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Difference Between DC and AC Ceiling Fans

AC fans use a power supply’s alternating current as is. DC fans convert the supply to direct current via transformers. Direct current plus specialized magnet systems make DC fans more energy-efficient. They’re also less noisy and smaller. AC fans cost less and have more operational options and variety.

Houses Are Supplied With Alternating Current

Before we get into the differences between AC and DC fans, it is important to know that residential homes are supplied with alternating current.

Difference Between DC and AC Ceiling Fans: Overview

Both alternating and direct current fans are energy-efficient and come in a variety of options while being relatively easy to install and simple to operate using various switches or remotes.

The main difference is how they use power. AC fans pull power straight from the mains and use it to operate the fan. DC fans pull the electricity into a transformer, which converts it to direct current, which is then used to operate the fan.

What Is a DC Fan?

DC stands for “direct current”. DC fans, therefore, run using a direct current. Because houses are supplied with alternating current, in order for these fans to operate, the power supply must first be converted into a one-way (direct) current. This is accomplished by a transformer.

Alternating Current AC to Direct Current DC Diagram

Since the electricity being fed to the fan is in the form of a direct current, the power supply to the fan is stable. This allows the fan to function more consistently.

Fan Speed

Using a direct current gives the fan much more control in terms of speed. You can have six or seven speed settings to choose from as a standard, allowing you to find the best setting for your needs and preferences.

In addition to having more speed settings, DC fans typically have greater top speeds for a particular wattage than AC fans. As such, you can get a higher rate of airflow from the DC version of the appliance, and it won’t cost a fortune in power.

Noise Production

DC fans are known for being quiet. If the fan is correctly and securely installed and clean, a DC fan will produce hardly any noise.

The only noise you should expect to hear is the sound of the blades moving through the air. The amplitude or loudness of this will depend largely on the speed setting.

Energy Consumption

Ceiling fans are commonly very energy-efficient, especially when you are comparing them to an HVAC system.

However, DC fans are even more energy-efficient than AC versions due to the nature of direct currents (no energy is wasted reversing the current over and over again) and because of a specialized magnet system.

A direct current fan uses less energy (as much as 70% less), still producing the same function in a fan at a fraction of the cost, which makes them popular.

If you are looking to save on your utility bill or are trying to be a little more eco-conscious, then a direct current fan is the best option to go for. This saving can make up for the price tag on the DC fans (more on this later), as you will save on energy usage in the long term.

Installing and Controlling the Fan

Installing a DC fan can be even easier or the same as the process for installing a standard AC fan, depending on the wiring you need to do.

Some fan units come with the remote’s receiver already connected, which means you just need to hook up the power and grounding wires between the unit and your house. If the receiver is separate, then you follow an identical wiring procedure to the AC fan to connect everything (except, of course, if there were a wall switch).

DC fans generally have more sophisticated remote controllers and controls. For example, the winter mode switch is often included on the remote. However, the catch is that DC fans are exclusively controlled with a remote (there may be a rare exception, but not typically). They lack the wall and pull switch options that AC fans have.

Illustration of DC Fan controlled exclusively with a remote

Availability and Options

While DC fans haven’t been around as long as AC fans, they do have the advantage of coming in a range of designs and sizes due to the compact motor. If you are looking for a sleek or unusual style, you will likely find it in the DC models.

However, while there certainly are DC models available at chain stores like Home Depot and Lowes, as well as popular online stores like Amazon, you will need to search a little more precisely and make sure that you are getting the correct motor. There are several ways to tell if a fan has a DC motor.

reiga 52-in Silver Ceiling Fan with Dimmable LED Light Kit Remote Control Modern Blades Reversible DC Motor, 6-speed, Timer
  • Silicon steel DC motor: Silent Motor brings comfortable sleeping, creating a quiet living environment, consistent strong power supply, fully enclosed design.
  • Two-way rotation: The reversible control function allows you to switch the direction of the modern ceiling fan from downward airflow during the summer to upward during the cooler winter period to...
  • Remote Control: All operations can be controlled by the remote control, adjust the lighting switch of the ceiling fan dimmiing (white light - warm light - yellow light), 6 wind speeds, and supports...
  • Easy to install: Diameter 52 inches, 2 down-rods: 6 inch and 10 inch, for low and ceiling height, hanging system ensure that the fan is well balanced. The downrod diameter is 1.04''.
Minka-Aire F864L-HBZ Barn 65 Ceiling Fan with LED Light and DC Motor in Heirloom Bronze Finish…
  • DESIGN: The beautiful new Minka Aire Barn ceiling fan, F864L-HBZ, a 65" windmill style ceiling fan is the perfect finishing touch to any country farmhouse interior.
  • BULB: The BARN ceiling fan includes an integrated 40 Watt Dimmable LED Light Module in Clear Ribbed Glass
  • INCLUDED: One RC400 - Six-speed hand-held remote control and One 10-Inch Downrod
  • MOTOR: Conveniently quiet, 6 speed - reversible motor. Run Summer and Winter to aid in rotating air and cutting down on energy costs.

