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Outdoor Ceiling Fans: A Simple Solution For Keeping Cool This Summer

Every summer I start out with the intent to spend more time outside: grilling, walking, reading, or just laying out in the sun. But unfortunately I happen to live in a climate where “fun in the sun” means high heat and high humidity – in other words, not that much fun at all. All too often, I wind up couped up inside in a house that’s closed up just as tightly as it is in the winter. But if you, too, want to make better use of your outdoor spaces, I’ve found there’s a surprisingly simple solution: outdoor ceiling fans.

Lakefront Porch With Ceiling Fan (by Historical Concepts)
Lakefront Porch With Ceiling Fan (by Historical Concepts)

I’ll admit, at first glance this might not seem like much of a solution at all. I know for a long time I personally considered ceiling fans to be hardly a step above a box fan – a less expensive but only so-so stand in for AC. But it turns out that outdoor ceiling fans are one of the only effective ways to cool an outdoor space, and work in a variety of environments. As long as you have a ceiling, overhang, or (in a climate that’s temperate year-round) a pergola to mount the fan to and to conceal the electrical wiring, an outdoor ceiling fan is a viable option in any climate.

Front Porch With Ceiling Fan (by Tongue and Groove)
Front Porch With Ceiling Fan (by Tongue and Groove)

Air conditioners both big and small work by drawing heat out of the air inside, depositing the heat outside, and circulating the cooled air throughout the room or house. They actually lower the temperature in the room. Because ceiling fans are simpler machines, they only move air rather than changing its temperature. But in the case of an outdoor space, this is actually a good thing: even a stationary air conditioner would be wasted, because the cool air would dissipate immediately, and there wouldn’t be anywhere else for the heated air to go. Ceiling fans simply move air, but the sensation of the air blowing across your skin makes it feel about five degrees cooler than it actually is.

Covered Porch With Ceiling Fans And Rockers (by Gerald D. Cowart)
Covered Porch With Ceiling Fans And Rockers (by Gerald D. Cowart)

What this means for an outdoor space is that you can lower the apparent temperature without any energy or cold air wasted – and by extension that you can sit comfortably in an outdoor space without having to wall it in and crank on the AC, making a porch or patio just as viable as a sun room in very hot, humid areas. Outdoor ceiling fans turn hot, stagnant air into a gentle, cool-feeling breeze that can bring relief during the hottest part of the day. Combined with the shade of an overhang or awning, a covered outdoor space can be made to feel much cooler than the surrounding area, while still affording you the sunshine and breath of fresh air you want from a summer day.

Porch Swing With Ceiling Fan (by TerraCotta Properties)
Porch Swing With Ceiling Fan (by TerraCotta Properties)

Of course, this is all more or less what ceiling fans do inside as well. But outdoor ceiling fans come with an added bonus, and it’s one that probably wouldn’t occur to you: they can also fend off insects. Even a fairly gentle current of air acts as a deterrent to bugs like mosquitoes, wasps, flies, and bees, creating a sort of barrier between “normal” air and air that’s being circulated. This can allow a closed porch to become an open porch, acting as a supplement (or, depending on the levels of your pest problem) even a replacement for zappers or citronella candles.

Outdoor Kitchen With Ceiling Fans (by 708 Studios LLC, photo by Lisa Piper)
Outdoor Kitchen With Ceiling Fans (by 708 Studios LLC, photo by Lisa Piper)

Outdoor ceiling fans are also a great addition for an outdoor kitchen, as they can be used as a passable replacement for (much) more expensive outdoor range hoods. Because ceiling fans work by pulling air upward, placed over a grill or other outdoor cooktop they can help wick away smoke and keep the air in a semi-enclosed outdoor space a little bit clearer – not to mention helping reduce the heat where it accumulates around large cooking appliances. Just make sure not to place them too close to the source of the heat to prevent damage.

Porch Bed Swing With Ceiling Fan (by Hansen Architects)
Porch Bed Swing With Ceiling Fan (by Hansen Architects)

Now, unless you happen to live in one of the few parts of the world that has mild, temperate weather year round, your biggest concern is probably how well an outdoor ceiling fan will hold up over the long haul. After all, unlike outdoor furniture you probably won’t be covering it up or packing it into storage for the off season, and wherever there’s water, electricity should be a concern. But as long as the ceiling fan is mounted to a sturdy overhang (leave the pergolas for Southern California and the Mediterranean), both the wiring and the motor should be more than adequately protected from rain or snow. Likewise, outdoor ceiling fans are typically designed with weather-friendly blades, made either of plastic or a typical outdoor material like bamboo or rattan, and other weather-resistant features, so unlike a painted wood indoor fan, they won’t chip, warp, rust, or peel if exposed to harsh weather conditions.

Are you considering renovating your outdoor space, or are you just looking for a way to keep your existing space a little cooler during the hot summer months? Let me know in the comments!