High-volume low-speed fan

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6 blade HVLS fan installed in a restaurant in Texas, USA.

A high-volume low-speed (HVLS) fan is a type of mechanical fan greater than 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter.[1] HVLS fans are generally ceiling fans although some are pole mounted. HVLS fans move slowly and distribute large amounts of air at low rotational speed– hence the name "high volume, low speed."

Typical applications for HVLS fans fall into two classifications—industrial and commercial. In industrial applications, air conditioning is often cost prohibitive or impractical.[2] Fans installed in spaces like warehouses, barns, hangars and distribution centers can prevent heat stress, increase worker comfort and the productivity of both workers and livestock.[3] HVLS fans are also used in commercial spaces, where air conditioning is more common, but increased air movement from ceiling fans can cost-effectively augment occupant comfort or prevent stratification. Typical commercial applications include shopping malls, churches, office buildings, fitness centers and schools.

A critical concern for many commercial spaces, like schools and libraries, is sound sensitivity and quiet operation. In contrast, industrial spaces have a median dBA of 85[4] or higher, and prioritize air movement (effective in combating heat stress)[5] over silent operation.


In the late 1990s, William Fairbank, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, and Walter K. Boyd invented and patented a new type of circulator fan, first called a High-Volume, Large-Diameter (HVLD) fan.[6] This type of fan was originally developed for agricultural applications, so early research focused on the benefits of HVLS fans on dairy production.[7][8][9]


A high-volume, large-diameter ceiling fan is a ceiling fan greater than 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter.[10]

How HVLS fans work[edit]

Example of an Airfoil

HVLS fans work on the principle that cool moving air breaks up the moisture-saturated boundary layer surrounding the body and accelerates evaporation to produce a cooling effect. Ceiling fans produce a column of air as they turn. This column of air moves down and out along the floor. Called a horizontal floor jet, this deep wall of horizontal moving air is relative to the diameter of a fan, and to a lesser degree, the speed of a fan. Once the floor jet reaches its potential, it migrates outward until it meets a side wall or other vertical surface.[11]

Under ideal conditions, an 8 feet (2.4 m) diameter fan produces a floor jet of air approximately 36 inches (910 mm) deep. A 24 feet (7.3 m) diameter fan produces a floor jet 108 inches (2,700 mm) deep, tall enough to engulf a human standing on the floor or a cow, its initial development purpose.[11]

Commercial HVLS fans differ from residential ceiling fans with regard to diameter, rotational speed, and performance. While some fans use contemporary blades to move air, other methods are being used to make it more efficient such as using airfoils.[citation needed]

Large fans versus small fans[edit]

6 blade HVLS fan in a warehouse, USA.

Larger diameter fans can move more air than smaller fans at the same speed. A turbulent, high velocity air jet dissipates very quickly. A large column of air, however, “travels” farther than a small one due to the friction between moving air and stationary air, which occurs at the periphery of the moving column.[11]

The perimeter of an air column varies directly with column diameter. And while the cross-sectional area varies with the square of the diameter, the large column has proportionately fewer peripheries, and therefore less “drag.” The air column from a 3 feet (0.91 m) diameter fan, therefore, has more than six times as much “friction interface” per volume of air moved as does the air column from a 20 feet (6.1 m) diameter fan.[11]

When the down column of air from an HVLS fan reaches the floor, the air turns in the horizontal direction away from the column in all directions. The air flowing outward is called the “horizontal floor jet.” Since the height of the floor jet is determined by the diameter of the column of air, a larger diameter fan naturally produces a larger air column and thus a higher floor jet.[11]

Smaller high-speed fans of equivalent displacement are incapable of producing the same effect.

The power to drive a fan increases roughly with the cube of the average air speed through the fan. A commercial fan delivering air at 20 miles per hour (mph) requires about 64 times as much power as a similar sized fan delivering air at five mph.[11]

Airspeed, combined with fan “effectiveness,” means that when the objective is to cool people or animals, very large, low-speed commercial fans are more efficient and effective than small high-speed fans.

