Residential ceiling fans long have been known as appliances that can help you to save energy—and money on your monthly energy bills. They move cool air around to keep air-conditioning use down and, when they are reversed, they can spread warm air when you heat your home.
Now thanks to a few innovations, these energy-saving workhorses can help you to save even more energy. But be careful: You might end up paying more for today’s energy-efficient ceiling fans than any savings that you might receive in the near term.
EFFICIENT MOTORING. Ceiling fans always have been energy-efficient, says David Turner of Casablanca and Hunter Fan, but models that have new direct-current (DC) motors have taken energy efficiency to a new level.
DC motors, which also recently emerged in power tools and kitchen appliances, were introduced in ceiling fans in 2009 by Emerson, and 33 such models by eight manufacturers now are on the market. Ceiling fans that have DC motors consume less energy than do models that have traditional shaded-pole motors, because after the fan achieves the desired speed, a built-in magnetic drive keeps the fan moving while it uses minimal electricity.
Typical ceiling fans use about 84 watts when they’re set to their highest speed, Turner says, and as few as 10 watts on low speed. But ceiling fans that have DC motors use between 25 and 30 watts on their highest speed and as little as 1 watt on their lowest speed.
Scott Forst of Monte Carlo, which makes DC-motor ceiling fans, says using such a ceiling fan can save consumers about $35 per year depending on their local electricity rates. However, we didn’t find any independent verification of that amount.
Manufacturers also say DC-motor models should provide longer life than traditional ceiling-fan motors will, because the DC motor doesn’t heat up as much when it’s in operation, which makes it less prone to wear and eventual burnout. This claim makes sense to us, but the motor that’s on traditional ceiling fans typically lasts 8–10 years, says Mike Scott of Lowe’s, and because DC-motor ceiling fans are relatively new, the claim of longer life ultimately is a wait-and-see matter.
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Less nebulous are other claims of the benefits that DC-motor ceiling fans deliver beyond their efficient operation. For example, DC-motor ceiling fans have more speed options and thus give you more control over how much air that you move around your living space. Traditional ceiling fans typically have three speeds, but the DC-motor models that we found have as many as seven speeds. DC-motor ceiling fans also operate more quietly than do traditional ceiling fans, Turner says. However, we found no hard evidence of how much quieter a ceiling fan that has a DC motor is compared with a ceiling fan that uses a typical motor.
It all sounds great, right? Well, hold on to your wallet, because you’ll pay a lot more to get a DC-motor ceiling fan. These models start at the premium price of $347 for a model for which blades must be purchased separately, and they run as high as $1,031 for a model that has blades included. We compared two similar models and found a price differential of almost $200 between the traditional model and the model that was powered by a DC motor. DC-motor models cost more because of the motor’s complicated onboard circuitry, which has more parts than a typical ceiling-fan motor has, says Jeff Dross of manufacturer Kichler.
Based on Forst’s savings claim, the price premium between traditional and DC-motor ceiling fans means that it would take at least 6 years before the DC-motor model would start to pay for itself in electricity savings.
But that might change before long. Manufacturers say they expect the price of DC-motor ceiling fans to drop below $200 in the next 3 years as electronic assembly costs decrease.