Ceiling Fan Buying Guide

Updated: Apr. 09, 2024

Keep a cool head with these tips for selecting and buying ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans are a must-have addition to any house. They circulate cool air when it’s hot, and they can be used to create an updraft in the winter, sending warm air around the room to help keep things cozy. That also helps you save on utility bills. Beyond the function, ceiling fans can also give the room a dramatic sense of style, or even plug into your wireless network. If you’re weighing a new ceiling fan purchase, here are some of the main factors to consider.

Ceiling Fan Types

Most ceiling fans consist of similar parts, from the mounting to blades. Many of those parts can be also replaced or modified. But as you begin the process of looking for one that fits your home, here are the four basic kinds.

Standard ceiling fans descend from a ceiling mount by a vertical bar, called a downrod. This gives plenty of space for air to move between the ceiling and the floor. These fans may be equipped with a light fixture, or they may be simply a blade kit. Most ceiling fans are reversible, allowing them to serve as cooling devices in the summer and warm air circulators during the winter.

Flush-mount fans are built with little to no drop from the ceiling. This gives occupants more head clearance, but it does come at a cost to efficiency. With less air between the ceiling and the blades, the fan works harder to achieve the same level of circulation.

Multi-head fans have a number of smaller fan heads built into them. Often the smaller heads rotate independently while the whole fixture turns.

Damp or wet-rated fans are fans designed to perform outdoors. They can be a great choice for unfinished garages, overhangs or decks.

Ceiling Fan Sizing

Ceiling fan sizing involves two primary factors, the height (length of the downrod) and the size of the fan blades.

Most ceiling fans get maximum efficiency when their blades are eight feet from the floor and at least a foot from the ceiling. But because many homes have eight-foot ceilings, most fans sit around seven feet above the floor. If that feels too close to your head, consider a flush-mount model. For taller ceilings, you can simply swap out a longer downrod to maintain the eight-to-nine-foot height that balances efficiency and appearance.

The proper blade size is determined by the overall square footage of the room. The Department of Energy’s Energy Star program breaks it down like this: For the average room of up to 144 sq. ft., choose a 42-in. fan. Larger rooms of 225 sq. ft. need a 44-in. fan. For a room that’s 400 sq. ft., look for a fan that’s 54 inches. Anything larger than that will require multiple fans.

Ceiling Fan Styles and Finishes

Ceiling fans are available in various styles and finishes, from classic to modern and even industrial chic. A well-designed fan will work no matter what its aesthetic, so you should be able to find a perfect match for your home’s decor without sacrificing function or efficiency.

Ceiling Fan Accessories

Ceiling fans are mostly standalone devices that do not come with many accessories, but there are two notable exceptions.

A remote control is especially helpful for high ceiling fans or for homeowners who appreciate a slimmer look without unsightly pull chains. Many remotes are wall mountable, so they can act as virtual wall switches but also can be moved to a bedside table or other convenient location. Plus, many fan remotes can be retrofitted, meaning that you can add this functionality to an existing conventional ceiling fan.

Smart fans are capable of communicating with a home wireless network, and are often controllable via a voice assistant such as Siri or Alexa. Smart fans frequently have controls and statistics available through a smart phone app, allowing them to be programmed or even to recognize and respond to activity in the house.

Ceiling Fan Blades

Ceiling fan blades can provide an attractive design element, but also deliver the main source of air movement. We’ve already discussed choosing fan blades that are the proper size for a room, but there’s one other factor to consider: Larger blades can deliver significant air displacement while moving at a lower speed. This can be very helpful in a room such as a home office or kitchen, where there may be loose papers or spices and flour.

Ceiling Fan Installation and Maintenance

Replacing or installing a ceiling fan is well within the skill set of most DIYers. One of the biggest considerations when installing a fan in place of a standard light fixture is to make sure you swap out the existing junction box for a ceiling fan box. As you’d expect, the motion of a ceiling fan can loosen or damage a traditional electrical box.

Luckily, the installation of a retrofit ceiling fan box is a great DIY project! Even a room with no existing ceiling fixture can add a ceiling fan, although that’s a bigger job with additional electrical work and will likely involve drywall and paint patches.

Ceiling fans have relatively minor maintenance needs. For most fans, that involves the occasional cleaning, or balancing the fan blades if there’s a noticeable wobble.