Why I Buy $100 Fans (Review: Vornado)

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.

Circulators

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

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)

Conclusion

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.

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Comments Feed22 Comments

  1. John Goerzen

    I should add: the reason we have so many is that it lets us use less air conditioning throughout the house. We have one in each bedroom, the office, and a couple other rooms in the house for convenience. Using less air conditioning saves money VERY rapidly. Especially for us rural residents where electricity is extra expensive.

    Reply

  2. David Riebenbauer

    Thanks for that. Even if I’m not looking to buy a fan. But I always enjoy it to hear about companies who take not only their products but also their customer service seriously.

    Reply

  3. Jochen

    Just an off-topic question: do American high school (or other) students learn that every text has to end in a section called “conclusion”?

    I read that almost every day, sometimes horribly out of place. Not that this is a generally bad thing but the frequency I stumble upon it strikes me.

    Reply

  4. Ashley Yakeley

    I have a Hunter Century, which I use on hot summer nights to falsify the Fan Death hypothesis. It’s pretty quiet on its lowest setting, and has an attractive, slightly steampunk look.

    Reply

  5. Russ

    You are just looking for more efficient ways to do yourself in, aren’t you? Seek help.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I don’t get it…? Were you replying to Ashley?

    Reply

  6. cam

    my grandmother gave me a Vornado blender looking to date from the late 50s or early 60s. i anticipate giving it to a grandchild one day, god willing…

    Reply

  7. ix

    Ashley was responding to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death . the Vornado’s concentrated beam is less likely to break up the oxygen via turbulence and therefore reduce occurence of fan death. they should put it in the marketing!

    Reply

  8. John

    My family has owned three Vornado fans (and two heaters) for more than ten years, and we have not had a single problem with any of them.

    Reply

  9. Jeff Solomon

    I bought a small Vornado (630) for my office about 5 years ago. It was expensive but it was more effective than the other office fans. I brought the fan home with me when I lost my job and I think I got a steal.
    I finally bought a bigger a fan this summer, the Vornado Heavy Duty, for my home. It claims to be a “shop fan” but its hardly bigger than my beer belly.
    Don’t get me wrong. It is an awesome fan, but it is still an expensive fan but works awesome if you are broke and dont wanna run the A/C.
    -Jeff

    Reply

  10. jim

    I’ve had a Vornado for at least 15 years, and it’s as good as the day I bought it.

    Reply

  11. Borak

    I just bought the one with only three positions. The lowest is still aimed upward. It’s supposed to blow 100 feet, which told me nothing. I wish all fans were rated for blowing power so I’d have a frame of reference. If it were super-powerful, I could see not wanting it directly on you, so just three upward positions would be fine, but it’s not as powerful as I hoped. At the end of a 30 foot room you may want it directly on you and you’d have to put something under the base to tilt it. I think it’s more powerful than my larger high velocity fan and the blades are cleanable, unlike some of the other powerful fans, and it’s UL listed (I think) and made for the home, so…I guess I’m not to dissatisfied.

    Reply

  12. Mark

    A Vornado heater set our daughters room on fire 10 years ago. Vornado NEVER offered ANY compensation, and they lost the heater (evidence). Was told if I contacted them again they would prosecute me for harrasment.
    DO NOT BUY THESE DEATHTRAPS!!!!

    Reply

    tom goetz Reply:

    Something about that story sounds fishy to me. You probably had a bunch of paper and fabric right next to the heater and you set the place on fire and wanna blame them. Vornado is a reputable company who has been in business for quite a while, so my guess is that you’re just kinda nuts and they probably had reason to prosecute you. If you’re still writing about it on blogs 10 YEARS later, something is wrong…. Just saying…

    Reply

  13. Arles

    Thanks John, I’m in Australia and a limited range of Vornado have just become available. After reading your favourable comments I am definitely buying one. It’s great to have folk like you taking the time to write reviews – thank you

    Reply

  14. Paul Mellerowicz

    Just saw the Vornado fan today at Costco in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I may be mistaken, but I think it is five speeds. It is $49.99 and has a ten year waranty. One was plugged in for a demo and it runs very quiet on all speeds. Seems to throw a lot of air at high speed. Says on the box will move air up to 100ft.

    I think I will buy two tomorrow.

    Reply

  15. Nancee

    I have a Veranado 530. After 1 year, it started making a weird whoosh noise and recently a crackling noise telling me the motor is going. I’ve had it 1 1/2 years. Not very long for such a pricey fan.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Did you call them for repair?

    Reply

  16. sam.samuel

    I have 2 cheapie floor fans, one from Walmart $17 and the other one was from Family Dollar $20. One is going strong for 6 years and the other for 7, no problems whatsoever. My Girlfriend recently broke the stand for one of them so it doesn’t’s stay up to it’s full height, so it now a lower fan i.e. low to the ground but still being used and works flawlessly. Don’t know why people need a $100 fan and why do the cheap fans keep breaking on others.

    Reply

    Boni Nelson Reply:

    Cheap fans have been known to break easily. At worst, they burn up and pose a threat to surroundings if flammable material nearby.

    Cheap fans are for the penny wise but pound foolish.

    Reply

  17. notafan

    Vornado fans aren’t that great. the quality has gone done significantly over the past few years Just go out to a store and touch the floor models.. I own two, and one of the fan’s knobs (like yours) fell off. Just because it’s more pricey and looks better doesn’t mean that it’ll last…I’d say they’re just as crappy and inefficient as the cheap ones.

    Reply

  18. Moving Air

    Vornado fans and heaters are extremely efficient and are far superior products to most everything out on the market today. In regards to Mark above who referred to Vornado heaters as a “death trap”, there was a recall years ago regarding at least 1 model. All the more reason to register your products, any products, when you purchase them. I just purchased a 7503, again, and now have 2 and am completely satisfied with the product and highly recomend them to anyone……..

    Reply

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