Can this smart ceiling fan kill COVID-19? Independent tests say ‘yes’


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Earlier this year — and shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — Kentucky-based manufacturer Big Ass Fans introduced the Haiku UV-C, a luxurious smart ceiling fan with disinfecting ultraviolet lights built into the base and aimed up at the ceiling. The pitch was pretty timely — as the fan circulates air throughout the room, those UV lights kill airborne pathogens that cross their path.

Now, after multiple independent tests at accredited laboratories, the company says tells CNET that the fan — which starts at about $1,750 — can kill SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19.

The results from this test, where SARS-CoV-2 was released into a test chamber with the Haiku UV-C spinning overhead, show that the fan neutralized 99.99% of the virus within 20 minutes.

Innovative Bioanalysis

“With regards to the aerosol testing we saw approximately a 48% reduction [of airborne SARS-CoV-2] above the fan at 5 minutes and approximately an 86% reduction above the fan at 10 minutes,” reads the cover letter to a testing report written by Kevin Noble, COO of Innovative Bioanalysis, the California lab that tested the fan against the coronavirus. “It can be concluded that between 10 and 20 minutes there was an overall reduction of 99.99% or greater.”

The letter, which Big Ass Fans shared with CNET, finishes with an endorsement for the efficacy of ultraviolet light against COVID-19.

“With regards to whether your technology works on denaturing SARS-CoV-2, I would say that you could clearly state that pathogens in the air passing over the fan and through the UVC are in fact negatively impacted by the UV light,” Noble’s letter concludes.

Now, with interest in disinfecting UV light surging, Big Ass Fans is ready to market this fan as a COVID-killer.

“Our work with independent labs allows us to quantify and verify the reduction of harmful viruses, including SARS CoV-2 and other pathogens and volatile organic compounds,” says Big Ass Fans CEO Lennie Rhoades. “These third-party results give our customers confidence that Clean Air System will keep their people and businesses safer.”

UVC safety

Safety is a key concern with ultraviolet light. Sitting just shy of the visible light spectrum, UV light comes in three types: UVA, UVB and UVC. The first two are strong enough to burn your skin if you’re out in the sun too long, but UVC is the strongest, and capable of burning eyes and skin within seconds. It’s also a known carcinogen. 

The ultraviolet lights in the Haiku UV-C shine up towards the ceiling, and only when the fan is in use.

Big Ass Fans

Fortunately, the UVC light produced by the sun is almost entirely absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere — but new interest in UVC’s capabilities as a disinfectant has led to a flood of new products seeking to bring the invisible light into homes and businesses. That’s led safety scientists to warn consumers of the risks — particularly with handheld UVC wands that shine openly while in use.

“Under the pandemic, we’ve seen a great increase in the interest around UV germicidal-type devices, including those that are now more consumer-facing,” says Todd Straka, global industry director of lighting at Underwriters Laboratories, where UVC products are tested for safety certification. “These can be very dangerous if you don’t use them properly.”  

Those same safety scientists tell CNET that they’re less concerned with upper room germicidal products like the Haiku UV-C that use UV light to clean the air above eye level — though they did offer some additional guidelines.

“The concerns that still need to be mitigated are ensuring that it’s installed correctly, that it’s got the required distance from the floor to where the light is [at least 7 feet], and that the UV lights are up and not down from that perspective,” says Pamela Gwynn, principal engineer for UL’s Life and Health Sciences related to medical equipment.

To that end, Big Ass Fans notes that each Haiku-UVC is installed by a trained technician from its network of professional dealers, and certified by Intertek for compliance with North American safety standards. The company adds that the UV lights can be turned off independently from the fan, and that they automatically turn off whenever the fan is off. That makes way for safe maintenance and cleaning.

An airflow diagram for two Haiku UV-C ceiling fans in a mock classroom test environment. With the SARS virus in the room, experts estimate that the fans would reduce a student’s risk of exposure after an hour-long class from 39% to 5%.

Big Ass Fans

From the lab to the classroom?

Big Ass Fans tells CNET that it’s seeing interest in the Haiku UV-C from a variety of homes and businesses across the country, and adds that it’s testing the fan for efficacy in a number of different environments. That includes test chambers designed to mimic living rooms and bedrooms — but also places like break rooms, restaurant dining areas and even classrooms.

One test, which measured the efficacy of two fans spinning in a classroom environment contaminated by the SARS virus, found that the UVC fans would reduce a student’s risk of exposure during a 60 minute class from 39% to 5%. For a teacher spending 7 hours in the room over the course of the day, the risk of exposure fell from 97% to 30%.

Big Ass Fans says that Carnegie Mellon University is among the schools that have added Haiku UV-C fans into their classrooms, and adds that the list is growing.

“From that tier down to smaller Kentucky school districts and anywhere in between,” a Big Ass Fans spokesperson tells CNET. At least some of those were purchased with the help of government funding through the CARES Act, though the company notes that customers aren’t obligated to share that info with them.

Big Ass Fans tells CNET that it has no immediate plans to make a less expensive version of the fan, and says that its focus for now is on businesses and public organizations looking for ways to protect people in shared spaces. Along with the Haiku UV-C, the company’s new Clean Air System line of germicidal offerings include large industrial fans and floor fans equipped with disinfecting ionizers. Those, too, have been tested for efficacy against COVID-19, with results just as promising as the Haiku UV-C.

“Ideally, someone calls in and states, ‘we would like your help with air disinfection,'” a company spokesperson tells CNET. “We then assess space, specs, application and determine the right technology to implement based on other goals.”

Translation: Don’t expect to see a budget-friendly version of these fans anytime soon — but don’t be surprised if you end up seeing one spinning overhead while you’re out and about, either.

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