers for models they carry. Other fan basics: SIZE Room dimensions are key to choosing the right fan, DeWald says. Fans usually start around 30 inches across, measured from blade tip to blade tip, and can top 72 inches. The most popular size is 52 inches. A room up to 10 feet by 10 feet (100 square feet) can be handled by a 30- to 36-inch fan; up to 15 by 15 feet (225 square feet), a 42- to 44-inch fan; up to 20 by 20 feet (400 square feet), a 52- to 54-inch fan. In a very large space, particularly one with high ceilings, a 56- to 72-incher or a second fan will be more effective. BLADES The earliest fans had four blades; today’s have two to six. It seems counterintuitive, but the fewer the blades, the more air is moved around, DeWald says. Yet five-blade fans are the most popular because “it is difficult to communicate to the consumer that less is more. Three blades tend to be more contemporary in look, and two tend to be more of a vintage look.” Pitch, or the angle of the blades relative to the motor, usually ranges from 6 to 16 degrees. The higher the pitch, the more air can be moved. Blade materials also vary. Inexpensive fans use blades made of particle board, which in humid regions can absorb moisture and warp over time, causing the fan to wobble. More expensive models use plastic, paper-wrapped or veneered plywood, solid wood, rattan, metal, canvas or silk blades, largely for appearance’s sake. To gauge efficiency, check the CFM rating, DeWald says. POSITIONING Locating a fan directly over a seating or sleeping area provides maximum comfort, DeWald says: “You need to be reasonably close to the fan to feel it.” Blades should be at least eight inches from the ceiling for optimum air circulation and at least seven feet from the floor for safety. In rooms with low ceilings, use a low-profile or “hugger” fan that is almost flush-mounted. INSTALLATION Fans can be heavy (some exceed 50 pounds), so they must be securely mounted to a wooden ceiling joist and reinforced with a strong brace. There should also be an Underwriters Laboratories-approved ceiling fan electrical outlet box attached to the joist, the EPA’s Vargas says. ACCESSORIES Many fans come with remote controls. Ceiling fans manufactured since Jan. 1 that include light kits must accommodate energy-saving candelabra-base, intermediate-base or compact fluorescent bulbs. OUTDOOR MODELS Never put an indoor fan in an outdoor space, even if the room is partly enclosed, DeWald says. For a sun porch, use a damp-rated fan: all of the plastic parts, including the blades, must be resistant to ultraviolet rays; all hardware, hinges and enclosures must be corrosion-proof. For an open space such as a patio or gazebo, use a wet-rated fan, which has the same features as a damp-rated fan plus stainless-steel hardware and sealed electrical housing. ENERGY SAVINGS Fans with blades that reverse direction can save energy year-round, Vargas says. They move enough cool air counterclockwise or warm air clockwise to allow users to raise the air conditioner setting or lower the furnace thermostat a few degrees while in rooms with fans. “Remember, fans cool people, not air,” Vargas says. “When you leave the room, turn it off.”


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