A Helpful Glossary of Common Ceiling Fan Terms
If you’re shopping for ceiling fans and it’s starting to feel like the descriptions are written in code, don’t worry! We’re here to solve the mystery with a list of basic terms you’ll need to know when looking for the right ceiling fan.
Ceiling Fan Types
Ceiling fans are most often categorized by their motor type, mount type, and/or weather rating.
AC and DC Motors
AC motors (alternating current motors) are the most popular ceiling fan motor. They’re typically less expensive than DC motors, which is great for budget buyers. They are relatively energy efficient, are very reliable, and come with around three to four different fan speeds.
DC motors (direct current motors) are a newer technology and often use a remote instead of a wall switch. DC motors make a quieter, more powerful fan with more speed options and are more efficient than AC motors.
Dual motor fans have two adjustable fan heads attached to a central motor. Each head is adjustable to its own speed and angle.
A high-velocity fan is a powerful fan. It produces a higher-than-normal amount of airflow, providing you with a stronger breeze.
The multiple terms for this accessory are purely regional, and all mean the same thing– the rod or bar installed between the ceiling and the fan. Downrods can be used in many rooms but create the most impact in rooms with high ceilings. Not only do they pull the eye upwards and make the room feel bigger, but they also bring the air circulation closer to you.
This type of mounting system is for level ceilings. Standard mounts usually come with a 3- to 5-inch downrod, so the fan slightly hangs down into the space.
Hugger or Flush Mount
These are perfect for low ceilings and tall people. Huggers are mounted against the ceiling and don’t use a downrod. Depending on the ceiling height, huggers or flush mount fans can help the ceiling seem higher while keeping your air circulated and fresh.
For a fan to be considered low-profile, it must hang down less than 12 inches from the ceiling. Most low-profile fans are flush mounts, but some fans with short downrods are small enough to qualify as low-profile as well.
A sloped mount is a mounting system that includes a downrod that allows the ceiling fan to be installed on a vaulted or slanted ceiling. The base is designed to let the downrod and fan hang at an angle when mounted so that the fan will be perpendicular to the floor.
Wet Rated or Outdoor Rated Fans
Outdoor or wet rated fans are designed to withstand direct contact with rain and snow. Carefully read the packaging of your outdoor fan because not all fans can handle the same weather exposure. If you live in a particularly wet or stormy area, you’ll need a tougher outdoor fan.
Industrial and Commercial Fans
Industrial fans have powerful motors and curved blades, and they can run continuously, making them ideal for large, open areas like warehouses and gyms. Commercial fans are heavier-duty than standard fans and more aesthetically pleasing than industrial fans. They’re commonly found in schools, businesses, and restaurants.
Ceiling Fan Measurements
This section covers the most common measurements used to describe a ceiling fan’s function and size.
Cubic feet per minute (CFM) refers to the amount of air moved by a ceiling fan, using the amount of air moved per cubic foot in one minute as the metric. The higher the airflow a fan uses, the more efficient your home can be as you recycle heated or cooled air. According to Energy Star, 75 CFM is the minimum airflow of an efficient ceiling fan.
The pitch measures the angle of the blades compared to the ground. Fan blades are slightly angled to push the air around. (If they were parallel to the floor, they wouldn’t do much!) The angle of blade pitches typically ranges between 10 and 25 degrees, but the most efficient is from 10 to 15 degrees.
Blade Sweep or Span
A fan’s sweep or span measures the diameter of the circle created by the blades. You’ll need to know the span of your fan to make sure it will fit properly in your room – if it’s too large it could scrape walls or snag curtains. On the other hand, it may be distracting and look out of place if it’s too small.
Motor Speed (RPM)
Revolutions per minute (RPM) refers to the speed of the blades as they rotate, measured by how many times the blades make a complete circle in one minute. High RPM fans move more air than low RPM fans of the same size, making them more efficient.
Some fans will require more electrical power (watts) than others, so it’s essential to have a good understanding of how much strain your new fan will put on the existing circuit. A good rule of thumb is the longer the fan blades, the more watts it will use. Expect your fan to use 55 to 100 watts.
Residential ceiling fans typically weigh anywhere from 8 pounds to 50 pounds. Keep in mind that lightweight ceiling fans are designed to hold their weight alone. You should never add anything to a ceiling fan that wasn’t in the original kit without carefully reading the manufacturer’s instructions. Some ceiling fans allow for customizable light kits. In that case, be sure to check the packaging for how much additional weight it can hold.
Number of Speeds
Most ceiling fans will have multiple speed settings so that you can control the amount of airflow and circulation in your space. Most fans will have three speeds (slow, medium, and maximum speed). You’ll also want to see if your fan can reverse direction– this will help pull warm air down from the ceiling during the winter and help to cycle your heated air.
You’ll need to check several measurements to ensure your fan fits correctly in the space. For example, both depth and width can refer to the blade span (or the size of the circle the fan will make). The width can also describe how wide the individual blades are. Finally, as mentioned earlier, the downrod is the pole that connects the fan to the ceiling mount. Together, these three dimensions will tell you how much space the fan will take up.
Pro tip: All fans are designed for specific square footage, meaning that some are designed to push air through large rooms while others are for small rooms. Fans designed for bigger spaces would be disruptive in a smaller room (and vice versa). The packaging of your fan will tell you the intended size of the room, so make sure to check the square footage of the intended space and match it to the appropriate fan.
Parts and Accessories
The final section describes potential upgrades and customization options to consider while shopping for your ceiling fan.
Many fans come with a light fixture attached (called an integrated light), but some can be purchased and attached depending on the fan. There are three different light kits that you can use with your fan: uplight kits which sit on top of the fan and point upwards, branched or stemmed kits use globes or shades that point up or down, but the most common light kit is the bowl or shade kit which attaches to the bottom of the fan. Keep in mind that some ceiling fans with an integrated light may not include a bulb– you may need to purchase bulbs separately.
Many fans available today are remote control or smart-home compatible. A remotely controlled fan may seem like a luxury, but it’s also very practical – especially for those with extremely high ceilings! Depending on the model and features, you’ll be able to adjust the lights, fan direction, and fan speed with ease.
Some fans allow for their blades to spin either clockwise or counterclockwise. This functionality helps to customize airflow according to the season. For example, the blades should turn counterclockwise in the summer to push the air down (a downdraft), providing cool breezes. The fan blades should rotate clockwise to pull air upwards (an updraft) in the winter, efficiently recycling heated air without cooling the room. You can either toggle the switch on the fan or use a remote to change the direction of the blades.
Ready to switch out your builder-grade fan or install a new one in the place of an existing light fixture? Now that you have a reference to all of the features and parts of a ceiling fan, you can shop confidently.
If you’d like additional information, a professional opinion, or installation assistance, contact the experts at Tidewater Lighting, and we’ll make sure you get exactly what you are looking for!