Outdoor Fan Features

STYLE, FUNCTION, AND COST

What are the Best Outdoor Fan Features?

One of the most important groups of features is Safety Features, including Safety Ratings. These are especially important with outdoor fans as opposed to indoor fans because there are more safety issues when using any electrical appliance outdoors.

Functional Features relate to how an outdoor fan is made. Noise levels, weight, frames and finishes are in this group.

Features that make a fan easier to use or allow you to fine tune the fan’s cooling ability are listed under Operating Features. These can range from remote controls to all sorts of adjustment options: blade speed, height, tilt, oscillation … even an option that can make your fan useful all year — reversible rotation.

And for lack of a better term, we’ll include a category called Financial Features which includes initial cost, operating costs, return policies and warranties.

Outdoor Fan Safety Features

All electric outdoor fans should have a safety rating. This rating means the fan has been reviewed by an independent testing agency such as UL (Underwriters’ Laboratory). These agencies review motors, components, and connections to determine how safe they are to use in certain kinds of environments. This is a critical feature for any outdoor appliance. For more on product safety, go to the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission: cpsc.gov on product safety testing and ratings.

Look for the agency’s seal on the box of a new fan or stamped or labeled somewhere on the fan, itself. Look for a statement like, “UL damp rated” or “UL rated for wet locations.” Manufacturers are proud of this rating and will display it somewhere.

If you can’t find a rating for a particular fan, contact the retailer or manufacturer before you make your purchase to be sure it will work safely where you need it. Otherwise, it’s best to assume the fan is not safe for outdoor use.

UL ratings are for three kinds of environments:

  • DRY — for dry locations ONLY. Never use a DRY-rated fan in a damp or wet location.
  • DAMP– safe for protected outdoor use, for example, open walls with a solid ceiling, in a greenhouse or tent; not good for direct contact with water — rain or puddles, but outdoor humidity is fine. DAMP-rated fans don’t have the right safety features to be used safely in wet locations. Also called indoor-outdoor fans or just outdoor fans.
  • WET — can get totally wet — the safest to use outdoors. rained on or sitting in a puddle is fine; can be cleaned by hosing off. Safe to use indoors or outdoors. These are often called indoor-outdoor fans or simply outdoor fans.

If you’ll be using fans indoors and outdoors and want them to look alike, use an outdoor rated fan for both indoor and outdoor settings.

An automatic shut-off feature can turn off an outdoor fan if it is knocked over or something gets caught in its blades. This can protect your fan as well as property and people.

A GFCI plug will immediately shut off an outdoor fan if there are any electrical surges, protecting people from extreme shock. Portable GFCIs are also available, and some outdoor power source outlets have GFCIs installed. Always perform a safety test on your GFCI each time before using it.

Functional Features of an Outdoor Fan

Outdoor Fan Frames

Outdoor fans with plastic or polypropylene frames and/or housing may cost less and need virtually no maintenance, but they can be less durable than metal. This may be fine if you’ll be using it in a protected area or if you won’t be using it often. Outdoor fans can benefit from the extra strength of a steel frame, especially if they will be permanently installed. The steel is much heavier than plastic and will make your fan harder to move and install. But the strength of steel will protect your fan from the harshness of the outdoors and help it withstand being knocked around.

Fan Finishes

Powder-coated finishes on metal stands, blades, and housing help resist the elements. Consider in advance how well these beautifully antiqued or textured finishes will be protected from the elements and what might happen if they get scratched. How will you repair the finish? What steps can to take to maintain that finish? The seller or manufacturer will be your best source for answers.

The Weight of an Outdoor Fan

Knowing the weight of a fan before you buy it can help you decide in advance how you will install it and set it up. A lightweight fan is also more portable.

How much does the fan weigh all together? Will you be able to lift it? For ceiling and wall mount fans, will you be able to lift it while you are installing it? Will you be moving the fan often? Are there handles and wheels to help with that? Narrow wheels work find on hard surfaces, but wider wheels are really helpful if you’ll be moving it across grass or other uneven surfaces.

How is the weight distributed? How stable is it? Floor fans are generally more stable than standing fans but a standing / pedestal fan may suit your needs better. You may need to anchor standing fans to prevent them tipping over.

