July 16th, 2009
Like anyone else, I try to find the best deal on things. Sometimes the best deal isn’t the thing that’s cheapest up front. I work for a company that makes some of the world’s best lawn mowers, for instance, but they aren’t the cheapest.
Anyhow: after a series of cheap $20-$50 Walmart fans failing in various ways (buttons falling off, motors starting to take a minute to get up to half speed, etc.), I bought my first Vornado fan back in 2007. They’re expensive, but I think worth it in the long run.
Vornado would like to call it a circulator instead of a fan. I maintain that it’s a fan that can be used as a circulator. Anyhow: the point of most of the Vornado fans is that they don’t just shove air out in front in a sort of random pattern. Rather, they emit a concentrated column of air that travels a long distance at a high velocity (think like a laser). The usual way to use a Vornado fan is to set it at the floor on one end of your room, and aim it at the edge between the wall and the ceiling at the opposite end of the room. This will create constant air movement throughout the entire room. You’re cool wherever you go. Vornado fans don’t have an oscillation feature because they don’t need it. Vornado calls this vortex action.
Another common use is to put one in the middle of a room and aim it straight up.
I find that they mostly live up to the promise. When you’ve got it correctly aimed, it does create a pleasant breeze throughout the entire room. It’s calm, and reaches everywhere. It does take some skill and occasional ingenuity to get that breeze working right. Sometimes if it’s really hot, you can also set one on the floor and aim it straight ahead along sofas and chairs. The air will just brush everyone, but at a high speed.
Most of their fans range in price from $50 to $100, though a few are outside that range. All of their regular fans come with at least a 5-year full warranty; some have a 10-year one.
I think we’ve got these fans in the house: one 750, two 735s, one 630, one 615, and at least four Zippis. Some of them I got at vornado.com, some on sale there, and some from woot. At full price, that would be over $500 of fans. So I better like them, eh?
The Zippi isn’t a circulator. It’s a personal-sized fan, but with a twist. It has no grill because its blades are made out of cloth, with a weight sewn into the tips. Turn it on, and centripetal force keeps the blades extended and working. It’s safe to touch and gives a mild sting if you put your hands into the blades.
It doesn’t move a lot of air, but it does work as advertised: it’s quiet (especially on low speed) and is a good personal fan. Occasionally after a bike ride to work, I’d prefer a bigger one, but overall it does very well. It uses very little space and folds down nicely if you want to travel with it. (It is AC-powered, not battery-powered).
Quality and Service
Overall, I’ve been happy with the quality of our Vornado fans. Recently we’ve had three problems: our 615’s power knob broke (I blame Jacob for that one), our 750 developed a loud rattle and whine, and the Zippi we keep on the nightstand also developed a rattle. I emailed customer service about it, and this is the part that really impressed me.
A human replied, and quickly. The put a new power knob in the mail immediately. They got the serial numbers from the other two. They replaced the Zippi and repaired the 750. They sent me a free UPS return label for the 750, so I didn’t even pay for shipping TO THEM.
The replacement power knob broke again within a week (it appears to be the only flimsy piece on the fan, and it’s within reach of a toddler…) They put another one in the mail.
The 750 arrived today with the rattle fixed, but a whine there. (It probably had the whine before, but I didn’t notice it due to the rattle, and therefore hadn’t mentioned it before.) I almost didn’t even ask them about it after all the expense they’ve gone to recently, but will go ahead and do so. I won’t be bothered if they said they won’t fix it, since they so zealously fixed everything else… but I suspect they will.
Oh: and included with the repaired 750 was a letter explaining what they found wrong, and what they did about it. It was personally signed by the consumer service manager (and her name was prominently listed). And because of the inconvenience of a malfunctioning fan (!), they included a card good for 20% off any of their fans. For the rest of my life.
It reminds me of the stories we hear about Japanese companies being personally embarrassed that one of their products wasn’t perfect. (GM: you could learn a thing or two here)
I’d say that few (5%?) of our Walmart fans are still operational after 5 years of heavy use. I’m sure that 100% of our Vornado fans will still be, and that’s saying something. The quality isn’t perfect (flimsy power switch on the 615) but is very good, and they do a good job of fixing problems when they arise. (Yes, imagine that: fixing a device when it breaks instead of throwing it out.) So even though they are more expensive than the Walmart fans, they’ll probably be cheaper in the long run.
I also like the circulator concept, though we do still use a box fan occasionally (to put it in the window and bring in cool air from outside).
Overall, we haven’t bought a non-Vornado fan since 2007.
And I never expected I’d post a review of fans of all things on my blog.
Update July 17: I bought my first Vornado fan in 2007, not 1997. Oops.