There are few things better in life than being outside, enjoying the company of family and friends on a nice day, eating, laughing, and being merry. That is until the cooling breeze vanishes, and you’re left standing in direct, burning sunlight or sitting in a miserable humid cloud of sweat while under your pergola. For those moments, it may be time to consider an outdoor ceiling fan.

Perfect for any outdoor space that includes cover (or an added structure, for that matter), an outdoor fan offers incredible comfort, reducing heat and humidity with a constant gentle breeze while also effectively distributing air and eliminating any stagnant hot spots. They also happen to be affordable and relatively easy to install. If you have no idea where to start on your outdoor fan buying journey, fear not. Our outdoor experts have constructed this guide to address everything you need to know before making a purchase.

What Is an Outdoor Fan?

An outdoor fan is not unlike an indoor model in looks and operation, but it is specifically designed to be able to withstand the environment of your patio, gazebo, or general outdoor space. That includes weather conditions like rain, humidity, and even intense UV exposure, which, as you might imagine, would ruin an indoor fan.

Made with weather-resistant materials and incorporating a sealed internal housing for its motor, an outdoor fan is built to endure the elements and last for many years. It is used to provide a comfortable outdoor atmosphere with its gentle breezes, which reduces both heat and humidity (not to mention the money saved by not relying on air conditioning). That air distribution also acts as a natural insect repellent and ensures your guests can enjoy your outdoor space in comfort.

There are various types of outdoor fans for you to choose from for your outdoor space. Ceiling fans are a popular option as they’re both out of the way and incredibly effective in distributing airflow. Freestanding fans are more noticeable but have the added benefit of being portable, allowing them to be situated both outside and inside. Wall mounted fans can be installed just about anywhere in your outdoor space and are designed to conform to any décor. There are also misting fans and evaporative coolers, the latter of which cools air through the evaporation of water and directs it outward.

An outdoor fan can be the perfect addition to your outdoor space and its aesthetic. Its style, combined with the practical benefits mentioned above, is what makes it such a worthy investment for your outdoor living space.

What’s the Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Fans?

An indoor and outdoor ceiling fan may look similar, but they are designed and built with key differences to suit their environments and overall purpose.

Outdoor Fans

  • Built with weather-resistant materials, finishes, and components, making them more suitable for outdoor use.
  • Resistant to rust and corrosion due to their weatherproof features.
  • Blades are designed to maximize airflow, which, in turn, reduces heat and humidity.
  • Designed with powerful motors to accommodate large, open spaces. The motor housing is sealed to protect it from the elements.

Indoor Fans

  • Constructed with materials not designed for outdoor conditions nor are they built to resist exposure to moisture or dramatic temperature changes.
  • No protective coatings or materials to prevent rust or corrosion.
  • Blades are often made from medium-density fiberboard and are mostly for aesthetics.
  • The motors are less powerful compared to outdoor fans as they’re designed for lower airflow.

Indoor ceiling fans are not constructed to endure any of the outdoor elements, including moisture, winds, or extreme temperatures. It is only the intentionally designed outdoor fans that can operate in an outdoor space, providing efficient airflow and a comfortable environment while doing so.

Outdoor Fan Styles

There’s no storage of designs out there for outdoor ceilings fans. The tricky part is finding what type works best for you and your outdoor space. The four styles below all offer the same benefits—cooling breezes that reduce heat, humidity, and the prevalence of insects—but provide different aesthetics to match your ideal outdoor design. Let’s take a look.

Contemporary Outdoor Fans

Sleek, modern, and typically minimalist design, contemporary outdoor ceiling fans are built for a streamlined look that blends seamlessly with various outdoor décor. This style of fan is often made from stainless steel and commonly comes in more neutral color schemes. The configuration itself is meant to offer a slim profile (without an overly bulky motor housing) that operates quietly and efficiently. This is partly because of fans blades that are especially designed for optimal air flow.

