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No one likes to feel hot and bothered. Our South African summers can be sweltering and there are days when you just cannot find respite from the heat. For various reasons, an air-conditioning unit may not be right for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in the heat. Installing a ceiling fan, a mechanical device with rotating paddles that circulates the air, can make a huge difference in a hot, humid room. While very practical for cooling, a ceiling fan can also add to the aesthetic appeal of the room, provided you choose the unit correctly.


Brief history

Fans have come a long way from the first palm fronds waved at the Romans by attentive slaves. Mechanically speaking, the first ceiling fan, a water-powered fan, was developed in 1886 by John Hunter and his son, James, in the United States. The invention of this belt-driven fan with blades put the family’s shotgun manufacturing business on the map. The company is still in existence today. 


The first electric ceiling fan was developed in 1882 by Philip Diehl. In 1887, he obtained a US patent for the ceiling fan. The fans were used in factories, hotels and later restaurants. It was Diehl who decided to add lighting to the fan and later developed a combination fan/chandelier.


The ceiling fan remains in use in modern homes today. It is a good option for those cautious about energy consumption, but remember – fans don’t cool a room, they cool people, so turn the fan off when you leave the room.  


How they work

Ceiling fans don’t cool the air like air  conditioning, but their rotation aids air flow around a room and improves the level of comfort. The fan consists of some main parts that include a motor, capacitor, blades (also called paddles), metal arms, a flywheel, rotor and motor housing and housing for the switches. Some units operate on a
pull chain.


When you turn on your ceiling fan, you activate a switch that allows electrical current to the motor, which turns the blades. As the blades cut through the air (going counterclockwise), they push air downward, creating a breeze. The length, pitch and balance of the blades are more important than the number of blades. The longer the blade, the more air it moves – important for room size. The blade pitch is the angle at which the blades move through the air, measured from a 180° horizontal plane and the fan’s blade tilt. The optimal pitch is between 12° and 15° and allows the fan to move a sufficient amount of air through the room to produce a ‘wind chill’ or breeze that feels cool on your skin without creating a gale force wind below. 


The unit’s motor drives the blades and should operate quietly. This is especially important for fans used in the bedroom as you will not be able to sleep if the motor is noisy. Most ceiling fans include a switch control for different speed settings. A remote control is a great feature to have. You can control the fan from a distance – either to turn it off, change the speed or turn the lights on or off.


Choose the right fan for your home


What the unit offers

Consider why you want a ceiling fan. Do you need integrated lighting? Does the unit have a remote control? Where will the fan be placed? Ceiling fans can be used on a porch or patio, but this must be a unit manufactured specifically for outdoor use. “When purchasing a fan, the air movement that it generates is what is important. The following should be considered before buying: motor size, blade angle, blade shape, blade size, number of blades and material used – all affect the product’s efficiency or how it moves the air,” says Eben Kruger of Eurolux. 


If you have an existing air conditioning unit, a fan can improve your level of comfort. “There are various instances when it is better to cool down an area by employing both an air conditioner and a fan,” says Eben. “The key difference being that an air conditioner removes humidity from the
air, while a fan circulates the air around and so accelerates the body’s natural evaporation process.”


Match the décor

“For a streamlined and well-put together end result, it is imperative that your choice of ceiling fan complements the rest of the room’s décor,” says Melissa Davidson, director at The Lighting Warehouse. “Decorators are treating fans almost like pieces of furniture. Designers are using ceiling fans in places they previously used chandeliers – and best of all, these pieces have double the functionality. Current trends in ceiling fans include a much broader selection, especially in modern styles; a richer choice of materials and detailing; the availability of fan-integrated lighting that is much more energy efficient; and remote control options.”


Right for the room size

Rooms that are warm throughout the year and need better airflow will benefit from a ceiling fan. “A rule of thumb is to use a ceiling fan with an approximate diameter of around 1.5m for a space that measures around 120m2,” explains  Melissa. “For a room that measures around 70 square metres, a fan with a 1.3m diameter will do the trick but for smaller rooms, a fan with a diameter of 1m will suffice. For rooms that measure 5.5m in length, it is wise to consider using two medium-sized fans running along the length of the space.”


Fan placement

The fan should be hung in the middle of a room for best air circulation, but for safety reasons, never hang a fan directly over a bed. Blade tips should be at least half a metre away from walls or sloping ceilings. “For rooms with a ceiling height of 2.5m or more, hang the fan from a drop rod so that the fan is positioned lower, where it can be felt more effectively,” says Melissa. “The distance the fan should hang from the ceiling will depend on the ceiling’s height, however a ceiling fan should never hang lower than 2m from the floor.”


Also consider the securing point, cautions Eben Kruger. “The average fan weighs in at 8kg and above, and because it moves, the stress on the ceiling is high, so a load-bearing structure needs to be in place to support the fan,” he explains. “In most cases it will be necessary to enter the ceiling to properly secure the fan.”


Install a ceiling fan

According to Louis Pretorius of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (SA) the installation of a ceiling fan has SANS 10142-1 implications and as such constitutes an addition or alteration. You will require a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) to be issued at the completion of the installation. Legally speaking, units that are ‘hard wired’ (those that must be wired into the distribution board) may only be installed by an electrician. Units that plug into a socket do not require a registered electrician.


How to balance your fan

An unbalanced ceiling fan can make a lot of noise and can be very irritating, if not scary! The wobble may be caused by anything from dust to loose blade holders. The fan must be turned off before you attempt any of these steps to fix it:


Step 1: Check the fan blades for a build-up of dust. A surprising amount of dust can accumulate on the blades, and quickly too. Using a cloth dipped in warm soapy water, clean the blades. Dry thoroughly. Turn on the fan. If it still shakes, continue to the next step.


Step 2: Check the screws where the blades attach to the housing. Tighten loose screws. Also check for and clean away dust under the blade holders. Turn the fan on and check if it is balanced. Continue to step 3 if a problem still exists.


Step 3: Check the alignment of the blades. Use a ruler, steel tape measure or dowel stick to measure the distances from the ceiling to the end of each fan blade. The distance from the ceiling to the blade should be the same for all blades. If any of the blades are closer or further away to the ceiling, use gentle pressure and bend the blade slightly at the blade holder.


Step 4: If the problem still persists, check the box your fan came in. Many products include a fan balancing kit that comprises a u-shaped clip and small weights. The weights attach to the top of the fan blade by means of self-adhesive tape. Place the clip in the middle of the blade. Turn the fan on and check for the wobble. Through trial and error, find the correct spot to place the weight. Once you locate the problem, remove the clip and replace with a supplied weight. Peel back the self-adhesive tape and press into place. If you do not have a fan balancing kit, use a small washer in place of the weight. Use a good quality adhesive to hold it in place. 



The Lighting Warehouse


Electrical Contractors’ Association (SA)


Cool runnings 

You don’t have to break the bank to stay cool this summer – a stylish ceiling fan will do the job effectively, and enhance the overall look of the room at the same time

By Gina Hartoog

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