The Key Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Fans

differences between indoor and outdoor fans

If you’re looking for a fan for an outside space, chances are you may not know that there are important differences between indoor and outdoor ceiling fans. From the materials to the wiring, to the damp and wet ratings, there are a variety of factors to consider when purchasing a ceiling fan for the outside versus indoors.

While it may be tempting to choose a fan that fits your décor, selecting the wrong-rated fan can cause problems. If you’re purchasing a fan for an outdoor area, you’ll need to look at fans that are made of durable materials that can stand up to dampness or wetness, depending on their rating. You’ll also want to consider the climate you live in, especially if you live in a very warm area, as the materials you choose for your outdoor ceiling fan will need to be durable

The Ratings System

There are three ratings for ceiling fans: dry, damp and wet. Dry-rated ceiling fans are only to be used indoors. 

Damp-rated ceiling fans are made for areas which might have some exposure to moisture, but not to rain, snow or water. Wet-rated fans are so weatherproofed that you can wash them down with a hose without worrying about damaging the fan. 

Each rating takes into account specific materials which help protect sensitive wiring and make the blades less prone to being damaged by the elements. The ceiling fans are then built from these materials which optimize their specified environment.

Ceiling Fans 101

Indoor ceiling fans generally need less airflow (CFMs) than outdoor ceiling fans because indoor ceiling fans are usually moving air in a much smaller space than most outdoor fan placements.

CFM stands for cubic feet per minute, which measures how much volume of air is being moved by the blades of the fan in a given space, and the rate at which that air is moving. CFM, or airflow, is measured by the speed of the fan’s motor, the blades’ pitch and the length and shape of the fan blades.

The shape and size of an indoor room or outdoor covered area will affect the amount of CFMs you will need. An average-sized room will need between 3,000-6,000 CFMs to achieve optimal comfort from the airflow produced by the fan. If you are hanging a ceiling fan outdoors, you will generally need between 6,000-10,000 CFMs. In larger indoor rooms or open floor plans, you may also need a higher CFM range of up to 13,000.

ceiling fan in bedroom

Depending on the size and shape of the room you are looking to install your indoor fan, you will need to assess both the size of the fan and the efficiency of the fan. The effectiveness of a fan is determined by the CFMs divided by the wattage of the fan on the “high” setting. You want to choose a fan that will not only cool down a room but will also not spike the electrical bill.

To meet maximum efficiency standards with your indoor and outdoor ceiling fans, an LED lighting system is one of the most efficient ways to light your fan. This, coupled with an efficiency airflow fan, can keep your electric bill down while allowing you to also cut down on some of the air conditioning usage in warmer months.

In general, a room that is less than 50 square feet can do just fine with a ceiling fan up to 29 inches. Conversely, if you’re looking to keep the air moving and cool in a great room or a large living room that isn’t perfectly square, consider a large ceiling fan at around 56 inches. You may even want to consider placing two ceiling fans in that space if you have at least 18-24 inches of clearance around them.

Ideally, your ceiling fans should hang about eight feet above the ground in order to achieve maximum airflow for the occupants below. If your ceilings are too low, then seven feet is the next best placement. If your ceilings are more than eight feet high, suspend your ceiling fan from a down rod. Fans on sloped ceilings need a down rod to accommodate the slope. 

The Craftmade Augusta 60in ceiling fan

The number of ceiling blades does not impact the efficiency of the fan. Nowadays, it’s up to your taste and style as to which ceiling fan design is best for your space. The most critical factor in choosing a ceiling fan that will work for your space is purchasing one whose motor is specifically designed for the blade size and pitch of the fan blades. A larger motor is needed for larger blades with steeper pitches.

Dry-Rated Ceiling Fans

Dry-rated ceiling fans are designed to be used indoors where there is no exposure to moisture. Common areas for dry-rated indoor ceiling fan placement include:

  • Bedrooms
  • Living rooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Kitchens with plenty of ventilation and A/C
  • Foyers
  • Finished basements
  • Dens
  • Finished/insulated garages
  • Workshops
  • Laundry rooms with poor ventilation or no A/C

Generally, dry-rated ceiling fans are not recommended for bathrooms because they do tend to experience moisture build-up from baths and showers.

Dry-rated ceiling fans are commonly built using wood as the primary material source, and because of their safety from moisture, they usually come in a variety of designs, colors and electronic features. They typically have more intricate lighting features, hardware and ornamentation. Common blade materials for indoor fans include:

  • High-grade furniture wood or regular wood (usually balsa wood)
  • Plastic
  • Metal 
  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF)

dry rated ceiling fan graphic

The Craftmade 60” Augusta indoor ceiling fan comes in a beautiful, cottage-white finish with a gorgeous, energy-efficient light fixture. The Augusta features 6,246 CFMs and an included remote control, wall switch and dimmer. This is a perfect indoor ceiling fan that will add beauty and elegance to any indoor space.

While indoor ceiling fans are great at helping to keep the house cool and the air from becoming too stagnant, it’s important to remember to clean your ceiling fans often to eliminate dust build-up so you can get the most out of your fans.