Noise Levels

Decibel ratings can be helpful, if not precise. Many manufacturers use a decibel rating (dB) to give you an idea of the amount of noise you can expect from their fan. The decibel rating is a common measurement of sound. 0dB is inaudible — it’s at the bottom level of average human hearing. 120-140dB is where sound becomes painful. But, the actual decibel rating is a limited indicator of noise produced by a fan because of how fans make noise in the first place.

Many things can create fan noise: the movement of the fan’s parts, the spinning motor, the cooling fan inside the motor’s enclosure, the blades moving against the housing, and the blades moving through the air. The way you install it can make it louder or quieter, and how close someone is to the fan makes a difference in perceived noise level. So, it’s very hard to pin down a precise noise level.

Consider the quality of the fan’s sound as well as its volume. Different frequencies produce different tones, even at the same dB level. A low rumbling sound may not be as noticeable as a high whistling sound.

Ideally you should listen to an outdoor fan in the same kind of space you’ll be using it, before you buy it, to make sure that it’s acceptable. Realistically that’s nearly impossible, unless the manufacturer has one terrific return policy, or if you happen to run across someone else using the fan in a similar setting. Use dB ratings to get a general idea of the fan’s noise level.

Typical Noise LevelNumber of Decibels
Bottom threshold of human hearing10dB
Recording studio20dB
Quiet living room30dB
Quiet office or library, refrigerator40dB
Quiet conversation50dB
Average office noise, clothes dryer60dB
Average conversation, dishwasher70dB
Average factory80dB
Typical home music volume90dB
Heavy truck100dB
Typical sounds and associated decibel ratings.

Outdoor Fan Operational Features – Ease of Use

Portability

Many outdoor fans are portable so you can move them when you want to where you need them most. Some are available with optional dollies or casters. If your fan is heavy or if you expect to be moving your fan across uneven surfaces such as dirt or grass, opt for wide wheels that can handle the weight and the surfaces more smoothly.

How an Outdoor Fan is Mounted

Ceiling fan downrods and angle mounts allow ceiling fan installation on special ceilings. Downrods are used for high ceilings — grand entranceways, courtyards with high overhangs, airplane hangars, and garages. These lower the fan closer to where its airflow can be better felt. Angle mounts attach ceiling fans to angled ceilings.

Remote controls make adjusting fans controls easy for ceiling fans and other hard-to-reach fans. Some of these are hand-held while others can be installed onto a wall. You can control others from an app on your cell phone.

Variable speed is especially helpful for outdoor fans. The environment outdoors is extremely changeable. You might have a very hot day with no breeze, followed by a very hot day with a strong breeze, followed by a mildly hot day with a soft breeze. Variable speeds let you adjust your fan’s airflow to the needs of the day — less on milder days, more on hotter days with less or no breeze.

Variable speeds can help with the set up of your fan. If you need to cool a certain area but the fan’s noise is too loud, you can move the fan back a few feet and set it on a higher speed. This also help if layout of an area is such that you have to move the fan back farther. By the same token, if the area is small, you can position the fan nearby and use a lower speed setting.

This is part of the set up trial and error you sometimes need to go through to figure out the best set up for your fan and your area.

Many fans, especially outdoor ceiling fans, have reversible rotation. This means in addition to their regular cooling function, you can reverse the fan rotation to draw warm air up in cold weather to help heat an area.

Many standing and wall-mount fans have an oscillating feature, which means they swivel back and forth to give a cooling effect to a larger area. This changes the position of the airflow. So even though the size of the airflow doesn’t change, it moves, intermittently covering more area than if it were still.

Look for tilt or rotate features, allowing you to change the direction of the airflow without moving the fan. You can angle a fan to direct all of its flow to one particular spot, or angled slightly to another spot without moving the fan. A high-speed fan directed right at people can feel like a hurricane and blow things all over the place. But if it has a tilt or rotate feature you can direct it at the ceiling or a wall to disperse the air flow and make it a softer breeze.

Adjustable heights are especially helpful with standing fans. You can extend or shorten the frame to fit certain areas or to help adjust the direction of the airflow.

Outdoor Fan Costs (“Financial Features”)

Initial Costs

Prices for residential or decorative outdoor fans are set mostly by style and are based on current decorating trends. Functional features: size, power, durability, and availability are factored in also, but to a lesser degree. The same motor and blades in a plain style can cost significantly less than the same motor and blades in a highly decorative style.

Prices for commercial, industrial, agricultural or other “non-decorative” outdoor fans are based on function: size, power of the motor, durability, and availability. If you do not need your outdoor fan to be beautiful or especially quiet, consider a commercial fan. You may get more quality for your money.