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Traditional Outdoor Fans

Traditional outdoor ceiling fans provide all the modern features of a contemporary unit but with classic design elements for a timeless look. This type of fan is typically constructed with such materials as iron, bronze, or even aged wood and is often stained or painted with warm, darker tones for a vintage or Old-World aesthetic. In many cases the blades are unique in shape and the motor housing may include decorative details. It’s these kind of design elements that can elevate any outdoor space.

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Transitional Outdoor Fans

Aptly named for its ability to fit into multiple spaces’ aesthetic, a transitional outdoor ceiling fan combines elements from both contemporary and traditional designs. It’s a favorite amongst homeowners seeking to purchase a type of fan that complements various architectural and décor styles. Transitional outdoor fans are typically made from durable, weather-resistant materials like ABS plastic, composite, or weatherproof wood.

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Tropical Outdoor Fans

Designed to evoke the feeling of being in a jungle or a seaside paradise, tropical outdoor ceiling fans make use of earthly tones and wider, broader fan blades that often resemble large tropical leaves. This is both to achieve its aesthetic but also maximize airflow, which is ideal for hot, humid climates. In addition to commonly making use of natural materials and finishes like distressed wood, bronze, and other weathered metals, the motor housing on these fans traditionally uses bamboo or rattan for an added flair.

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What Size Ceiling Fan Is Right for Your Space?

Ceiling fans are measured by their blade span (or sometimes “blade sweep”), which refers to the diameter of the circular area covered by the blades when they’re in motion. To calculate the blade span size required for your outdoor area, you’ll first need to measure the size of that space.

Once you have an exact measurement, or a close estimate, of your outdoor space, you can identify the necessary blade span according to the following:

  • 0 to 75 square feet: 28–36”
  • 75-144 square feet: 36–42”
  • 144-225 square feet: 44–54”
  • 225-400 square feet: 54–72”

Outdoor Fan Controls

Let’s talk control. Outdoor fans typically come with a specific type of controller to allow homeowners to adjust a fan’s speed, lighting, and even blade direction. These controls are meant to provide users convenience and customization to enhance overall outdoor comfort.

Pull Chains

The most traditional of the control methods, pull chains are typically included with most outdoor fans. There are often several chains, each of which controls a specific function, and, in most cases, those functions offer three different settings. This is especially true for the fan speed, which can be tuned to low, medium, or high.

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Wall Mounted Control

Hardwired into your electrical system, a wall-mounted control includes buttons and switches for adjusting the fan speed, the direction of the blades, and for turning the fan light on or off. Some wall-mounted controls incorporate a slide or a rotary switch for even more precise speed adjustments.

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Remote Control

Less sophisticated than a smart control, a remote control often includes simple buttons that allow you to quickly and easily adjust your outdoor fan’s functions from a close distance, without having to get up (talk about “energy efficient”).

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Smart Control

Smart controls—whether through an app or in your home system—are becoming more common in the industry. These controls allow users to make fan adjustments with the touch of a button on a smartphone (and connection to Wi-Fi) or a simple voice command.

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4 Factors That Determine Which Outdoor Fan Is Right for You

When deciding which outdoor fan to purchase, there are several key factors worth considering. These concern both the fan itself as well as the outdoor space you intend to install the fan in. To help educate and empower homeowners like you, we’ve broken down the four most important considerations to make before buying and installing your outdoor ceiling fan.

