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I am in the market to buy two large ceiling fans to cycle air within and potentially cool my master bedroom. The room is about 16x27 feet, and it gets pretty hot during spring, summer, and early fall. I have wired both mounts into the ceiling, and tried out a single 52" Harbor Breeze fan in one of them. The fan produced a very audible motor hum, similar to that described in this question, however strait off of my native power. Cranking the fan up to high speed would drown out the sound of the hum, but then I have the fan noise itself to deal with. I've had an electrician come out and check the wiring, and everything is solid according to him.

From a wiring standpoint, I used a Harbor Breeze remote control with the fan, which was nicely designed to fit within and work perfectly with the Harbor Breeze fan itself. Wiring the remote control receiver was a no brainer...every connection was color coded. I did notice, however, that the wires from the fan itself were solid core, where as the wires from the remote receiver were stranded aluminum. I am not sure if this might cause a problem, and introduce motor hum? Having a remote is important (see background below for why.)

I did some searching, and there seem to be a variety of complaints about Harbor Breeze fans and motor hum (and an even broader search indicates that motor hum is not an infrequent problem.) Do ceiling fans of high enough quality, with large enough motors to run the fan silently, actually exist? Is it possible to get a ceiling fan that works with a remote without motor hum?


Background

I have severe sleep issues, one of them being high sensitivity to noise. When its hot, I have even more trouble sleeping, and I expend a considerable amount of money running my air conditioner to keep my home cool during the summer. I am close to desperate to find a way to cool my room without the need to run my air conditioner as much, and ceiling fans seem to be the ideal solution. I've lived in apartments in the past that had truly silent ceiling fans, and I was able to sleep well with them. I'm largely just lacking information and knowledge about what brands I should be looking at, what price point I should be looking at (I think I spent about $200 on the one 52" Harbor Breeze before, from Lowes, but I'm willing to spend twice that or more per fan if it gets me a quiet one without motor hum.)

Given my sleeping issues, I need to be able to turn the fan on or off without getting out of bed. Generally speaking, if I get up once I've finally started to fall asleep, my night is over...I don't sleep at all. I used a remote with the Harbor Breeze, however I think that may have made the motor hum worse...as the wiring of the receiver was really cheap. Are there any known high quality remote receivers that use proper wiring and support the right kind of electric load for a large ceiling fan?

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The fan will never be silent, unless it's off (or it's one of these fans that work via magic). The blades swinging through the air will certainly make noise. –  Tester101 Mar 7 '12 at 23:12
    
@Tester101: I know there will be some sound, however I am not concerned about the quiet wind noise made by such a fan at low speed. My mind tends to latch on to electronic hums and similar sounds, like the rumble of an idling engine in the distance. I need to deal with that, the sound of fan blades passing through the air is not a concern, and why its not the topic of my question. –  jrista Mar 8 '12 at 1:41
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BTW, the Dyson rings just use an impeller embedded in the ring to move air. I've tried those...they make FAR more noise than a ceiling fan even at their lowest setting. Its not so much magic as it is cheap at high cost. ;) –  jrista Mar 8 '12 at 1:45
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I'd also recommend a fan with a timer on it. Some of the models with remotes have timers, and if you're hardwiring you can use an in-wall countdown timer. Personally I like the fan on while falling asleep, but hate it in the morning when it's colder (or the cold fan wakes me up too early), so the timer that shuts it off sometime after I fall asleep is perfect. –  gregmac Mar 9 '12 at 19:01
    
@gregmac Sounds like one with a thermometer might be even better than a timer for you. –  derobert Sep 20 '12 at 20:44
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8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You might look into ceiling fans with DC motors. While I have not seen a manufacturer talk about quietness, some reviews I've read talk about quietness. The biggest attraction to DC motors is the efficiency of the motors, getting more air movement with less power.

My suggestion would be find a local fan / light showroom that has some of these on display that you can try.

Also, fan speed controls have a lot to do with the fan noise. A fully variable wallbox style speed control can cause motor noise, but the fan speed controls that have preset "clicks" that you feel when adjusting are made for quiet operation. I don't know if the remote set you got was matched by the manufacturer or just off the shelf, but that could make a difference.

You also have to remember that some people leave their fans on for a "white noise" effect, which helps them (me) sleep. My wife insists that we keep a floor fan on for the noise. Because of this, when it comes to trouble shooting a loud motor then you might not get as much help as you think you would get.

Again, try a fan specialty shop. The salespeople will know which are quieter and should know more about them than a box store.

