Created by German inventor Phillip Diehl, electronically-controlled ceiling fans arrived in 1882. While ceiling fan styles and features have changed significantly in the past 130 years, their primary operation has remained the same until now, with the introduction of smart home technology.
In this article, we take a look at the hottest smart ceiling fan solutions currently available on the market and the technology behind them.
The Different Types of Ceiling Fans
A ceiling fan has one purpose: to circulate air. In the warmer months, ceiling fans should rotate counterclockwise to push cold air down to the floor. During the colder months, ceiling fans should rotate clockwise to pull cool air up.
Pull-chain/pull-cord control ceiling fans usually have three speeds. As the name suggests, these fans include a tethered metal-bean chain or cloth cord.
In the 1970s and 1980, variable-speed control fans gained in popularity. These feature a dial mounted on the fan which, when turned in either direction, vary the speed at which the blades rotate. Wall-mounted control fans are similar, but with the dial found on a wall. Typically, these types of fans use proprietary or specialized switches.
Finally, you have wireless remote control fans. These hand-held controls are either supplied with the fan or fitted to an existing model. Typically, the remote transmits radio frequency or infrared control signals to a receiver unit installed in the fan. While these type of controllers still exist, increasingly ceiling fan manufacturers are moving towards smart remote controls, which is the basis for this article.
What Makes a Ceiling Fan Smart?
In the broadest terms, smart home products are devices that connect to a central hub using a switch or sensor. You control or interact with these devices with a wall-mounted terminal, mobile device, or web-based interface.
There are a lot of competing technologies and industry standards in the smart home space currently, including Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Apple HomeKit. Most only work with one protocol, although some of the newer products use multiple standards.
The First Integrated Smart Ceiling Fans
One of the largest manufacturers of ceiling fans is Tennessee-based Hunter Fan Company. They’re also the first company to offer ceiling fans that work directly with Apple HomeKit.
The company’s line of Symphony and Signal ceiling fans (all under $400) contain both Wi-Fi and Apple HomeKit technology. In doing so, the fans are controlled inside a home with an included handheld remote or from anywhere in the world through mobile devices.
- Pros: This is an all-in-one solution
- Cons: Only works with Apple HomeKit; these models are just coming on the market
First introduced in 2014, SenseMe allows you to control or schedule both the fan and its built-in LED light from your mobile devices. Haiku products aren’t compatible with Apple HomeKit. However, they do work with some of the other big names in home automation including the Nest Learning Thermostat, Amazon Alexa, and the ecobee smart thermostat.
- Pros: Haiku offers some of the most beautiful ceiling fans on the market
- Cons: Not compatible with Apple HomeKit; price is high
What’s Old is New Again
If you’re not in the market for a new ceiling fan, but still want to control your existing fans remotely, you’re in luck. You can add smart ceiling fan control to your current set up relatively inexpensively using one of the following solutions.
Z-Wave Smart Fan Control from GE
Available for around $45, the Z-Wave Smart Fan Control from GE replaces any standard in-wall switch to control a ceiling fan remotely. It also features a three-speed control system and integrated LED indicator light, which allows you to locate the switch in a dark room.
- Pros: Installation looks simple; price
- Cons: Z-Wave could limit integration with other solutions; no Apple HomeKit support
Insteon Ceiling Fan and Light Controller
The $150 Insteon Hub Pro Advanced Central Controller provides another Apple Homekit-compatible solution for ceiling fans, courtesy of the $80 dual-band Insteon Ceiling Fan and Light Controller. The biggest drawback with this solution is that it only works with AC motor-powered ceiling fans. Ceiling fans with DC-motor and built-in remote control motors are not compatible.
- Pros: Apple HomeKit
- Cons: Less expensive solutions are available; AC motor
SIMPLEconnect From Hunter
Hunter’s $79 SIMPLEconnect option turns regular ceiling fans into semi-smart fans using a Bluetooth connection. While this solution doesn’t work remotely, it does allow you to control your fans from the inside of your home using a mobile device. You can also use this solution to schedule when the fan and connected light turn on and off.
- Pros: Inexpensive solution; could become part of a larger Hunter soution
- Cons: Only works inside the home.
The ONQ Legrand DRD9-W RF Lighting Control in-wall fan speed control is similar to the Z-Wave. In this case, however, the fan uses radio frequency or RF. Regardless, you can still control your fan using a mobile device. The ONQ Legrand retails for around $150.
- Pros: RF is a known technology
- Cons: RF is an older technology; price
The $50 Belkin WeMo Light Switch allows you to schedule your fan and turn it on and off remotely. Better still, it works with Amazon Alexa and Nest.
- Pros: Price; Belkin name
- Cons: No Apple HomeKit integration
One of the biggest players in home automation is IFTTT, or “If This Then That.” The free service gives you creative control over products and apps. For example, with IFTTT, you can program lights to turn on at certain times of the day, or adjust the temperature in your home based on the conditions outside.
Many of the products mentioned here work with IFTTT, which is something to consider before making a purchase. Belkin WeMo and Z-Wave products work directly with IFTTT. Because Haiku fans support Amazon Alexa, they also can work with IFTTT.
Making a Choice
When it comes to making a new ceiling fan purchase, you can’t go wrong with either Hunter and Haiku. Both companies offer forward-looking smart ceiling fans solutions. In the case of Haiku, you probably can’t find a more beautiful line of products. The choice is harder to make when it comes to transforming existing ceiling fans into smart ones, although the price of entry is less.
If you’re really daring, you might want to consider going the Raspberry Pi route. If you can automate your garage door using Raspberry Pi, your ceiling fan isn’t so far off.
When looking for a solution, make sure the product can become a part of a larger home automation system for your home. By doing so, you can improve the likelihood that your product won’t become obsolete in the not so distant future, thereby saving you time and money.