Installation

Permanently placed fans, usually ceiling or wall fans, may require professional installation. Installation charges will depend on the difficulty of your particular installation. Consult more than one local electrician for their pricing on installation. Of course, it’s possible to install these, yourself. Be sure electrical connections are especially safe. If you want to install a ceiling fan yourself, get someone to help. It can be risky to try to position a 30-pound fan while you’re on a ladder with a screwdriver in your hand.

Operating Costs

Costs to run are typically low. Depending on your local electricity rates, an average residential outdoor fan costs less than 5¢ USD per hour to run. The huge commercial fans used in big retailers, warehouses and sports complexes cost under 10¢ USD per hour to run.

If a 60-watt fan runs for, say, 5 hours a day, it would use 300 watts of power, or .3 kilowatt-hours of electricity (60 x 5 = 300). My electric company charges 10¢ per kilowatt-hour, this fan would cost me 3¢ for every 5 hours I run it — less than a penny per hour. Your costs would depend on your fan and what your own electric company charges.

Return Policies

It can be really hard to predict how any fan will perform in an outdoor environment. For this reason it may be smart to buy your fan from a supplier with a generous return policy. This can give you a chance to test out your fan in its actual setting.

Some stores will allow returns as many as 90 days after purchase. Others will refund the purchase price, less shipping, if any. Some may charge a restocking fee for returns. Others will not offer refunds, but may allow store credit or exchanges for a different model. In that case, see if the store has other models that might suit your needs before you make your initial purchase.

Keep in mind the fan must be in perfect condition for a store to take it back. So take especially good care of it while you’re trying it out. If you decide to return it, it will need to go back in the original packaging along with all of the original documentation. If you had to assemble it to set it up, you’ll need to dis-assemble it to return it. Of course you’ll also need your receipt, and may need to get return authorization from the store before you return it. So returning a fan is not a simple thing. Using solid information (like ours 🙂 ) can help you avoid having to make a return.

Be sure to find out the return policy of the store where you buy your outdoor fan. It can give you peace of mind, even if you decide never to return it.

Warranties

Simply stated, the better a fan’s warranty the better the durability of the fan. Manufacturers want to offer warranties because they are a good selling point. Still, they don’t want to loose money and will only offer warranties on products or aspects of a product in which they are absolutely confident. Companies can only offer a warranty on the physical components they sell you — not how they’re installed, maintained, or operated.

A “limited warranty” tells you exactly which parts of the fan are covered, and the time limit of the warranty. For example, manufacturers usually won’t cover blades but they will often cover the motor. Since the motor is usually the most expensive part of the fan, a warranty on the motor can be a very helpful warranty. A motor’s warranty can vary from one year to the lifetime of the motor and may be very different from the warranty on a separate part of the same fan.

Many companies won’t honor the warranty if you try to fix the component yourself, or if someone other than “authorized trained personnel” tries to fix it. Damages or losses are usually limited to the purchase price of the defective components.

If a defect develops, contact your fan’s supplier. They can tell you if repair or replacement is covered. You will likely need to show or send a receipt to make a claim. Don’t rely on your supplier for a record of the sale — keep your receipt in a safe place.

What Makes a Great Outdoor Fan?

Learn all about Outdoor Fans in our other In-Depth articles on what to look for in a great fan:
1. the fan, itself: The motor, energy use and air flow determine how much cooling you can expect from a fan. The fan blades determine the size of the fan and can really maximize that air flow.
2. On this page you can learn about a fan’s features (this page), such as:

  • safety features and ratings
  • functional features
  • operational features
  • costs


3. How the fan is setup is the critical third thing to consider in an outdoor fan. Your set-up may involve some trial and error to determine the settings and placement that work best for you. Any fan can provide more cooling, use less energy and be safest when you set it up well.

Other Outdoor Cooling Methods

Take a look at our comparison page to learn which cooling methods may be best for you.

Outdoor fans work well on their own and combine well with misting systems for added cooling effect. Misting fans are a clear example of how misting systems work with another cooling method to maximize cooling.

Swamp coolers (desert coolers) use a similar technology as misting systems, but in a contained unit.

Outdoor shades are a nearly universal solution that can add to the cooling effect of all cooling solutions.

Portable air conditioners can be the best outdoor cooling solution for special circumstances.