Product Review: Fantastic Fan (UPDATED)

Update 10 Aug 2016: After about a year and a half with these fans, we’ve thought of a few more things to say. Updates are in bold, italic.

We wanted to put in two really good vent fans when we rebuilt our trailer. We were eliminating the rooftop A/C, so would rely on these fans for all our cooling. The Fantastic Fan products have a lot of reviews attesting to their power and cooling capacity, with several people claiming that they are good enough to seriously cut down on A/C usage. So that’s what we chose to install. We have one simple “create-a-breeze” model 1200 fan in the bedroom, and a model 7350 in the main room, which is mechanically the same fan, with extra features added. For both, we opted to install the “smoke” vent cover, and we like them. We re-used several of the tinted vent covers that came with our RV, and they cast a distinctly amber light, which is not very appealing inside the RV. The new vent covers tint the light in a more natural, bluer hue, which seems much more bright and clean in comparison.

Model 1200 (create-a-breeze)

These fans are indeed powerful, and given how much air they move, the noise is lower than I’d expect. They are far from whisper-quiet though, and we do have to slightly raise our voices to speak over them. They seem well-built and they install without trouble. So fundamentally, they work great. They really can cool down the space well, especially in drier climates. The only complaint I have is with the knob to manually open the lid (common to all models, even ones with powered opening). It’s stuffed in the corner of the enclosure so closely that you can’t turn it the way you’d turn, say, a water faucet, with your palm on the knob. Your knuckles will hit the enclosure sides. So you have to kind of spin it with your fingertips. It’s not hard to turn, just slow. I understand why this is – to allow the fan itself to be larger and still fit the standard 14” opening – but it’s a little irritating. I consider it a fair tradeoff, because the fan’s performance justifies the inconvenience.  But it does make the powered open/close option a lot more attractive, especially for users with arthritis. The model 1200 only operates in a “blow out” direction, which is best for most situations.

Model 7350

We installed this model in the main room because of its extra features. The location in the sloped ceiling is too high to reach, so we needed the remote. Being able to reverse the fan would let us aggressively circulate air through the trailer (in conjunction with the other fan) for better cooling. The thermostat control sounded like it would let us safely leave the dogs inside the trailer in warm weather. And the rain sensor would let us run the fan unattended and not worry about weather. These features seemed worth the substantially higher price of this model.  But although the extra features all do work, they don’t all work in the most ideal way, which reduces their perceived value to us. The extra features of this model are detailed below:

 

Remote

The fan responds to button-presses quickly and gives an audible beep to confirm. It does require line-of-sight – it’s infra-red, not radio. So if your fan is in another room, you can’t control it with the remote. Also, if bright sunlight is coming into your coach, it’s tricky to get the signal to register. This sometimes leads to frustrated dancing-about, trying to find the right angle to aim at to get button commands to register. Tech support told me the remote used to be radio, but there were a lot of issues with interference, so they switched to IR. If you’re on the roof, you can’t control the vent with the remote through the clear dome. Why care about that? Debris likes to get caught on top of the fan screen when the vent is open. Sometimes it helps if you can give the fan a “bump” to loosen that stuff up…while you’re on the roof waiting to pluck it out.

Some of the operations with the remote are not that intuitive. For example, to open the vent without running the fan, you press Up/Down button and the vent opens.  If you then want to start the fan, you press Power. Okay. But if you want to stop the fan while leaving the vent open, you press Power – which stops it but also closes the vent, so then you immediately press Up/Down to reopen the vent. This isn’t hard, but it seems like it would be more straightforward to just make the Power button only start/stop the fan, not do both. Apparently most users prefer one-touch operation that both opens and starts the fan.

Also, the air in/air out control lacks an indicator on either the fan or the remote.  So the only way to know if the fan is in “blow” or “suck” is to watch for the rotation direction of the blades, or feel for the air. Neither of these things is difficult, but it’s aggravating to have to double-check button presses. For me, this usually means briefly cranking the fan to max speed so I can feel the air (since the fan is kind of high).

We have come to realize that a reversible fan isn’t that important to us. These vents are most effective when blowing “out”, in conjunction with opening windows on the non-sunny side of the coach. Having one pull in and the other blow out creates an interesting air current in the trailer, but doesn’t cool as effectively as opening windows. So in the future, we would not assign any practical importance to this feature.

