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Ceiling Fan Buying Guide

A wood blade ceiling fan with a light over a living room seating area with a navy sofa and armchair.

Updated March 10, 2022

Brian G.

By Brian G.

From indoor to outdoor ceiling fans, these practical and stylish devices get air moving and help keep your home comfortable in summer and winter. Let us help you find a fan to fit your space and style.

Choose the Right Ceiling Fan for Your Space

A ceiling fan’s primary purpose is to circulate air in a room. Air conditioners chill air, but ceiling fans push it around, which means they’re useful for both cooling and heating. In a bedroom, use a ceiling fan to encourage restful sleep without running the air conditioning. On an open or screened porch, a ceiling fan can create a refreshing retreat. 

To get the most out of a ceiling fan, first select the right size. ENERGY STAR® makes the following recommendations for ceiling fan diameter: 

  • Rooms up to 75 square feet = 29 to 36 inches 
  • Rooms 76 to 144 square feet = 36 to 42 inches 
  • Rooms 144 to 225 square feet = 44 inches 
  • Rooms 225 to 400 square feet = 50 to 54 inches 

Small ceiling fans are ideal for hallways, bathrooms and closets. Note that a ceiling fan that’s too small for a space will fail to circulate air and regulate temperature properly.

Ceiling Height

When selecting a new or replacement ceiling fan, keep the ceiling height in mind. The ideal fan height from floor to fan blades is approximately 8 feet. Many fans have multiple mounting options, allowing them to work almost anywhere in the home. Measure the height of your ceiling to determine the mounting option that’ll work best for your space. 

Mounting Options 

Flush Mount: Use this option in rooms with low ceilings where a low profile is wanted or required. These ceiling fans are mounted flush to the ceiling, with no extra attachment. 

Downrod Mount: This option is made for rooms with high ceilings, typically 8 feet or higher. Many ceiling fans include a downrod (a slender pole that can lower your ceiling fan to the optimal height). Check the ceiling fan packaging to see if a downrod is included and note the size. For extra-tall ceilings, you may need a longer downrod than provided. See below to determine the ideal downrod length.

Tip

If you buy a downrod for your ceiling fan, also buy enough lead wire to cover the length of your downrod. If you don't have enough lead wire, you won't be able to connect your fan to its power source. 

Ceiling Fan Blades

A wooden 5-blade ceiling fan with three lights.

The look of ceiling fan blades is actually more of a design feature than a matter of efficiency or utility. A fan’s ability to move air is determined by the pitch of the blades, so pick the style you like best. Many fans come with reversible blades so that if you get tired of one finish, you can reverse them later for an effortless design update. The number of blades in ceiling fans and the blade shape are also available in a variety of options. Some fans have as many as nine blades for a helicopter style; however, traditional four- to five-blade ceiling fans remain classic.

Best Outdoor Ceiling Fans

In the search for the best outdoor ceiling fan, there are several primary considerations, including: 

  • How much moisture the fan will be exposed to 
  • How sturdy the fan and mounting hardware are 
  • Fan performance 
  • Lighting needs 

In order to feel air movement from an outdoor ceiling fan, you’ll need a model with a large motor to ensure optimal performance. 

If you plan to use your outdoor space in the evenings, consider choosing an outdoor ceiling fan with a light to brighten the area. 

Ceiling fans rated for strong winds have a special blade and mounting hardware design that prevents the fan from moving too much or being damaged by high wind speeds. 

Ceiling fans rated for salt air are designed to resist rust or corrosion due to high-saline conditions. These fans are ideally suited for homes in coastal regions. 

If you want a ceiling fan for an outdoor patio, porch or gazebo, you’ll need one that’s designed specifically for outdoor use. Outdoor ceiling fans have a coating and construction — sometimes including a sealed motor — that keep them from corroding, rusting or being damaged by moisture.

Fans for outdoor use, which are sometimes called indoor/outdoor ceiling fans, come in three main rating types: damp-rated, wet-rated and dry-rated. 

  • Damp-rated outdoor ceiling fans are designed for use in covered outdoor areas or indoor bathrooms where the fan may be exposed to high humidity or light moisture. An exterior ceiling fan that’s damp-rated should not be used in a gazebo or in any other uncovered location where it’ll be directly exposed to rain or the elements. 
  • A wet-rated outdoor ceiling fan, or waterproof outdoor ceiling fan, is suitable for high-moisture areas and for direct exposure to rain. Wet-rated fans are safe for pergolas and gazebos and may be the best option for covered porches in coastal regions where storm winds can drive rain onto the area. 
  • Dry-rated ceiling fans or indoor ceiling fans are designed exclusively for indoor use. 

Caution

Fans that aren’t rated for outdoor use should never be used outdoors. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure the fan you’re considering is appropriate for the space.