Damp-Rated Ceiling Fans

Damp-rated ceiling fans are designed for areas which may be subject to a little bit of moisture but won’t directly come into contact with water or dampness. These fans are made for indoor and outdoor spaces, depending on where you are planning to utilize them. Common placement areas for damp-rated ceiling fans include:

  • Uninsulated garages or workshops
  • Bathrooms
  • Covered patios
  • Screened-in porches
  • Unfinished basements
  • Carports
  • Kitchens with poor ventilation or no A/C
  • Laundry rooms with poor ventilation or no A/C

outdoor patio with ceiling fan

Damp-rated fans are meant to stand up not only to indirect moisture found outside but also to humidity. This is what makes them a perfect fit for areas of the house that don’t have good ventilation or air conditioning. If humidity builds up in a room or area of your home or office, a damp-rated fan will not droop or warp.

Most importantly, damp-rated fan motors are protected in special waterproof casing. This protects the wiring from becoming damaged by water and moisture build-up, which can cause the fan to stop working or the wiring to catch fire. The hardware is also rustproof and won’t corrode.

The most critical aspect for a damp-rated fan is that the fan is not designed to withstand heavy downpours of rain or dumping of snow from above the fixture. However, the materials used for damp-rated fans are often more unique and have a greater variety in design than wet-rated fans. Wet-rated fans are made to withstand the worst of the weather and climate, but as long as your damp-rated fan is in a covered area, it can actually withstand quite a bit from Mother Nature.

While some damp-rated fans are made with all-purpose weather materials such as all-weather plastic or steel like their wet-rated counterparts, other damp-rated fans can be designed using wood with a special sealant to protect them from moisture. 

morpheus three 60in ceiling fan

The 60” Monte Carlo Maverick damp-rated balsa wood ceiling fan is one of the most energy-efficient fans on the market while still providing plenty of power and airflow. At 8,224 CFMs and an efficiency rating of 301, this fan is an excellent choice for an outdoor covered porch or a large basement.

These fans can withstand a light mist from a rain or snowstorm, but they cannot withstand constant contact with moisture. As long as they are in a covered area, a damp-rated fan’s blades will hold up to most of the same elements as a wet-rated fan.

Wet-Rated Fans

Wet-rated fans are designed for areas where they will be in direct contact with rain, snow, watering from the garden hose and a stiff, salty ocean breeze. These are the most durable of the fans; however, they are not always as ornate as damp-rated and dry-rated fans. Common placement areas for wet-rated outdoor ceiling fans include:

  • Lanais
  • Verandas
  • Cabanas
  • Gazebos
  • Exposed decks or porches
  • Pergolas
  • Boat docks
  • Waterfront porches
  • Tiki bars and outdoor bars

Wet-rated outdoor ceiling fans are so durable that they can come into contact with moisture and it won’t warp, corrode or otherwise damage the blades. They are also made of materials that stand up to wind, sun and water over time so that they won’t lose their color or texture. Wet-rated fans can usually be cleaned with a quick spray-down with the garden hose. 

An added benefit for wet-rated ceiling fans is that you usually don’t need to worry about what you use to clean them, as the finish is harder to damage by accidentally using the wrong cleaning chemicals. 

Wet-rated fans’ electrical wiring and motors are encased in waterproof and weatherproof protection, and the wiring is also covered in a silicone protectant. The area above the fan in the ceiling is also sealed and weatherproofed to protect the fan from any leaks. 

wet rated ceiling fan graphic

Typically, outdoor wet-rated fans are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic polymer. It’s an extremely lightweight material that is also very durable under almost every condition. It is commonly used to manufacture components in many industries and products, including:

  • LEGO building bricks
  • Computer keyboard keycaps
  • Luggage
  • Heads of non-wooden golf clubs
  • Small appliances
  • DWV (drain-waste-vent) pipes

ABS plastic can also be shaped and can be cut into very thin strips. This makes ABS plastic an extremely versatile substance when it comes to designing different shapes and styles of ceiling fans for outdoor spaces.

ABS plastic can also be creatively shaped and styled to look like wood, like the Modern Forms 60” Morphius III. This ABS-plastic wet-rated ceiling fan looks deceptively like a rich, dark walnut finish, but it’s actually completely safe for your veranda or gazebo.  

Other materials for wet-rated fans include galvanized stainless steel, which prevents rust and corrosive build-up. Some fans are also treated with an anti-corrosive paint which helps protect the underlying materials.

Wet-rated fans transform an outdoor space into one that you can enjoy for long hours at any time of day. It cuts down on the heat from the sun and keeps the warm air moving on a hot, muggy night. 

Wet-Rated Fans and Indoor Use

While dry-rated indoor ceiling fans can’t be used outside or in damp areas, wet-rated fans can be used indoors. Many homeowners and business owners opt for a wet-rated fan to use inside their home or office because of the minimal amount of upkeep that comes with a wet-rated fan.

palm leaf ceiling fan

Not only are wet-rated fans more durable, but they are much easier to clean. Fan owners don’t have to worry about ruining the finish of their wooden fan blades by using the wrong cleaner or scratching the fan blades with a sponge or brush. Owners also don’t have to worry about unnecessary warping of the blades due to humidity or mild moisture, and the blades are built to last for many, many years.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing the perfect ceiling fan for your indoor and outdoor spaces, you should consider more than just aesthetics. Also consider the rating, the CFMs and the efficiency of your fan. The best fan for your space is one that will move the air properly, efficiently and enjoyably for you and your family.

Contact Us

At Hansen Wholesale, we have been helping people find the right ceiling fans for their homes, offices and outdoor spaces since 1976. Let our experts help you decide which ceiling fan is perfect for your indoor or outdoor space. Call us today to request special pricing at 1-800-201-1193. Our ceiling fans also come with a lifetime return policy, 5-year replacement parts plan, free shipping over $49, free lifetime protection plan and free technical support.  

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