Around the 10-month mark this fan began to squeak. Tech support advised that we run it in reverse for a little while, and that would fix it. Reverse also squeaks (but differently). The squeaking is less after switching back to forward…but it’s still there. And the idea that we have to reverse the fan from time to time (even though we have no desire to) is annoying. The model 1200 fan is not squeaking…and I hope it doesn’t start, since it can’t be reversed…

The only downside of getting the powered open/close option is that there is no “halfway”, only fully open or fully closed. We may be the only people in the world who care about this, because for our installation a fully-open fan lid will shade our solar panels. Even little shadows are a big deal when all your energy comes from solar, so we’d rather close this vent than compromise our array’s performance. I wish I could open the lid partway – enough for a little cooling – without shading my panels. But really, it’s understandable that the fans are designed to act as they do.

Rain Sensor

The rain sensor does, indeed, close the lid when it gets rained on. This is good. However, once closed by the rain sensor, the vent will NOT re-open automatically if it’s on thermostat control – I confirmed this with tech support. So if you leave your RV with the fan on thermostat control, a 5-minute morning sprinkle can disable the fan for the rest of the day and you come back to a hot trailer. This is bad if you’ve got pets! I talked to Fantastic Fan and they tell me they are considering a “pet friendly” version of the fan, which might fix this…but couldn’t tell me when – or if – it would be available. I followed up with Fantastic Fan recently, and this new version is still “in the works” at best. No reason to expect it to come out anytime soon.

The fan sometimes acts funny after it’s been closed due to rain sensor, if the sensor is still wet. I suppose the manufacturer assumes that the sensor will have dried off by the time the rain stops, but for those sudden, short rainstorms, (or very humid climates) this is often not the case. So when you try to reopen the fan, it sometimes does a little stutter, re-closing itself first before letting you open it with another button press. This isn’t bad, just confusing. Similarly, when condensation forms inside the dome, it can run down onto the rain sensor. Even though it’s already closed, this apparently causes the fan to “re-close” itself, making little ‘zoot’ noises. This usually happens randomly in the middle of the night. This may not occur if the fan is installed on a level roof, but since ours is on the rearward-sloping portion of our roof, and the rain sensor is at the back (downhill) of the fan housing, it gets all the condensate. Rotating the fan would fix this, but that would rotate the hinge for the lid too, and if you’ve ever forgotten to close a vent cover before heading down the highway, you know it’s best to always position the hinge towards the front!

Thermostat

To use the thermostat controls, you have to start the fan first in manual, then switch the fan to Auto by setting the temp. This is explained in the manual, but it could be a lot clearer, and it’s definitely not an intuitive function of the remote. Here’s the problem – it’s possible to think the thermostat is set when it’s not: If the fan is totally off and you press a “temp” button to set Auto mode, the remote does not respond (as expected). BUT if you start the fan, but then stop it by closing the cover, you can then press a “temp” button and the “Auto” light will turn on, and you can (seemingly) adjust the temperature setpoint. This makes you think the thermostat is set, but the fan will not come on later as temps heat up. I think this is a bad thing.

One thing I DO like is that when the fan comes on due to the thermostat setting, it starts off at a low speed and only increases if needed to maintain temperature. So it doesn’t come on at full blast right away. That’s really nice and makes it unobtrusive to have on while you’re still inside.

Speaking of the manual: I could not find it online anywhere, and normally I’m pretty good at that sort of thing. So I asked tech support to email me a PDF: Here it is, if you want to take a look before you buy.


Summary

For the most part, these fans are solid products, and given that we are asking them to do some things most RVers do not care about, we are pretty happy with them. The biggest disappointment was realizing we can’t count on the thermostat to keep our dogs safe when rain is a possibility. The easiest solution for this would be to use an add-on vent cover – Fantastic Fan makes one, and there are other popular aftermarket options. With such a cover, you could disable the rain sensor (or use a fan model without one) and the fan would operate through the rain on thermostat, with the opening shielded by the cover. We can’t do this because that type of cover would permanently shade our solar panels. But that’s our problem.

The remote issues are a daily frustration and that adds up. Having to press the buttons multiple times, trying to get the commands to register just to open the vent for a little air, that gets old. We thought that for such a trifling issue we could just deal with it, but each time we open the vent, we get a bit more annoyed. This fan is now on our short list for replacement, when we have an opportunity.


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