Jeff Waterman can’t say enough about his big fans.

No, Jeff isn’t a rock star or Hollywood celebrity. He’s facility manager for Friedman Brothers’ Home Improvement Centers.

The fans Jeff is talking about are Big Ass fans. Yes. Literally.

At diameters of 20 feet, the fans rotate slowly above shoppers and employees at the company’s Santa Rosa and Sonoma, Calif., retail stores, both metal-fabricated buildings. The Big Ass Fan Company, out of Lexington, Ky., makes the 10-bladed, hollow-core aluminum airfoil fan for a variety of applications — industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, and commercial across the country.

For Waterman, the fans provide a solution to a cooling and heating problem he’d been grappling with since joining the company in 1993 and one the retailer had been facing since it opened in 1975.

Thanks to 20-foot-diameter fans installed overhead, customers are now cool inside Friedman Brothers’ Home Improvement Centers.

Seeing Is Believing

In California, temperatures can get as high as 106 degrees, baking the customers inside. On really hot days, says Waterman, shoppers were abandoning their shopping carts because of heat inside the building.

“We didn’t want to fry our customers,” he says, “but air conditioning was impractical and expensive for us to consider.”

Then Waterman read an article about the big fans in a trade magazine.

“I fell in love with the idea,” he says, “and I had to see the fans.”

So Waterman drove to Riverside, Calif., to see an installation. That visit sold him on the concept, and on the fans, too.

The company bought five for their 80,000-square-foot Santa Rosa building and later bought another for its 25,000-square-foot Sonoma facility.

“It really keeps things a lot cooler here in the summer,” says Waterman.

Waterman knew that fans don’t cool the air, but they do make the air feel cooler. Moving air helps moisture evaporate off skin. As it does, it takes heat with it. According to some studies, fans can make a person feel the ambient temperature at 5 to 10 degrees cooler than it actually is.

The overhead fans provide a solution to a cooling and heating problem once experienced at the retailer. “We didn’t want to fry our customers,” said facility manager Jeff Waterman, “but air conditioning was impractical and expensive for us to consider.”

For Summer, Winter

Many companies rely on high-velocity fans to move air in their facilities, not realizing that the airflow from these noisy fans dissipates quickly over a short distance. And fan speeds of over 300 fpm can create an air current that is unpleasant and disruptive.

The fans Friedman Brothers installed operate on the idea of convection currents.

According to the manufacturer, a slow-moving overhead fan generates a column of air equal to its diameter. When that column of air hits the floor, it radiates outward until it hits a wall, partition, or column of air from another fan. There, said the manufacturer, it’s forced upward to the ceiling where it circulates down through the fan’s blades. Over time, the air movement gains momentum, creating cooling breezes throughout the facility, it said.

“You can feel the air movement throughout the building,” says Waterman. “It’s been great in the winter, too.”

Most people don’t realize that it can get downright chilly in California, with temperatures as low as 26 degrees. With a 500-foot-long building with a high gabled roof, the five fans help bring all the rising heat down to employee and customer level, mixing the warm upper air with the cooler air that naturally sinks to floor level.

This destratification of air can help decrease a facility’s heating bill because the thermostat can be set at a lower level to achieve the same degree of warmth.

According to Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, compensating for this kind of stratification of air in high-ceilinged facilities is the single biggest waste of energy in buildings today. With a 1- to 1.5-horsepower motor, the fans offered Friedman Brothers a relatively inexpensive and efficient way to destratify the air. Based on typical power rates, the fans use approximately five cents worth of electricity per hour, according to the company.

The real beauty behind slow-moving fans is that the air generated by a single 20-foot fan can cover a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot area from a ceiling height of 45 feet, said the manufacturer. The same space would otherwise require at least 15 standard ceiling fans, which together would not have enough throw pattern able to create sensible air movement at or near the floor, it said.

They Are Fans

Friedman Brothers employees and customers alike love the fans.

“The fans are real workhorses and have done a better job than we expected,” explains Waterman.

Waterman is such a fan of the big fans, he’s sold other companies on the product, from another retailer down the street to the manufacturer of Oakley sunglasses.

“I love them,” says Waterman.

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Publication date: 09/29/2003