Ask LH: What’s The Deal With Ceiling Fan Speeds?

Ask LH: What’s The Deal With Ceiling Fan Speeds?
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Hey Lifehacker, Why is the fastest speed on my ceiling fan “1”, while the slowest is “5”? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? What gives? Thanks, Fan Of Fans

Fan picture from Shutterstock

Dear FOF,

I must confess I’d not noticed this phenomena until you pointed it out to me. I just checked the fan in my lounge room and it does indeed use its numerical speeds in reverse. (i.e. — “1” is the fastest setting and “3” is the slowest.)

However, the ceiling fan in my bedroom uses a more conventional numbering system, with “5” being the fastest. Rather than an industry-wide practice, it seems to depend on the manufacturer and fan model. This still doesn’t explain why, however.

We posed your question to a ceiling fans manager at Bunnings Warehouse in Alexandria, NSW. According to the representative we spoke to, the quirk could have something to do with the remotes being manufactured in foreign countries that are unfamiliar with Western numbering systems. He freely admitted that this was just a guess though.

Other possible explanations could be user convenience (i.e. — most people prefer the fastest setting which appears on the dial first), the perception of “1” being first/best or simply improper wiring. Or maybe fan manufacturers are just bonkers.

If any readers have their own theories feel free to share them in the comments section below!


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  • I think fastest is numbered 1, as in number 1 is the top of most things – number 1 in TV ratings = the highest rating show ; number 1 in sport = The best player/team ; etc. So apply it to speed. Number 1 = fastest speed

  • As an appliance product designer I can ensure you that the level of thought gone into the product user interface graphics on many of these style of products is particularly low. It might be that the sourced switch component specified by the Chinese engineer happened to have 3 steps or 5 steps and the speed order was dictated by this selection.

  • Two of our ceiling fans follow this logic, but one of them goes:
    1- Fastest
    2 – Slowest
    3 – Medium

    …go figure…

  • its also as simple as which cables are put in where on the back of the dial, usually you’ll find the numbers can be switched around if the active and neutral cables are switched (by a licensed electrician of course)

  • As I understand it, you’re supposed to start a fan on it’s fastest setting, then dial down to the speed you actually desire.. More torque from the extra power I guess, more torque on startup means less load on the motor, therefore longer lifespan for the motor.
    People are more inclined to switch from Zero to 1 than Zero to 5, therefore it’s a deliberate engineering design to have 1 as the fastest setting.

    Is it possible that it’s the cheap fans that don’t have this “feature”, so the motor burns out earlier and you replace the fan more frequently? (ie premature failure by design)

  • i have a better question, why are my ceiling fan speeds so inconsistent? 1 is the slowest. 2 is slightly faster and 3 is like 10 times faster.

  • Aren’t fan speeds controlled by a variable resistor? If so, the first setting is zero resistance all the way up to maximum resistance which slows the fan down as you turn the dial. I haven’t actually looked in to this, but have just told myself this explanation to help sleep better at night (with my ceiling fan buzzing above me on “1”)

  • We just installed a ceiling fan and my hubby thought the sparky had wired it wrong, but he followed the manual (yep, I checked the manual). My theory is that it’s 3-2-1 and then blast-off if you get it to go any faster!

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