On The Degree: Ceiling fan upkeep
We don’t like air conditioning and we grew up without air conditioning. That’s why we have ceiling fans in every room – five in total.
They make us feel good. How shall we keep the windows? I usually keep the windows open about 6 inches at the bottom. Also, I recently noticed one of the fans squeaking. Is there any type of maintenance I should do to lubricate the motors? How do I find out where to pour the oil and what type to use? We often leave them on when we are out and I wonder if I should turn them off when we leave.
Some people don’t like air conditioning, and many of us grew up in homes without air conditioning but became addicted to it in adulthood. I confess I am one of them. People who refrain from using air conditioning are sure to save money on their utility bills, as even five ceiling fans use less electricity than operating an air conditioner most of the time.
The old-fashioned ceiling fans used to have a small spring-loaded lubrication connection somewhere along the main shaft, into which a little light machine oil like 3-in-1 oil or some sewing machine oil was plugged every now and then. The downside to this system was that some never lubricated their fans and the bearings were worn prematurely, while others did and oil spattered all over the place.
We now live in the age of sealed bearings that are supposed to be self-lubricating for the life of the fan. Fan life means how long it will take for the non-replaceable brushes in the motor itself to wear out. You can tell when this is happening as the fan tends to hum at lower speeds and a high speed looks like a slow to medium speed with a hum.
Of course, the life of the fan is a function of the hours of operation, so a fan that is used only a few hours per month will obviously last longer than a fan that is used all the time. As a reference, I have a friend who has kept a ceiling fan running in his house for the past seven years and it just keeps ticking.
Ceiling fans should be mounted in control boxes that can withstand 35 pounds of pressure. Common ceiling light boxes cannot do that. Millions of homeowners have switched ceiling lights to lights with tropical fans. They are especially popular in older homes with little or no air conditioning.
I see marginal fan installations all the time, but they usually give a little warning that they’re about to fall, like a bulge around the box in the ceiling. They are now selling fan-friendly retrofit mounting boxes that are specifically designed to convert a light fixture into a light fixture that can securely hold a fan. What I see a lot in amateur installations is the blade height being too low, which is a hazard to tall people’s heads and most people’s arms. The height of the blade should not be less than three meters above the ground.
The squeak you hear is likely coming from one of several possible points of contact. In the place where the fan connects to the ceiling is a shaft that attaches to the ceiling mount with a hinge that looks like a knuckle or universal joint to allow the fan to move in case the fan is easy gets out of whack. The hinge is in place so that the fan doesn’t transfer the energy of the imbalance to the mounting box, which can ultimately cause the bracket to come loose and the fan to fall down. It is usually not lubricated after installation and may squeak with slight movements over time.
You can expose this connection by loosening the ring nut on the shaft that holds the fairing cover in place and pulling the cover down, revealing all of the connections. You can squirt a small amount of Aerosol Spray Lubricant (WD-40) on the joint – don’t do it too often – a little tapping on the wires won’t hurt.
Look around the fan blades and see if they are touching the motor housing as they rotate and making a little noise. Spray there too. Up there, wipe the leading edge of the blades that collect dust during operation, and never reverse the blade direction without first cleaning the blades. Otherwise, a small dust storm will occur as the blades will throw off the dust on their own.
If the fans are working properly, not making any threatening buzzing or loud humming noises, or threatening to fall off, you should be safe enough when you are not home.
However, fans don’t lower the air temperature, they just move it, which makes warm air feel cooler when it hits our skin. Why leave them on in the spirit of power saving when no one can feel them? If the windows are open or not, I would watch the outside temperature and compare it to the inside temperature. If it gets really hot in the middle of the day and it’s outside in your 90s, you might find that it’s not that hot inside. Then I would close the windows to keep the cooler air inside. Then, after sunset, when things cool down a bit, open them up again.