Belt-drive ceiling fans are one of the best ways to make an otherwise bland room pop. Add a little steampunk flare to any room with one of our favorite models. Read on to learn more.
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- What Is a Belt-Driven Ceiling Fan?
- History of Belt-Driven Fans
- Things to Consider
- Our Favorite Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
If you’ve been considering a belt-driven ceiling fan instead of a modern direct-drive ceiling fan, you’re in good company. These unique, historically steeped fans fit nearly any decor style and home.
From minimalist modern to warm, rustic designs, belt-driven ceiling fans are always an interesting focal point for a room. But are they practical in today’s world?
Do they look natural or out of place in modern settings? Learn everything you need to know about belt-driven ceiling fans in this guide to decide if one is right for your space.
What Is a Belt-Driven Ceiling Fan?
Belt-driven ceiling fans, or pulley-driven fans, are turned by belts that grip the fan’s housing to turn the blades around. The belts that turn the fan blades are connected to a motor that is not attached to the fan housing.
Instead, the fan housing and blades are installed on the ceiling separately from the motor. Both the motor and the fan have flywheels that the belt wraps around. As the motor runs, the flywheel turns. This moves the belt, and in turn, the fan blades.
The fan housing and blades themselves look much like modern ceiling fans, but the extended belts and detached motor are unmistakable. It’s also part of their charm.
Direct Drive vs Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
Today’s ceiling fans are not belt-driven. They are usually direct-drive ceiling fans. Instead of belts that turn the blades, they use a more complex electrical setup.
The ceiling fan’s capacitor powers the electric motor, which takes electrical current from the capacitor into coils of wire wrapped around a metal part inside the fan.
As this happens, it creates a magnetic field that spins in a clockwise motion. The energy that started as electric turns into mechanical energy through this magnetic motion and forces the motor coils in the fan to start spinning.
Once the motor coils start to spin, so do the fan blades. By comparison, the belt-driven ceiling fan relies on belts wrapped around flywheels fitted with blades powered by an electric motor (or as in the past, a water-driven motor).
It’s easy to see how the simplistic ingenuity of belt-driven fans in the complex modern world is a welcome relief.
The History of Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
Today’s more modern electric-powered belt-driven ceiling fans are based on the very first ceiling fans from the 1860s. Father-son duo John and James Hunter, previously shotgun manufacturers, invented them.
These were powered by running water instead of electricity. The first ceiling fans used a turbine in a stream of running water to power the belts, which turned the fan’s blades.
Usually, the original belt-driven ceiling fans would be grouped and spaced across the ceiling to increase airflow in hot, humid areas.
The fans would all turn in unison, being driven by the same belts. They were especially popular in the southern United States and in restaurants and hotels across the nation.
In fact, you can still find examples of these belt-driven ceiling fan systems today. If you’ve been to Dave and Buster’s or 54th Street Station locations, you’ve probably seen them.
Restaurants and hotels wanted these fans not only to provide guests with more comfort, but also for practical reasons.
The constantly moving air kept flies from bothering the guests. In the days of travel via horse and buggy, flies were a bigger problem than you might realize!
Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans Today
They may be based on antiques, but many of the belt-driven ceiling fans today have a true homey-yet-luxurious feel. How does something become considered “luxury?”
According to the definition, luxury items are technically unessential, but they’re desirable, valuable, and provide comfort. That’s what today’s belt-driven ceiling fans are about.
Sure, you could wire in a $50 ceiling fan that does the same job, but for fans of the rare, interesting, and unusual, there’s no better option than a belt-driven ceiling fan.
Benefits of Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
Attractive Statement Pieces
It goes without saying that belt-driven ceiling fans in the modern world stand out. They make a bold statement and can’t be compared with mass-manufactured ceiling fans you see in every home, hotel lobby, and restaurant.
These fans aren’t intended to blend into the background or just provide air movement. They’re meant to stand out and capture attention with their charm and ingenuity.
Increase Airflow and Cooling Ability
The motors running belt-driven ceiling fans can power up to 5 fans from a single electrical connection. You can space these fans up to 20 feet apart using the same belt drive system.
This makes it possible to mount them throughout a large room and increase the fans’ airflow and cooling ability.
In our research, we found several reviews and statements from homeowners and business owners who installed belt-driven ceiling fans in gathering rooms.
The fans themselves were different, but the sentiment was the same from each one: These always get people talking.
