It’s a precarious time for ceiling fan manufacturers.
On March 22,2013, American Lighting Assn.  (ALA) President Dick Upton and several ALA members attended the U.S. Department of Energy  (DOE) Public Meeting on Energy Conservation Standards Framework for Ceiling Fans and Ceiling Fan Light Kits, where a discussion about imposing additional energy-efficiency requirements on ceiling fans took place. These potential regulations could increase the cost of producing ceiling fans and have the potential to negatively impact the industry.
“ALA supports energy efficiency but is concerned that possible changes could drive up the cost of ceiling fans or require a less reliable motor type to be put into ceiling fans,” says Clark Linstone, Chair of the ALA Government Affairs Committee. “Most importantly, you don’t want to make something that already saves a tremendous amount of energy more expensive for consumers.”
The Current Situation
The only “efficiency” requirement currently in place for ceiling fan production mandates that light kits using lamps in a certain category be required to have a power limiter device to restrict electrical consumption to 190W or less of power. This regulation is mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005), which also introduced several other changes for ceiling fan production, including packaging and control capabilities.
According to the EPACT 2005, current energy conservation standards must be reviewed every seven years. In concordance, on March 11, 2013, the DOE released a 100-plus page Framework Document asking for feedback from industry members to evaluate the potential additional energy-savings requirements on ceiling fans, including technology options to improve efficiency.
Based on the Framework Document, it’s possible that the DOE could impose a regulation requiring that all ceiling fans use a DC instead of an AC motor. And, although DC motors are more energy-efficient and use significantly less wattage on a high setting, the cost is four to five times that of an AC motor and DC motor reliability has been an issue. Also, because most ceiling fans are not run on a high setting the majority of the time, but usually medium or low, the difference in wattage used becomes almost insignificant.
In a letter to the DOE regarding this review of standards, Progress Lighting ’s David Peek wrote: “There is little evidence that efficiency can be improved significantly for single-phase motors without (a) increasing their size and (b) increasing the gauge of the copper windings. Both of these changes will have net cost increases, potentially quite significant and only serve to modestly improve efficiency.”
Fanimation , Westinghouse Lighting Corp.  and ALA also wrote letters to DOE opposing new energy-efficiency standards, and all stressed one fact: Ceiling fans are energy-saving products by nature, and any new requirements have the potential to increase costs on the consumer’s end.
“Fans are our friends,” Frampton says. “They’re the only appliance you can buy for your home that saves energy, especially compared to the use of air conditioning, and the DOE seems to be looking past what they can do.”
For companies like Fanimation, the new efficiency standards are not only a cost issue; they also curtail design creativity. “Our fans are also esthetic — they showcase form and function — and we would prefer to keep our blades more appealing," Frampton explains.
A solution, as Frampton proposed in Fanimation’s letter to DOE, is for more emphasis to be placed on the energy and cost-saving benefits that arise from the proper use of ceiling fans.
“We believe that shifting some focus from creating new regulations designed to further enhance the energy efficiency of ceiling fans to educating the consumer on the proper use of ceiling fans will have a greater impact on the DOE’s ultimate goal of reducing energy consumption,” Frampton wrote.
What’s in Store
This review process is still in the beginning stages. If new efficiency requirements are passed, they will be announced in 2015 with compliance required by 2019.
ALA is hosting a roundtable April 10-11 at its headquarters in Dallas for all ceiling fan manufacturers to give their input on the Framework Document. The comment period for this rulemaking process is closed April 29, 2013.
To further the visibility of this issue and others, Frampton encourages all ALA members to donate to the ALA-PAC  so the industry’s voice has more potential to be heard.
“This type of situation is why ALA-PAC is so important,” Frampton says. “Any members that are not donating to ALA-PAC are missing a big opportunity to make a difference in our industry. The more people that contribute, the more senators and congressman we can get in front of and get our voices heard.”
For more information about the Energy Conservation Standards for Ceiling Fans and Ceiling Fan Light Kits, visit http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EERE-2012-BT-STD-0045 .