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My wife likes the white noise from fans as well, so much so that we burned out a box fan and I'm now shivering through the night with the ceiling fan on high until I knuckle under and buy another box fan. BTW, my Harbor Breeze ceiling fan, which has a remote speed control, is inaudible as far as motor noise until you put it on its highest setting. –  KeithS Mar 9 '12 at 15:55
    
Thanks for the insight. Looks like DC motor is probably the way to go. Interestingly, I had to spend a lot of time researching online. In the big local lighting stores and warehouses, I really did not get much help from the employees. They knew what brands they sold, which ones most people liked most, and which were most expensive. No one knew anything about how quiet any of their ceiling fans were... :\ –  jrista Mar 31 '12 at 21:38
    
I sat in a training meeting given by Broan/Nutone Thursday and they are starting to use the DC motors in vent fans. No motor sound, just fan cage disturbing the air. Add the grill and ducting and there is still not noise either. While these motors are smaller than a ceiling fan, I believe that 90% of the noise would be the blades. The motors that Broan was using are designed for 24/7/365 continuous usage. –  lqlarry Apr 1 '12 at 4:31
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There is a new fan on the market called the "Exhale Fan" it takes everything we are wanting and talking about to a whole new level. DC motor, blade less fan, toroidal air flow, ultra quiet.

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Thanks for the reply. Any idea if there is some richer information out there about these fans? I couldn't find anything about sound decibel levels on their site...and I'd really need that to know if this is quiet enough for me. (As a side note, it looks like most of those fans are backordered at least 100 orders deep, some several hundred... :o...) –  jrista Jun 4 at 19:59
    
Update: I did find sound levels. I thought the chart at the bottom of their home page was a comparison with other fans. Turns out this thing is 34dB at it's quietest...far too loud for me. I need something in the 10-20dB range. I used to live in a place that had standard ceiling fans that were close to 10dB on the lower two settings...you couldn't hear a thing unless you got up to them and pointed your ear right towards the fan. That's what I need...34-40dB...wow, in the dead of night that's like a jet engine! :P –  jrista Jun 4 at 20:50
    
I think that's wind movement not motor noise. I'm buying one so I'll give you a review once I have it up and going. –  Rob Wayman Jun 9 at 1:06
    
Yeah, it is wind movement noise. If the wind sound is 34dB at the lowest setting, that is LOUD. I've had ceiling fans that were less than 20dB at their lowest or even lowest two settings...no wind sound, no motor sound, just a very light breeze. That's what I need...but I don't think it still exists anymore. –  jrista Jun 9 at 4:16
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There is such a thing as a silent fan. We have a 25 years old Hunter Fan in our bedroom. It is absolutely silent and I can hear a pin drop at night. We have two other Hunter Fans that are quiet but not silent. So you have to research which style Hunter Fans are the silent ones.

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you can solve all issues for quietness by purchasing a midpriced CASABLANCA FAN - they have FOUR speeds and among the quietest fans i have ever used. I had replaced all past bedroom fans as they continued to hum or make noise even when new. finally an electrician advised use casablanca fan....it worked!! yes more expensive but will last 25 years and even on highest speed which will blow your room out, its super duper quiet ! look at casablanca on AMAZON.com LASTLY DC motor fans are amazing, min cost i think around 300.oo or so but absolutely quiet and will (and should) last a lifetime - hope that helps signed someone who is light sleeper and has tried every ceiling fan model out there!

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I'm curious why this was down voted. While the quality of the writing is not great, are there any discrepancies in the facts? I have actually still not purchased a fan...once winter hit, I decided to hold off. I still need one, though... –  jrista Mar 8 '13 at 17:00
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@jrista, I think it was down voted because this answer is giving a "product recommendations, or brand specific advice." which is considered off-topic per the FAQ. Though, I could be wrong. –  TheFlyingToaster Mar 8 '13 at 17:37
    
What about this fan makes it so quiet? Brand availability depends greatly on location so don't expect that anyone else on this site can purchase that exact fan. –  Steven Mar 8 '13 at 19:17
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The sounds associated with a ceiling fan can be extremely annoying, as you say in your post, you dont expect the fan to be completely silent, just to have a good sound profile that can easily become white noise, (for me, this means to excessive noise & no deviation from rhythm)

I can think of the following factors causing noise:

Air Flow: This is associated with the fan pushing the air - solution: more ergonomic fan blades.. see sycamore fan

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Bearings: Quality bearings on the fan will reduce the friction associated with the rotation, generally this is not the source of the noise, only on old worn fans. - Factors for consideration: to minimise noise here, a heavy fan-motor/housing base will cause both the bearings and noise absorption to be improved. Also, make sure that the fan blades are not bent or unbalanced. since an unbalanced fan will definitely send noise through to the motor. You can test for this type of noise if you hold the fan motor base with your hand while the fan is on low speed (please be careful here) or take each blade off and measure the weight with a kitchen scale.

Motor Driver and speed Control: modern motors use a chopper driver (traic) to regulate the speed (therefore torque) of the motor, this may cause a whining hum. this noise may get louder at low speeds (low torque) - A good quality driver should not make noise, so this would be as a result of the build quality of the fan.