  1. Climate Rating: outdoor fans differ in how they respond to moisture and other weather conditions. The climate rating (or moisture rating) lets you know just how much water the fan can handle without severe damage. Outdoor fans are set to one of three climate ratings: dry-rated, damp-rated, or wet-rated. Dry-rated fans cannot handle any outdoor conditions. Damp-rated fans can withstand the sun and moisture in the air, but direct water contact will harm the fan. Wet-rated fans can withstand mist, rain, snow, and water splash as they are built with superior materials and finishes that offer premium weather resistance.
  2. Environmental Considerations: it is also important to give thought to other environmental factors, such as winds and the salt content in the air. For windy areas, find a fan that is made of stronger materials like stainless steel or iron and install it with a downrod for increased stability and safety. For those in coastal areas, the salt spray can lead to quickened corrosion and decay, which is why we recommend an outdoor fan made from marine-grade components. That way you can ensure your unit will last longer and function better in those salty environments.
  3. Size: outdoor ceiling fans are measured by their blade span, and it is that measurement, in combination with the square footage of your outdoor space, that should be used to determine what size fan is right for you. In addition to the square footage of the space, you will also need to consider the height of the area for the sake of installation purposes.
  4. Lighting Capabilities: the final consideration to make before purchasing your outdoor ceiling fan is the lighting capabilities. Lighted ceiling fans typically offer options such an integrated LED lights, light kits, and sometimes compatibility with separate light fixtures. The integrated LED lights are the most energy efficient and, therefore, the best investment for the long term but the decision is ultimately up to you and how the light component of the outdoor fan fits into the aesthetic of your outdoor space.

Flush Mount or Downrod Ceiling Fan

Before installing an outdoor ceiling fan into your outdoor space, it is important to consider if that area requires a flush mount or a downrod mount ceiling fan. What’s the difference? We’re glad you asked.

Flush mount fans are installed directly against the ceiling. There’s little to no space between the fan’s motor and the ceiling surface. These types of fans are designed for “low-profile” spaces, which is typically anything 8 feet and below. As these fans are mounted close to the ceiling, they may not provide as effective air circulation but, aesthetically, they tend to blend in with the ceiling surface and, again, are compatible with smaller spaces.

A downrod ceiling fan is installed using an extension rod that, well, extends down from the ceiling surface. Designed for a ceiling that measures more than 9 feet in height, a downrod ensures there is proper distance from the ceiling surface for optimal air distribution. These fans are far more visible but can accommodate larger rooms or spaces with higher ceilings.

What Factors Influence Where I Can Place My Outdoor Ceiling Fan?

There are several issues to consider when deciding where to install an outdoor ceiling fan. It’s also important to remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and to consult a licensed professional before undertaking any outdoor installation project.

  • Seating Areas - installing an outdoor ceiling fan over a seating or dining area will ensure that your guests are enjoying cool breezes in the area they need it most.
  • Clearances - make sure your installation point is clear from any obstructions, like walls, beams, or any foliage. Of course, you want to make sure your fan also clears the height of your tallest friend!
  • Ceiling Height - based on how high the ceiling is in the area you’re planning to install your outdoor fan you may need to choose between a flush mount or downrod ceiling fan.
  • Outdoor Ratings - depending on the outdoor exposure of the area that you’d like to install, you will need to ensure you have the properly rated (damp, dry, or wet-rated) outdoor fan.
  • Electrical Connections - ensure that you have the necessary electrical connections and wiring in place for the fan installation. Consult a licensed professional before installation or if you’re replacing an existing fan. This includes any electrical work that may be required for a fan light.
  • Aesthetics - consider how your outdoor fan will look in any given area and whether it complements the overall design and style.

Outdoor Misting Fans

Outdoor misting fans are designed to cool an outside area by combining the airflow of a fan with the added cooling effect of misting water droplets. The unit itself is no different than the standard outdoor ceiling fans we’ve discussed throughout this guide but what is different is the dedicated misting system.

The misting system consists of a network of nozzles and misting heads usually placed around the fan’s perimeter. These nozzles are connected to some type of water supply, be it a common garden hose or water supply line. In some models, there are even built-in water tanks that need to be regularly filled and don’t rely on a hose connection.

In coordination with a pump that pressurizes the water and pushes the water through the nozzles, a fine mist is released into the air, which is then directed by the fan’s airflow. The mist is dispersed into the air, it evaporates, absorbing heat from the surrounding environment, producing a cooling effect. Common in amusement parks and sports fields, outdoor misting fans can be a welcome addition to your outdoor space. It may be worth consulting a professional during installation as misting fans can damage any electrical equipment (or other sensitive materials) in your outdoor space.