How to Pick the Best Outdoor Ceiling Fan to Keep You Comfy This Fall

If you’re a fresh air and fall foliage enthusiast, you’re probably spending more time on your porch or patio. An outdoor ceiling fan can make that experience even more enjoyable, but there’s more to buying an outdoor fan than aesthetics.

Seasons aren’t absolute. Even though the fall equinox has come and gone, toasty temperatures persist in many parts of the country. Sitting in your favorite outdoor spot on those warmer days can be a bit uncomfortable. Shade helps, but air circulation is really what’s missing. Without it, your pores become damp with perspiration. You realize summer’s hanging on for one last hurrah.

An outdoor ceiling fan is a great way to help you keep your cool—literally and figuratively—when milder weather is taking its sweet time. When relaxing beneath an outdoor fan, temperatures feel four to eight degrees cooler. That downward breeze can make an 80-degree day feel like the mid-70s. If it’s hot enough, though, fans lose their chilling effect and can actually have the opposite effect.

If you’re sold on the idea of adding a ceiling fan to your favorite outdoor hangout, here are a few things you should know before you buy. Once you’ve done your homework and found the right fan, remember to contact Complete Electrical Solutions for quick and reliable installation. 

Indoor and outdoor fans are not created equal.

This may seem obvious, yet plenty of people still purchase indoor fans for outdoor use. Maybe they love a certain style and can’t imagine anything else working for their space. Or they mistakenly believe an indoor fan will hold up fine outside because it’s partially sheltered from the elements. 

Rule No. 1 when buying an outdoor fan is to buy one that’s … well … designed for the outdoors. That means choosing a fan that’s made from durable materials and either damp-rated or wet-rated. Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, is the independent product safety organization that assigns these ratings.

Damp-rated fans are suitable for covered patios and porches, where the fan’s housing isn’t directly exposed to rain but may still be susceptible to moisture. Conversely, wet-rated fans are used for pergolas or uncovered patios and can withstand heavy rain and even snow. Make the appropriate choice based on your setup or ask an experienced electrician which rating is right for your outdoor fan.

If you live in a coastal area with a salty sea breeze, consider a wet-rated fan constructed from marine-grade stainless steel to prevent rusting and extend longevity. 

The fan size, number and pitch of blades and motor type all affect airflow.

A fan is only as good as its airflow, which is measured in cubic feet per minute, or CFM. The higher the airflow, the more air movement there is. And that movement is what makes you feel cooler while lounging beneath those whirring blades.

For outdoor fans, the CFM should be three to four times the total area, and airflow above 5,000 CFM is considered efficient. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires fan manufacturers to include airflow efficiency specs on their boxes, so it’s easy to compare rates when you’re shopping.   

The fan’s motor, as well as the size, number and pitch of its blades, can increase or decrease airflow. Standard fans are 52 inches, but you’ll likely want to go larger if your porch or gazebo has ample space and seating. Your guests shouldn’t be panting on the periphery while you hog the delightful downwind.

Most fans have four or five blades, but some argue that three are ideal for outdoor airflow. At least one study suggests three or four blades are best when balancing airflow with energy efficiency.

The blade pitch and motor type also play a role in keeping you comfy as you laze away those temperate fall days. Pitch is measured in degrees, and a higher pitch translates to a better CFM—to a point, that is. Motor design and speed also figure in. Sometimes blades with a higher pitch are hampered by lower-quality motors that don’t account for drag.

Be sure to drop the fan with a downrod if your ceilings are higher.

Finally, you’ll want to consider ceiling height when installing an outdoor fan. Most store-bought fans include a downrod that allows the fan to hang lower if your ceiling is higher. For optimal airflow, the fan should be about 8 to 9 feet from the floor. 

Plenty of attention has been paid to downrod lengths and how they affect airflow. Some retailers even have charts to illustrate how long a downrod should be based on ceiling height. If your ceiling is taller than 18 feet, you’ll likely need to buy a downrod coupler to drop the fan to its optimal height. 

For standard 9-foot ceilings, you’ll want to make sure there’s at least 8 inches of clearance between the fan and the ceiling. For every 2 inches below the minimum clearance, you can expect the airflow to diminish by as much as 25%.

The takeaway here is to make sure your outdoor fan isn’t too close to the ceiling or too far away from the floor. Situating it at just the right height will keep the CFM rate up and your sweat levels down. 

Now for the biggest decision of all—choosing an outdoor fan that fits your style and budget. Take a cue from these interior designers, whose top picks range from about $100 to $600. Cheers to appreciating autumn’s charm the way it was meant to be—passing the time outdoors under a fan!