Last update on 2023-01-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Purchase Price

The more advanced technology and refined manufacturing of DC ceiling fans come at a cost; you should budget over $200 (likely well over) if you are looking to purchase a DC fan.

Average Lifespan

The average lifespan of a DC fan is 10 years. This does depends on the frequency of use and dedication to maintenance, and there are also higher-quality fans that can last longer.

What is an AC Fan?

AC is the abbreviation for “alternating current”. An alternating current is one that periodically reverses direction. Because homes are supplied with an alternating current, AC fans do not require a transformer.

Alternating Current Diagram

Fan Speed

AC fans generally only have three options when it comes to speed, although four settings are not altogether uncommon. The lower number of speed options is because maintaining a stable speed is harder for these fans due to the alternating nature of the current.

The problem is that AC fans rely heavily on the amps and frequency of their power source. They do not use a transformer and do not convert energy. Instead, alternating current fans control the frequency of the current to produce the different speeds.

Noise Production

The design of motors in an AC fan means they are not the quietest option. Due to how the motor receives and controls energy, alternating current fans produce electromagnetic interference. This is responsible for how noisy the fans are, especially at the lower-speed settings.

Energy Consumption

AC fans use a lot more energy than their more modern and economical DC counterparts. Now, keep in mind that ceiling fans are considered very energy-efficient in general. So, while the DC versions are more energy-efficient, it does not mean that AC fans are not energy-efficient.

In comparison to many other home appliances, an AC fan will still beat them out for lower energy consumption since even at the highest speed setting, it won’t be using more than 100W.

Installing and Controlling the Fan

It is relatively simple to install an AC fan. You simply need to mount the fan on a joist (or onto a brace if you don’t have a joist nearby) and connect the fan. To do this, you need to connect both the fan and the wall switch (if you have one) to the house wires. You will also need to connect the remote receiver to the motor. 

Then you close everything up, and you can turn on your fan once you turn the breaker back on.

AC fans have different control options that DC fans do not. You have remote and wall controls with the AC fans, but you can also get the basic chain-type (pull) switches. This makes them more reliable since a wall- or pull-switch should work every time compared to remotes that can get broken, lost, or run out of battery power.

Illustration of AC fan controlled by remote, wall switch and pull chain

Availability and Options

AC ceiling fans are the original kids on the block. This means that you will have no shortage of options, from brands to colors, and you can buy them from any store that sells ceiling fans.

The drawback of AC fans is that they have a big motor that cannot be adjusted, which might limit stylistic options. However, you’ll have no problem finding a fan to fit your needs due to the number of available models, such as the Honeywell Carmel 48-Inch Ceiling Fan (amazon link) or the Hunter Fan Company Aker Ceiling Fan (amazon link).

Honeywell Ceiling Fans 50197 Carmel 48" Contemporary Ceiling Fan with Integrated Light Kit and Remote Control, Five Reversible Cimerron/Ironwood Blades, Bronze

Purchase Price

AC fans are certainly budget-friendly, and you can choose from and purchase a variety of different options for under $200.

Average Lifespan

AC fans seem to be no different from DC fans in terms of lifespan; you can expect 10 years. However, it will be influenced by usage and quality.

Table of Differences Between DC and AC Ceiling Fans

Uses direct currentUses alternating current
Has more speed settings, commonly 7Commonly has only 3 speeds
Very quietNoisy, especially on lower speeds
Very low energy consumptionLow energy consumption
Easy to installEasy to install
Remote controlledVariety of control methods: wall switch, chain switch, or remote controller
Fewer models, but more styling freedom due to the smaller motorMany models and styles are available
Over $200Many options under $200
An average, expected lifespan of 10 years, depending on use and qualityAn average, expected lifespan of 10 years, depending on use and quality

Is One Better Than the Other?

Whether you opt for a DC or AC ceiling fan depends on your personal preference and budget.

If you are easily disturbed by noise and looking for a ceiling fan for your office or bedroom, I would recommend a DC model as they are the quietest. Or, if you are looking to use less energy or need a slimmer profile fan, DC fans will meet the criteria.

If you have a limited budget, then an AC fan won’t strain your wallet. You are also likely to find an AC fan that matches your décor because many different options are available. While the motor is more rustic than the DC version, it also comes with the advantage of needing less maintenance if you are looking to install and go.

That said, it is widely acknowledged that DC ceiling fans are, on the whole, better than AC ceiling fans. This, however, does not mean that AC ceiling fans are not excellent at serving their function.


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