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High-Tech Ceiling Fans for Low-Tech Cooling

The sleek, energy-efficient Haiku fan from Big Ass Fans will help keep us comfortable in our new house this summer

Posted on May 15 2014 by Alex Wilson

Winter has barely ended in Vermont, but as I write this 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°F, for example, with a ceiling fan operating, you might be just as comfortable with an air temperature of 81° or 82°F.

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 90-110 watts of electricity, with Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. 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 delamination 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 and elegance, 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 2 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%.

Quiet operation 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 lengths, 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 is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


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Image Credits:

  1. Images #1 and #2: Alex Wilson
  2. Image #3: Big Ass Fans

1.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 10:57

Swooshing fan I like in
by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

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Swooshing fan

I like

in bamboo


2.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 19:52

$895 plus!
by kye ford

Helpful? 1

Great product... Yet out of price for the average consumer. The most energy efficient product does nothing for conservation if only a small percentage of the population can afford if.

$895 buys a lot of real air conditioning. Maybe a 1/3 of a mini split?


3.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 20:08

Made of unobtanium
by Eric Sandeen

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I'm with kye - $900 for a fan just seems nuts. I'm sure it's great, and it's got the cache' and the buzz - and I'll never buy one. at this price.

Maybe this is the Tesla approach - make this model for the Jay Lenos of the world to fund development of the family-obtainable version? ;)

I honestly don't know what can justify $900 for a ceiling fan.


4.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 21:04

Complete Package
by Erik Wingfield

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This is a lot of money but if your house is tight and well insulated perhaps the price is offset by the reduction in A/C installation. We are building a home that has high ceilings and a mini-split unit and we will likely install 2 Haiku's. The overall package is reasonable and will be energy efficient and comfortable.


5.
Wed, 05/21/2014 - 16:50

lifetime warranty
by charles CAMPBELL

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Lots of fans have lifetime warranties on the motors, but not the parts most likely to fail, such as relays that control fan speed. What does Haiku's warranty cover?


6.
Wed, 05/21/2014 - 18:14

Edited Wed, 05/21/2014 - 18:16.

Cost of use comparison?
by Derek Roff

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Thanks for the interesting information, Alex. Can you do a brief cost of use comparison, for your house, between using these fans, and using the cooling method that you would use if you didn't have the fans? Obviously, you will have to make a few assumptions, but I think you have been calculating energy use and cost/benefits for many aspects of your new home, so I suspect that you have the basis for this calculation at your fingertips.

What would be the energy cost difference, in your home, between using your cooling system (the mini-split?) when your house exceeds 75 degrees, versus running the two Haiku fans for those times when you are at home, and the inside temperature is between 75 and 81 degrees, (which you list as the range of temperatures where the fans provide a real advantage)?

With your very energy-efficient house, I'm guessing that the inside temperatures will exceed 75 degrees for a modest number of hours on a medium number of days. What do you figure for the average number of hours and days, during the year? I would guess further that the number of hours/days that your house would be above 81 degrees is very small indeed. Would using the fans save you 500 hours per year of having the cooler cycle/run intermittently? 300? 100? What would be the difference in energy consumption, between these fans running continuously for your calculated hours, and letting the cooler cycle for the equivalent time?

It would be fascinating to see cost of use numbers for your house, on this question of fan versus cooler.


7.
Thu, 06/12/2014 - 18:57

not always the most efficient
by Jon R

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Note that there are other fans that are much lower in price and, when run at low speed, much more efficient.


8.
Thu, 06/12/2014 - 21:04

Efficiency of ceiling fans
by Alex Wilson

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Jon,
I've never seen another ceiling fan than that has anywhere close to the efficiency of the Haiku fan. I'd be interested in what fan you're referring to. If there's another product out there that exceeds the Energy Star threshold by several-fold I'd like to promote it--especially if it's a lot less expensive. Thanks.


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