If you’re a regular dinner party host or like to entertain on weekends, your guests will appreciate and talk about the uniqueness of these fans.
While most of the belt-driven ceiling fans you can buy today are electric, it’s possible to make or convert a fan for alternative energy sources. Some restaurants have belt-driven fans that are operated by an occasional hand crank from a patron.
If you’re not up for cranking the fan into motion every hour or so, water, steam, engines, and windmills are all time-tested possible energy sources for belt-driven fans.
More Energy Efficient
Belt-driven ceiling fans use less energy than the typical direct-drive ceiling fan. The energy savings are even bigger when multiple fans are mounted on one belt.
Each one turns and creates a cooling downward draft, but only one electrical motor uses energy to turn them all.
Things to Consider About Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
Belt-driven ceiling fans come in a wide variety of styles and designs.
If you’ve seen belt-driven ceiling fans that look like antiques, you know that you have many options. Most of the companies making these fans today incorporate modern elements like simplicity and interesting blade shapes.
These pieces are not always as effective as contemporary ceiling fans.
Today’s ceiling fans rely on internal mechanisms for power, so each fan gets more power than a series of belt-driven fans sharing the movement created by one motor.
For this reason, belt-driven fans don’t spin as fast and may not create as much air movement as newer styles.
Belt-driven ceiling fans require a motor to be mounted nearby.
The pictures online of belt-driven ceiling fans are always attractive, but many don’t show the motor mounted nearby. This is part of the charm for belt-driven fan enthusiasts, but if you’ve only seen photos of the fan housing and blades, it could come as a surprise.
Prices of belt-driven ceiling fans tend to be higher because they aren’t widely produced.
This is the big one, but if you’ve been researching belt-driven ceiling fans, you know that they’re priced differently than mass-produced fans with plastic parts and blades made of pressboard.
The parts are higher quality, the fans last longer, and they’re made by smaller companies that create their own unique designs.
3 Best Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans
You’re ready to buy a belt-driven ceiling fan, but might be having trouble deciding what design and style you want. Check out our top 3 picks for the best belt-driven ceiling fans to get some inspiration.
Fanimation Kellan Ceiling Fan Housing | “Modern Minimalist”
The Kellan ceiling fan housing by Fanimation is exactly what you need to complete or start to put together your belt-driven ceiling fan. This is the piece you’ll attach your fan blades and belts to.
You’ll need to get the motor and blades separately. Kellan blades are available in brushed nickel or reversible cherry/walnut. It comes with a remote control for easy operation.
- Price: $164.98 + Free Shipping
- Kellan fan motor: $219.98
- Kellan fan blades: $87.98
Fanimation Brewmaster Long Neck Fan | “Contemporary Standard”
Fanimation’s Brewmaster fan has an old-world, steampunk look balanced with a contemporary design that people love. Installing this in your home or business will create a cozy, pub-like vibe while keeping the room cool and sparking conversations.
It’s a good size fan at 56 inches across, and you can connect up to 2 fans to this motor with only one electrical connection. You get to choose the wood finish you want when you order this complete fan!
- Price: $2,282.94 + Free Shipping
- Speeds: Three forward and one reverse speed
Fanimation Bourbon Street Fan | “Southern Elegance”
If you’re a fan of old-style southern elegance and sophistication, you will love the Bourbon Street fan design from Fanimation. Five blades rotate around to create enough cooling air to survive a humid Louisiana day.
Combine the finish and design with the classic belt-driven style, and you’ll see why this one is a top-reviewed customer favorite. Mount multiple fans for an even more dramatic effect.
- Price: $809.98 + Free Shipping
- Bourbon Street Blades (5): $83.83
Belt-Driven Ceiling Fans: Are They Practical?
Now that you’ve read these mechanical fans’ history, know about their benefits and drawbacks, and checked out a few of our favorite current examples, what do you think?
Are these ceiling fans practical or an artistic nod to history? If you’re relying on ceiling fans to cool your home by themselves, belt-driven ceiling fans likely won’t be a good fit.
They certainly have a cooling effect and move the air in the room around, but they’re not quite as powerful as direct-drive fans.
Whether you’re looking for an aesthetic statement piece for a large room and have a little wiggle room in your budget or want to transition to off-the-grid living while staying cool, belt-driven ceiling fans are sure to give you more bang for your buck than other types.
They’ll spark endless conversations at your home, enable you to keep your space cool with less energy, and hearken to the great beginnings of an invention we sometimes take for granted today.