Measuring fan performance[edit]

In general, Air Movement and Control Association Standard 230 sets uniform testing procedures for determining ceiling fan performance.

AMCA 230 establishes uniform methods of laboratory testing for air circulating fans in order to determine performance in terms of thrust for rating, certification or guarantee purposes. The 1999 version described a method to determine the thrust developed and used a simple equation to convert the measured thrust to airflow. During the periodic review process, it was determined that the calculated airflow was too high; therefore this version no longer artificially calculates airflow, but leaves the measured performance in units of thrust.

The current version, AMCA 230-12, reintroduced airflow rate with a revised equation, and new efficiency metrics. The official scope of the standard was limited to ceiling fans under 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter.[12] Therefore, the current standard does not apply to HVLS fans. A new version of the standard is currently under review.

Heating and cooling benefits[edit]

Air movement can have a significant influence on human thermal comfort. Wind chill in cold conditions is considered detrimental, but air movement in neutral to warm environments is considered beneficial. This is because normally under conditions with air temperatures above about 74°F, the body needs to lose heat in order to maintain a constant internal temperature.

Unlike air conditioners, which cool rooms, fans cool people. Ceiling fans increase air speed at the occupant level, which facilitates more efficient heat rejection, cooling the occupant, rather than the space.[13][14][15] Elevated air speed increases the rate of convective and evaporative heat loss from the body, thus making the occupant feel cooler without changing the dry bulb temperature of the air.

Hot air is less dense than cold air, which causes hot air to naturally rise to the ceiling level through a process called stratification. The most efficient and effective way of mixing the air in a stratified space is to push the hot air down to the occupant level. This allows for complete mixing of the air in the space while decreasing both heat loss through the building walls and roof, and building energy consumption. To avoid causing a draft, fans need to be run slowly so that air speed at the occupant level does not exceed 40 feet per minute (12 m/min).[16][17]


  1. ^ "Department of Energy 10 CFR Parts 429 and 430" (PDF). Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "U.S. Energy Information Administration". U.S. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "ASHRAE Technical FAQ" (PDF). https://www.ashrae.org/File%20Library/docLib/Technology/FAQs2014/TC-02-01-FAQ-50.pdf. ASHRAE. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "OSHA Technical Manual, Section III: Chapter 5". U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Occupational Heat Exposure". Safety and Health Topics. U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration. 
  6. ^ "Patent number 6244821". Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Minnesota/Wisconsin Engineering Notes" (PDF). University of Wisconsin Extension. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Schultz, Thomas. "Electric Power Saving Fan Options for Cow Cooling" (PDF). University of California Davis. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "Dairies Test New Fans for Cooling Cows" (PDF). Southern California Edison. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  10. ^ "Department of Energy 10 CFR Parts 429 and 430" (PDF). Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Tetlow, Karin. "HVAC for Large Spaces: The Sustainable Benefits of HVLS Fans". McGraw Hill Construction. 
  12. ^ "ANSI/AMCA Standard 230-12: Laboratory Methods of Testing Air Circulating Fans for Rating and Certification. 2010. Arlington Heights, IL." (PDF). U.S. Department of Energy. Air Movement and Control Association International, Inc. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Ho, Son; Rosario, Luis; Rahman, Muhammad. "Thermal Comfort Enhancement by Using a Ceiling Fan." (PDF). Applied Thermal Engineering. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  14. ^ Chiang, Hsu-Cheng; Pan, Ching-shu; Wu, Hsi-Sheng; Yang, Bing-Chwen. "Measurement of Flow Characteristics of a Ceiling Fan with Varying Rotational Speed." (PDF). Proceddings of Clima 2007 WellBeing Indoors. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  15. ^ "Cooling Your Homes With Fans and Ventilation" (PDF). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  16. ^ ASHRAE 55-2013 Standard 55-2013 -- Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy (ANSI Approved). 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  17. ^ ISO 7730:2005 Ergonomics of the thermal environment -- Analytical determination and interpretation of thermal comfort using calculation of the PMV and PPD indices and local thermal comfort criteria (3 ed.). 15 November 2005. 

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