Q. We had to use our air-conditioning last week but would prefer to use it less. We have ceiling fans in each room. They keep us comfortable most of the time. I usually keep the windows open about six inches at the bottom. Recently one of the fans started squeaking. Is there some sort of maintenance I should do for lubricating the motors? How do I figure out where to put the oil and what kind to use? We often leave them on when we are gone from the house and I'm wondering should I turn them off when we go. We had to use our air-conditioning last week but would prefer to use it less. We have ceiling fans in each room. They keep us comfortable most of the time. I usually keep the windows open about six inches at the bottom. Recently one of the fans started squeaking. Is there some sort of maintenance I should do for lubricating the motors? How do I figure out where to put the oil and what kind to use? We often leave them on when we are gone from the house and I'm wondering should I turn them off when we go.
A. People who can reduce the use of A/C will be saving money on their utility bills for sure. Running ceiling fans most of the time will certainly use less electricity than operating an air-conditioning system.Old-fashioned ceiling fans used to have a little spring-loaded lubrication port located somewhere along the main shaft into which once in a while you'd stick some light machine oil, like 3-in-1 Oil. The down side of this system was that some never lubricated their fans and the bearings wore out prematurely while others over did it and oil would splatter all over the place. We live in age of sealed bearings intended to be self-lubricating for the life of the fan. The life of the fan means the length of time it takes to wear out non-replaceable brushes in the motor itself. You can tell when that's happening because the fan will tend to buzz on lower speeds and high speed looks like a slow to medium speed with a hum. Of course, fan life is a function of hours of use, so a fan that only gets a few hours of use a month will obviously last longer than one that is used constantly. As a point of reference, I have a friend who left a ceiling fan in his home run constantly for seven years, and it just kept on ticking. Ceiling fans are supposed to be mounted into electrical boxes that can resist 35 pounds down pressure. Common ceiling light fixture boxes can't do that. Millions of do-it-yourself homeowners have converted ceiling light fixtures to lights with tropical fans. They are especially popular in older homes with no or little air-conditioning. I see marginal fan installations all the time but they usually give some small warning that they are about to fall down, like a bulge around the box in the ceiling. They now sell fan friendly retrofit mounting boxes specifically designed to convert a light box to one that can safely hold a fan. What I do see more often than not with amateur installations is the blade height being too low, creating a hazard for tall people's heads and most people's arms. Blade height is supposed to not be less than seven feet off the floor. The squeaking that you're hearing is probably coming from one of a couple of possible contact points. Up where the fan connects to the ceiling is a shaft that attaches to the ceiling mount with a joint that looks like a knuckle or universal joint to allow fan movement should the fan be slightly out of balance. The joint is there so the fan will not transfer the energy of being out of balance to the mounting box that could ultimately cause the mount to loosen and the fan to fall down. It is not normally lubricated after installation and it may squeak with slight movement over time. You can expose this joint by unscrewing the ring-nut on the shaft that holds the trim cover in place and pull the cover down which exposes all the connections. You can squirt a small amount of an aerosol spray lubricant (silicone or WD-40) on the joint-- don't over do it-- but little hitting the wires won't hurt anything. Look around at the fan-blade arms and see if any of them touch the motor chassis while turning causing a little noise. Spray there too. While youíre up there, wipe the leading edge of the blades that collect dust during operation and never reverse the blade direction without cleaning the blades first or youíll experience a little dust blizzard as the blades shed the dust on their own. Fans don't lower the temperature of the air, they just move it which makes warm air feel cooler when it hits our skin. So in the spirit of electrical conservation, why leave them on when no one can feel them? As for having the windows open or not, Iíd watch the outside temperature and compare it to the inside temperature. When it really gets hot in the middle of the day and itís in the 90s outside, you might notice itís not that hot in the house. Then Iíd close the windows to keep the cooler air inside. Then, after sundown when things begin to cool a bit, open them back up.