Energy Star and Recommended Fan Sizes

Everybody recognizes the Energy Star symbol, right?  A government-backed logo that signifies an energy-efficient product.  You can find the Energy Star symbol on all kinds of consumer goods: TVs, washing machines, kitchen appliances, and of course ceiling fans.

A National Organization is Wrong

We were browsing the Energy Star website recently and noticed that their fan size recommendations are...well...peculiar.

Here is what Energy Star recommends

Choosing the Right Size

Room Dimensions Suggested Fan Size
up to 75 square feet (about 8.5' x 8.5')  29" - 36"
76 - 144 (up to 12' x 12') square feet 36" - 42"
144 - 225 (up to 15' x 15') square feet 44"
225 - 400 (up to 20' x 20') square feet 50" - 54"

 

Most of their suggestions are under-sized, but their suggestions actually come from the American Lighting Association, a widely recognized trade association that represents the lighting and ceiling industry.  The ALA recommendation actually comes from a recommendation that they made in 2003, which is still the same recommendation that the ALA makes on their website today. 

Why Are They Wrong?

Our first impression is that these Suggested Fan Sizes are horrible. 

  • The suggestion for a 75 square foot room is on target. 
  • 76-144 square feet is a tiny bit undersized. A medium-sized 40"-44" fan would be best for rooms UNDER 144 square feet. 
  • Once you hit 144 square feet, a 50"-54" fan is a more appropriate size and you should consider a larger fan as you approach 225 square feet.  
  • The suggestion for 225-400 square feet is very undersized. A 44" fan only cool about 100 square feet.
  • A room that is 15x15 or larger should get at least a 52" diameter fan, maybe a larger one depending on actual size and how many people you expect to be using that room at once.   

We began to wonder why such a large, respected organization would make such a bad recommendation and why would the American Lighting Association still recommend these fan sizes on their website in 2019?

Back in 2003, 60" (or larger) ceiling fans didn't really exist.  The truth is that 3 of the biggest manufacturers: Hunter, Casablanca, and Emerson each had about 2 fans around 2003 that were 60 inches or larger. 

Hunter had 2 fans 60" or larger in their 2004 model lineup for showrooms out of 29 total fans. Back then, Hunter had 1 set of fan models for dealer showrooms and a separate set of fan models that were sold in hardware stores and home improvement centers. 

Emerson had 2 fans that were 60" or larger in their 2005 lineup out of 49 total fans.

Casablanca had 2 fans that were 60" or larger in their 2002 lineup out of 31 total fans.

On top of that, 3 of those extra large fans were decorative and were not high-performance air movers.

Why does ceiling fan size matter?

Small fans circulate air over a small area and larger fans circulate air over a larger area.  If you put an under-sized fan into a large room, parts of the room will not receive adequate breeze and room occupants will be uncomfortable. 

If you put an over-sized fan into a small room, you end up spending more money on the fan and your larger fan will consume more electricity than a "right-sized" fan. 

So What Size is Right?

Ceiling fans have evolved since 2003.  Large residential fans are commonly available in 60-inch diameters and there even a few models as large as 96 inches. Here are the suggested ceiling fan sizes that The Fan Shop recommends:

First of all, be sure that there is at least 18 inches of clearance between the tips of your fan blades and the nearest obstruction: corners, walls, hanging light fixtures, cabinet doors (be sure to open them to see how far they swing), bunk beds, beams and rafters. 

Very Small Rooms - 24 inch to 30 inch

Rooms that are 8x8 or smaller.  Walk-in closets, bathrooms, small kitchens, and other rooms that are unusually small. 

Small Rooms - 40 inch to 52 inch

8x8 to 12x12.  Small bedrooms, dining rooms, etc.

Small rooms should get a medium sized fans around 40" - 44" in diameter.  You may come across fans in the 45"-49" size, but they are not very common. At 12x12, a fan approximately 52" is a good choice. 

Large Rooms - 50 inch to 56 inch

Large rooms have dimensions starting from 12x12 up to about 15x15.  Master bedrooms often fall in this category as well as family rooms and living rooms.

Once you reach 12x12, a large 50" fan is a more appropriate size.  Keep in mind that you can get a 50" fan from Walmart for $40 and prices for premium 56" fans from name brand manufacturers can get up to $600 or more.  You get what you pay for.  Sometimes you pay for performance, sometimes you pay for aesthetics.

A good, strong 52" fan can be enough for a 15x15 room, but you may want to consider as large as 60" for a 15x15 room. 

Very Large Rooms - 60 inch or larger

Large, communal rooms that are 15x15 or wider: living rooms, family rooms, great rooms, or very large bedrooms.

Wider fans blow air over a wider area, but the price, power, and variety of ceiling fans that are 60" and large varies a lot.  Determining what size fan will cool your 16x16 or 20x20 room will be difficult.  Visit a ceiling fan specialty store and get their opinion.  If you ask the opinion of a home improvement store employee, there's a good chance that they've never felt any of the extra large fans that they sell.

With the price that you will probably end up spending for a fan and installation, find a store that has the fan up and running so that you know what kind of cooling capability you are getting.

Another option for very large rooms is to use multiple fans.  2 fans in a 20x20 room will often result in better cooling than 1 extra large fan. 

The following image contains fan size recommendations from Emerson.  Light blue is Energy Star's suggestions, Dark Blue is Emerson's suggestions.  There isn't a precise "this the the absolute right size" or "this fan size cannot be put into this room".  Just remember that these are guidelines.  If you end up selecting a fan size that is slightly different from our recommendations, that's perfectly fine.  We just feel that if you follow Energy Star's 15 year old suggestions, you will probably end up with an undersized, under-powered fan.  

Suggested Fan Sizes from Emerson

One last note.  Energy Star concentrates on energy efficiency.  Fans that move a lot of air and only use a small amount of electricity get the most recognition from Energy Star.  Unfortunately, airflow keeps you cool, energy efficiency does not.  Saving electricity is good, but the cost of running a ceiling is quite low.  Buying a more energy-efficient fan could save you $20 per year, but is that savings worth owning a less powerful fan that doesn't cool you adequately and encourages you to turn on your air conditioner?