High-tech ceiling fans for low-tech cooling
Winter has barely ended in Vermont, but the forecast is for 82 degrees tomorrow. This makes me think about strategies for keeping cool in the months ahead. I’m looking forward to trying out the high-tech ceiling fans we installed in our two upstairs bedrooms. I’ll get to those fans in a minute, but first I’ll explain why I like ceiling fans so much.
By moving air, moisture is evaporated from our skin, cooling us through evaporative cooling. With modest air movement in a room, most people will be comfortable at an air temperature at least five or six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than would otherwise be the case.
To clear up a misconception: ceiling fans do not actually cool the air in a room -- in fact, they slightly increase the air temperature, because of the waste heat from the fan motor -- but they allow you to be comfortable at a warmer air temperature. In other words, they raise your threshold of comfort.
If you are normally comfortable in the summer with the air temperature around 75 degrees, for example, with a ceiling fan operating, you might be just as comfortable with an air temperature of 81 or 82 degrees.
Because ceiling fans don’t involve the energy-intensive vapor-compression cycle, as do standard air conditioners, they use far less electricity, so they can save you a lot of money. A typical ceiling fan uses 90 to 110 watts of electricity, with Energy Star models averaging 65 watts.
For decades, ceiling fans have changed little. Often called "paddle fans" or "Casablanca fans," most ceiling fans use rotating fan blades operated by standard AC (alternating current) electric motor. The waste heat generated by these fan motors necessitates the large, ventilated metal shroud that you see on most ceiling fans. Many of these fans become noisy as they age, as heat results in de-lamination of steel in the motor core.
Enter the Haiku fan
Several years ago, the uniquely named company Big Ass Fans, long a leading manufacturer of very large fans used for commercial buildings and warehouses, introduced their first residential ceiling fan, trademarked Haiku. In late 2012, our company, BuildingGreen, impressed by Haiku’s energy performance, named this a Top-10 Green Building Product for 2013. I was anxious to try out these fans in our new house.
The Haiku fan features a sleek, attractive, aerodynamic design for the airfoils (blades) in either bamboo or a plastic composite. All Haiku fans are 60 inches in diameter. Our fans are made of the composite material, in white; they elicit great comments from most visitors to our house.
Haiku fans have brushless, DC (direct-current) motors with advanced electronic controls; these are known as electronically commutated motors, or ECMs. The Haiku has seven speeds, compared with just three for standard ceiling fans. These features contribute to the very low energy consumption of just two to 30 watts, depending on the speed.
Haiku fans are by far the most energy-efficient fans rated by Energy Star, exceeding the Energy Star requirements by 450 to 750 percent.
and multiple settings
One of the features I’m most excited about is the incredibly quiet operation. At lower speeds, you can’t even hear the fan. Noise had kept us (mostly my wife) away from ceiling fans in the past.
Along with the multiple speeds, the fan can be operated in reverse (pulling air up rather than pushing it down), a timer can automatically turn it off, and there’s a unique "whoosh" setting that varies the fan speed to mimic natural breezes.
All these features are controlled by a very compact remote that fits into a plastic pocket that can be mounted to a wall. There are blue LEDs on the fan showing the fan speed. These stay illuminated for a few minutes then turn off.
A premium price for
a premium product
Be aware that Haiku fans are not cheap. The composite fans (in black or white) list for $895 from the Haiku website. The bamboo fans (in a natural bamboo or a darker cocoa color) are $100 more. This compares with just $100 to $200 for most ceiling fans on the market.
Haiku fans can be ordered with different stem sizes, depending on your ceiling height, and for flat or sloped ceilings. They are also available with integral LED lights, though I haven’t seen those and can’t comment on how they look.
All Haiku fans carry a lifetime warranty.
Alex Wilson is the founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and the Resilient Design Institute (www.resilientdesign.org), both based in Brattleboro. Send comments or suggestions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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