When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, I never saw a ceiling fan in my friends’ homes. We called them “swamp coolers,” and they appeared as props in movies that were set in the deep South or in Casablanca.
While I never saw a real one as a kid, ceiling fans date back to the late 1800’s, when they were originally powered by water. In 1882, Philip Diehl, the German-American inventor of the motor for Singer sewing machines, adapted his sewing machine motor for the ceiling fan. Electric ceiling fans grew in popularity and were quite commonplace in both America and abroad by the 1920’s. Movies from the 20’s often feature them in restaurants and hotel lobbies.
Between the 1930’s and 1950’s in the U.S., however, the fans went out of vogue. Thus, my lack of experience with them as a child (which dates me as a Baby Boomer!) However, with the oil shortages of the 1970s, we started to wake up to the cost of electricity, and the fans experienced a revival. Since the 1970’s their popularity has gone up and down, but has been in uptrend since about 2000, when energy conservation again became a priority.
Ceiling fans don’t cool air like air conditioners. Instead they move air and help people feel cooler in summer. Many people don’t realize that they can also be used to help us feel warmer in winter, and so save electricity year round.
In summer, a ceiling fan creates the same effect as a breeze. It helps evaporate perspiration on the skin and cools it by a couple of degrees. For the cooling effect, the blades should blow air down on people, usually by rotating counter-clockwise when seen from below. The blades should spin with the upturned edges leading.
Most ceiling fans provide a button for switching direction. If your fan has this button, the fan can be used to warm your family in the winter. Warm air in a home rises, so the fan can be used to bring warm air down from the ceiling towards people. Push the button to reverse direction so that the downturned edges of the blades lead. In most fans, the blades will turn clockwise.
Now the fan will pull cool air from the floor up towards the ceiling, pushing down the warmer air near the ceiling towards people. At the same time, the fan isn’t blowing on people so doesn’t create a wind-chill effect.
The fan motors use less energy than air conditioners and furnaces, so each degree that they cool or warm is “bought” for less. Using ceiling fans is a good way to stay comfortable while saving electricity and money. However, turn them off when no one is in the room because moving the air around an empty room is of no benefit.
Fans come in a variety of colors and a variety of styles, such as with wooden or faux wooden blades. Ceiling fans come both with lights and without. To save even more electricity, some come with a dimmer control on the lights. The lower the lights, the less electricity used. You can choose your own ceiling fan from a lighting store and either install it yourself or hire a qualified electrician.