Electric ceiling fans and incandescent light bulbs have been around since the late 1800s, but both have been undergoing massive changes lately.
The time is coming when the average consumer might not even recognize a ceiling fan when they see one. SleepFans’ engineer Tim Peery hints that in the not-too-distant future, “You will see a ceiling fan that’s not really a ‘fan’ at all.” He adds, “You will also see a ceiling fan with no motor in the middle. I don’t see a future for ordinary flat blade ceiling fans.”
Peery knows a thing or two about unusual fan design. In 2011, he co-founded SleepFans with two other aerospace and aviation enthusiasts (SleepFans products are distributed through Savoy House). What made their initial product line distinctive was their interest in research that demonstrated how sound frequencies affect brain activity and can help people achieve a better night’s sleep. As a result, SleepFans portable models feature custom-designed fan petals that emit a low-frequency noise – also known as red noise – that reportedly leads to relaxation and easier sleep. Those research findings plus their exploration in adapting airfoil designs to portable fans led to an innovative product line. Last year, the SleepFans founders began designing a few ceiling fans for Savoy House. Due to some of the mechanical differences between portable and ceiling-mounted fans, those ceiling fans do not offer the sleep-promoting technology; however, they do feature the same high efficiency.
One aspect of ceiling fans that the SleepFans trio took note of was that typical ceiling fans were less aerodynamic than their pedestal fans. “If you were to stand directly below a ceiling fan’s center, you won’t feel the same amount of airflow [as you would from the side]. In most fans, the air blows down from the tips,” Peery says. Their challenge was to design a ceiling fan that would blow air down evenly regardless if one was standing directly below or on the side. “Once we got our tapered airfoil blades [from the pedestal fans] up there, we saw an opportunity for some real optimization. By twisting the blades, we were able to achieve more even flow versus the output from flat blades. I used a winglet design I did for an aircraft to reduce the circular vortex at the tips that causes much of the noise and turbulence.
“The aerodynamic techniques we’re using are 100 years old or more, but many are just now being applied to fans,” Peery states. The changes in the electronics and components industries – i.e. LED technology – are also leading to changes in ceiling fan design. In 2015, look for additional ceiling fan designs from SleepFans with DC motors.
Speaking of airflow issues, Fanimation President Nathan Frampton says the Department of Energy (DOE) is about to publish its new proposal for a standard in measuring airflow in ceiling fans. “There are standards right now, but the tests are pretty basic,” he explains. Once that document is released, there is an opportunity for the industry’s ceiling fan task force to review the findings.
When it comes to trends, Frampton has noticed larger fans becoming more popular with consumers, although they are often confused about the size of fan they need for a given room.
“In general, people are focused on airflow when buying a fan, but it’s important for the sales associate to ask how often they are running their ceiling fans on ‘high’ versus low or medium. Find out how much airflow they are looking for. Their preference may not be solely about airflow capability. Maybe they are looking for a decorative ceiling fan that also needs to be the light source for the room because there is only one junction box,” he states. “No one is going to be able to tell them the difference between a DC or AC fan motor at a home center,” he adds. “Lighting showrooms and fan shops have an impressive opportunity to educate the consumer. Give them advice they can’t get at Home Depot or Lowes.”
No stranger to offering unusually shaped fans and fan blades, Fanimation recently unveiled its FanLink technology, which allows any ceiling fan in any room to be controlled by a smart phone. This isn’t a case of merely being able to turn a ceiling fan on or off; the FanLink control also allows users to dim the light on the light kit, change the speed, and set the timer. Best of all, the FanLink can work on any brand of fan — not just those from Fanimation.
As the examples of SleepFans and Fanimation illustrate, new energy-efficient and consumer-friendly technology affecting the ceiling fan industry is being developed at a pace faster than it ever has before. Embrace this opportunity to educate your customers on how today’s ceiling fans can do so much more than they thought possible.