Fan Size -vs- Wind Speed -vs- CFM
Note: The formula for calculating wind speed was revised on 1/31/2015. The previous formula did not take into account that the testing chamber (cylinder) used to determine the CFM of a fan is 8" in diameter larger than the blade span. The revised formula ads 8" to the fan diameter to account for this. The wind speed results are now slightly lower than previosly stated
"When it comes to ceiling fan size...the largest fan with the highest wind speed that will look fine in the area is the best choice!"
Ceiling fans cool you off by creating a wind-chill effect, the degree of which is determined by the wind speed produced by the fan; the higher the wind speed, the cooler you feel. It is critical to know the following; CFM is not the same as wind speed; the wind chill effect you feel from a ceiling fan is concentrated in the column of air directly beneath the fan blades; the wind chill drops off dramatically just a foot or two outside that area.
Ceiling fan manufacturers are required by the DOE to publish the airflow of each fan in CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) which is not the same as wind speed. CFM is the volume of air being moved every minute, whereas wind speed how fast the air is moving in MPH (Miles per Hour) or LFM (Linear Feet per Minute), both of which are directly related to the amount of wind chill effect. When you compare two fans that are different sizes yet have the same CFM you will find they produce quite different wind speeds. The smaller fan must move air faster in order to move the same amount of air per minute (CFM) as the larger fan. The airflow generated by the smaller creates more wind chill because it is more concentrated and has a higher wind speed. The larger fan of equal CFM moves air over a larger area so it is less concentrated at a lower wind speed. So when determining what size fan to buy you must consider the amount of space a fan will cover (the diameter of the fan plus a foot or two), the intensity of the airflow directly beneath the fan (the wind speed) balanced with how any particular size fan will look or fit in the space. Ultimately the largest fan with the highest wind speed that will look fine in the area is the best choice for performance.
The required testing method for ceiling fans is not done in a way that translates well to real world applications, so the CFM data can be somewhat deceiving if you do not know how to interpret it.
The current required test procedure (shown left) shows a ceiling fan hanging above a 3 foot tall metal cylinder that is 8 inches wider than the ceiling fan (blade span) and stands 4 feet above the floor. Sensors are located at the bottom of the cylinder to measure the wind speed. The wind speed is then converted into CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute). Although this testing procedure can be valuable for comparing the performance of fans equal in size, it does not emulate a real application inside a home and does not make it easy to compare fans that are different sizes in order to determine the best size fan(s) for any particular application.
Therefore, the best way to compare the actual performance between fans of various sizes is to compare the wind speed. The wind speed of a ceiling fan can be mathematically calculated based on the CFM and Blade Span. Here is a comparison where we performed the calculations between 3 fans of different blade spans and CFMs. The largest fan has the highest CFM yet the smallest fan produces the highest wind speed.
84" Fan with CFM of 10000 produces wind speed of 2.46 MPH (216.62 LFM)
52" Fan with CFM of 6500 produces wind speed of 3.76 MPH (331.04 LFM )
The above example shows how deceiving CFM data can be. Even though the 52" fan moves 35% less air than the 84" fan, the intensity of the breeze that produces a wind-chill effect is over 50% more than that of the larger fan and will make you feel much cooler if you are directly beneath it. So, to cover a larger area, two or more smaller fans with good performance may be a better choice than a single large higher CFM fan.