Motor Windings (stator) Most of the noise comes from the ac current running through the windings (copper wire on the stator) . noise will come be generated from the ac frequency vibrating each strand slightly (to the hz of the ac pattern)... there is a technique called dipping, where these coils are coated in a non conductive epoxy or tape, where the noise profile is improved substantially. (this would not a recommended solution since its quite technical.. just added for information see Epoxy Resin for motors

enter image description here

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I recommend you check out Big Ass Fans.

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Heh...are they all HUGE? Or do they have normal sized fans? –  jrista Mar 12 '12 at 19:32
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@jrista: They are big ass fans. –  staticx Mar 13 '12 at 16:40
    
The Haiku model is bedroom sized at 5ft haikufan.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Haiku-Brochure.pdf –  HerrBag Mar 8 '13 at 16:04
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Most electronic noise is made by the AC cyclic voltage, which is audible whenever that wave is transferred into something that can vibrate. That noise generally becomes more prominent (changing from a hum to a buzz) when there is something that changes the waveform to produce sharp "corners" (a "square wave"). A particularly noisy combination is a TRIAC wall dimmer and an electric motor; the TRIAC only allows current to pass when the voltage is above a certain (adjustable) threshold, creating an extremely "jagged" waveform. The motor then gets these sharp spikes of current which can induce sympathetic vibrations in the armature.

So, if you're trying to avoid fan noise, the first step is to remove any wall dimmers on this circuit. You should instead use a fan control module that is specifically designed for fans; it will step down the voltage in a way that won't create such a jagged waveform.

Second, yes, some fans are quieter than others. Generally the beefier the motor is, and the newer the fan, the less it will hum. As the fan ages it will begin humming more, especially if you don't reverse the motor direction during the winter (it's as much a maintenance thing as it is circulating air in the "proper" direction). But, I installed a Harbor Breeze fan, one of the cheapest in the store, and it's hum-less until you put it on high.

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If we taught it the words maybe they wouldn't hum? –  lqlarry Mar 9 '12 at 23:45
    
No wall switch dimmers of any kind...just your standard light switch. I did, however, use a Harbor Breeze brand three-speed remote control and light dimmer with the Harbor Breeze brand fan. The receiver device for the remote, which fit inside the top part of the fan assembly, used what appeared to be extremely cheap stranded aluminum wiring, while the fan itself and obviously the wiring from the wall switch was all solid core. Could the remote receiver have introduced the hum, even though it was the same brand? –  jrista Mar 10 '12 at 1:23
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When you say "no dimmer switches", are there any AT ALL on the breaker circuit? A dimmer, when turned down, will turn the power on and off on that branch. That will affect the waveform of other parallel branches of the same circuit. "Noisy" power is a big concern in pro audio (which I'm familiar with) because it's sensitive to the "backwash" effect that a dimmer has on the entire building's power service (even different breakers). Your fan motor won't be that sensitive, but a dimmer for the lights in the next room might be causing "noisy power" to your fan on the same breaker. –  KeithS Mar 12 '12 at 23:33
    
Yup, no dimmers at all on this particular branch. I wired most of it myself at this point, and I know where my "virgin power" is, and whats using it. At the moment, its a three-gang light switch with the original outlet-controlling switch, two additional wired by me which lead up to the ceiling mounts for the fans, and a fire alarm. (Actually, I believe the fire alarm is pulled off of its own branch now, independent of the light switches.) There is a single dimmer on a switch for one room that pulls off of an entirely different circuit, but its never even on, let alone dimmed. –  jrista Mar 15 '12 at 3:21
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The fan will never be completely silent. As Tester101 said in the comments, the even if the motor is silent, the blades moving in the air will still make noise (sometimes a lot!).

There are two sources of noise you need to minimize - the motor and the blades.

Fans are loudest when at full power and tend to get quieter when the power is reduced. What I've been successful with is purchasing a fan that is larger/more powerful then needed but running it at reduced power by means of a fan speed controller. A higher quality unit is likely to be quieter too. I don't know about the brand you are referencing, but you might want to check with a more specialized supplier, and you should definitely experiment with different brands (big box store return policies make this relatively easy).

The different configurations (size, material, angle, number of blades) of fans will affect noise level as well. Again, experimenting might help you find the best solution.

I would worry about how to remotely control it last - there are a lot of options for this.

Check the unit specifications, you might get lucky and find some information on the amount of noise (in dB). If not try asking the manufacture.

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At low speeds, the sound of the fan blades through the air is not an issue...different kind of noise, one that does not bother me. Consistent, repetitive hums and rumbles are a huge problem, hence the question being about eliminating the electronic hum. –  jrista Mar 8 '12 at 1:42
    
While a more expensive fan does not assure it will be quiet, a cheap one will far more likely be loud. I agree - go to a fan shop, where they know their stuff. –  user558 Mar 8 '12 at 9:03
    
Yeah, I plan to hit up a fan shop or two this next weekend. I think I've found a couple with good reputations around here. –  jrista Mar 12 '12 at 19:32
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