Vol 7 No. 47 - August 15, 2007

History of fans can blow you away

By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

When I was a kid, my bedroom was an attic room in a very modest Cape Cod house, and although I lived in the Northeast, the summer months could be just as brutal as Florida. But my kindly parents, in an effort not to have their youngest child’s brain fry, purchased a fan for my exclusive use. Make no mistake about it, having a fan of my own during my growing up years was practically a luxury, something my older siblings could only dream about.

Today, not only is every interior space in the state of Florida super air conditioned, most of them also have ceiling fans. In fact, the history of ceiling fans is pretty interesting. They first appeared in the 1860s and 1870s in America. At that time, they were not powered by any form of electric motor. Instead, a stream of running water was used in conjunction with a turbine to drive a system of belts which would turn the blades of a two blade fan. Since the system could accommodate several fan units, they became popular in stores, restaurants and offices.

In the 1880s, electrically powered ceiling fans were invented and were very similar to our modern day ceiling fans. They were popular during the 1920s, but faded out of vogue during the Great Depression, and eventually became practically non-existent until the 1960s, when they gradually started to become popular again.

Fans create a wind-chill effect allowing you to feel cooler regardless of the temperature. Just sit under an exterior porch fan and you feel better immediately. In addition, fans are efficient consuming less energy on average than a 100 watt light bulb.

During the summer season, interior ceiling fans should be set on the down-draft position with the blades running counterclockwise. This circulates cooler air and will help your air conditioning system cool the room. In the winter, reverse the motor so that the blades run clockwise forcing warm air down.

You should also choose the size of your fan carefully. Purchase the largest possible fan for your room. Sizes are usually 36 to 60 inches, which represents the distance from the tip of one blade to the tip of the opposite. A 42-inch fan is adequate for a room with 150 square feet or less, and the 52-inch size will handle a room with 400 square feet. Large rectangular rooms may require two evenly-spaced fans.

The recommended height for a ceiling fan is 9 feet, floor to fan. Higher ceilings will require an extension or down rod to bring the fan lower into the room, and rooms with lower ceilings may have to be ceiling mounted.

The most efficient fans have four or five blades. Fans with unusual blade configurations, fewer than three or more than six, are usually just decorative and won’t do the job of a traditional ceiling fan.

Since living in a semi-tropical climate, I’ve really come to appreciate the effectiveness of ceiling fans and am always surprised that they are not more popular in Northern parts of the country. In addition, today’s environmentally-sensitive culture should make the efficiencies of cooling off under a fan especially appealing.

As usual, my parents had it right. Why spend money on an air conditioner when a fan will do the trick? By the way, my attic room was also freezing in the winter, but kids were tougher then.

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