Tip

An outdoor ceiling fan with a remote will save you from having to get up to adjust the fan or fan light while relaxing outdoors. 

Ceiling Fan Direction in Summer and Winter

Change the ceiling fan direction to make it more comfortable year-round, plus save energy and money by adjusting your thermostat. In the summer, set the fan blades to revolve in a counterclockwise direction to create a downward motion and a cooling effect. Doing this allows you to raise the thermostat temperature, which will reduce your air conditioner’s workload. 

To reverse the ceiling fan direction if it’s moving clockwise, turn off the fan and wait for the blades to stop completely. Position a step stool or ladder on a flat surface underneath the fan. Locate the direction switch on the outside of the motor housing. Flip the switch in the opposite direction. 

During the winter, run the fan’s blades in a clockwise direction at the slowest speed. This will gently pull cool air up while pushing the warm air down from the ceiling without generating a strong breeze. Change the ceiling fan direction in the winter to help reduce the workload of your heating unit.

For more information, see Why Change Your Ceiling Fan Direction.

Ceiling Fan Styles, Finishes and Features

A bedroom with hanging light fixtures and a caged ceiling fan.

Ceiling fans are manufactured in a nearly endless array of styles and finishes. Most fans have adjustable speeds and a reverse airflow function to help with heating during cooler months. Look for models with remote controls, too.

Shades

Ceiling fan light shades typically come in glass, although new, innovative designs feature fabric drum shades — covering either the lights or the entire fan. Popular ceiling fan shades include:

  • Opal glass 
  • Alabaster glass 
  • Etched glass 
  • Clear glass 

Finishes 

Ceiling fans come in a variety of finishes. Take a cue from the existing finishes in your home. If the door handles and cabinet hardware are all in brushed nickel, choose a ceiling fan in a complementary finish. Popular ceiling fan finishes for the base and fan blades include: 

  • Antique bronze 
  • Oil-rubbed bronze 
  • Brushed nickel 
  • Matte black 
  • Polished pewter 

Blades 

As mentioned above, ceiling fan blades come in different designs, allowing for some personality. Popular ceiling fan blade materials include: 

  • Bronze 
  • Solid wood 
  • Plastic 
  • Palm 
  • Wicker

Ceiling Fan Lighting Features

Graphic showing a black 5-blade ceiling fan with inset of the custom white spectrum.

When ceiling fans became popular for home use in the 1980s, most came without light kits, making the homeowner rely on lamps or buy add-on light kits. Today, ceiling fans with lights are the most popular, allowing consumers to replace outdated light fixtures or old fans with newer styles and colors. Ceiling fans without lights work well for patios, sunrooms and outdoor gazebos, all places where natural light is available and air circulation is the primary need. 

Ceiling fans with LED lighting are the most efficient fans today. LED bulbs are long lasting (up to 50,000 hours) and allow you to tailor the “color temperature” of the bulb. Color temperature refers to the light’s look and feel that the bulb produces:

  • Warm White: A more yellow light that gives a cozy feel to bedrooms and living rooms, working well in rooms with wood tones.
  • Cool White: A bright white light that’s perfect for kitchens, bathrooms and rooms that have white and gray tones.
  • Daylight: A natural-looking, crisp light that’ll brighten basements, workshops, garages and places where detail work is done.

Ceiling fans are now available with LED color-changing light technology, allowing the user to customize the room’s light for the occasion. For example, you could adjust the light to a warm color for entertaining and parties and then to daylight for family activities, like solving puzzles and homework.

Ceiling Fan Accessories

An outdoor ceiling fan with 5 rustic-style wood-look blades and a light.

Ceiling fan accessories allow you to modify your fan or enhance it, depending on your needs. 

  • Angled-Ceiling Adapter: This adapter attaches to the outlet box to help mount ceiling fans on angled ceilings. The adapter works with a long downrod (sold separately) in case you have a high ceiling.
  • Light Kit: Many ceiling fans can be modified after installation with a light kit. Check the packaging to see if a fan includes a light kit or is compatible with one in case you want to add a light in the future. Bulb options include LED and standard. 
  • Remote Control: Many ceiling fans include a remote control. Adjust your comfort level without leaving the couch. 
  • Pull Chain: Liven up the look of your ceiling fan with a decorative pull chain. 
  • Wall Plate: Consider matching your wall plate to your new ceiling fan finish.
Tip

If you have a light kit, don’t exceed the maximum wattage of the required bulbs.

Ceiling Fan Installation

Look for preassembled fans for easy installation. Refer to the manufacturer’s instruction manual for step-by-step directions as well as safety, warning and caution information. If in doubt, contact a qualified electrician. 

For more help, see How to Install or Replace a Ceiling Fan

Tip

Be sure a suitable electrical box designed for a ceiling fan is available before beginning your installation. If there isn’t one, contact a qualified electrician. Most ceiling fans require a metal outlet box.

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