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Are these $1600 smart ceiling fans worth the money?

When my 10-year-old Big Ass Fan died, the company replaced it for free. Sure, you can get basic IoT ceiling fan integration for a lot less, but not with support like that.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
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Haiku Generation 4 with Chromatic Uplight

In 2013, shortly after moving to South Florida, we decided to outfit our living room with a showpiece ceiling fan, a first-generation Big Ass Fans Haiku H series with SenseMe, a WiFi-controlled device that integrated with smart thermostats such as the Nest and had onboard motion sensors and intelligent scheduling.

It served us well for about ten years, and we liked it enough that we installed a Haiku L series in our bedroom.

We had a technical issue with our original Haiku H a few months ago (it might have been related to a lightning storm, we're not sure why it failed) and contacted support. The resolution was that Big Ass Fans would replace it (for free) with a new Generation 4 Haiku device, a testament to the company's superior warranty and support services, if you're wondering why you should spend upwards of $1600 on one of these units.

Also: This Alexa-controlled fan is the smart home luxury I didn't know I needed

But as I had to get an electrician in to re-install it, I also took the opportunity to replace my old (dumb) Hunter fan in my kitchen/bar area with a Generation 4 and to replace the older (and finicky) Wi-Fi wall control switches with the newer Bluetooth Low Energy-based ones. In addition to the dome lighting on the original fan, we also bought the new chromatic uplight kits for both new fans to provide mood lighting.

New tech, new app

The Generation 4 technology is now deployed across Big Ass Fan's entire residential and consumer product line, including their i6 and ES6 (six-blade) and their entry-level Haiku L devices. This allows everything to be controlled by the company's latest smartphone app, including its commercial/industrial devices. 

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Big Ass Fan App for iOS

Jason Perlow/ZDNET

This new app for iOS and Android introduced with Generation 3 replaces the previous "Haiku Fans" app, but if you have Generation 1 and Generation 2 devices on your network, they are stuck on that older app. Certain Gen 1 and Gen 2 fans can get new main logic boards to move them over (a procedure I attempted on our first 10-year-old fan to try to fix it when it became unresponsive). Still, it's not an easy procedure since the entire housing of the unit has to be disassembled to put it in. Unless you are super handy with disassembling electronics, I'd recommend getting an electrician to change those.

Once you have the fans installed, getting them connected to the app is easy. Each fan broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal, so you simply join that network with the mobile device and add it to the app with a simple wizard. The new Gen4 tech fully supports modern WiFi 2.4Ghz 802.11n networks. It is much more reliable than the older Generation 1/Generation 2 tech, which used a less powerful 2.4ghz 802.11g transceiver and would often disconnect unless you isolated it to a legacy Wi-Fi network. This issue was the Achilles heel in an otherwise excellent product.

The new wall controller, which installs in a standard light switch receptacle flush mounted, is also modernized using touch controls for fan speed and light dimming and automatically pairs with a fan using Bluetooth Low Energy, a significant improvement over the 2.4ghz Wi-Fi wall controllers, which also had periodic connectivity issues with modern access points.  

In addition to scheduling using the app and motion sensing to trigger fan operation and lighting, the fans can be integrated with Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing for voice control to be used for setting fan speed and also dome light brightness (but not warmth/color, which is toggled manually between soft white and bright white). 

If you have an Ecobee thermostat, you can also integrate with it to optimize HVAC and fan efficiency. The platform was also once integrated with Nest, but sadly, Google discontinued its Works with Nest program in 2019.

If you have more than one Big Ass Fan product installed in your home, you can also combine them into control groups -- this is helpful if they are located near each other, and you want to synchronize fan speeds and lighting levels. It also simplifies wall control setup by having more than one fan and light operated by a single wall control.

Chromatic lighting could be better

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The chromatic uplighting upgrade ($400), also available for the ES6, is an accessory option that, in theory, would be a great addition to the product if it was more software-configurable. In addition to a bright white uplight for ceiling illumination, it also implements a multi-color mood night light with seven different color combinations: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and bright purple. On the ES6, the chromatic light can also integrate UV-C, for room sterilization.

However, all of these night light colors must be manually selected in the app -- you can't control them with Alexa or Google like you can the dome light; they simply activate when the main dome lights are turned off and are set to one of the seven colors; there's no "party mode" or slow color transition flow available. The setting to change the color is also buried three levels down in the app UX, which is inconvenient.

As they are hardcoded, pairing them with Hue and other manufacturer lights in an Alexa routine is impossible if you want to color-coordinate them. Hopefully, some of these issues can be addressed in a software update in the future.

The Haiku Fan, perfected at last?

I've been using these fans for ten years, and while they've been great air movers and look fantastic, the reliability of the Wi-Fi connectivity on the Generation 1 Haiku with SenseMe left a lot to be desired. The connectivity now works flawlessly with the updated communications stack and Bluetooth wall controllers.

But is it worth it? This is really a beauty in the eye of the beholder issue. If you want basic IoT ceiling fan integration, you can do this for a lot less money using Lutron's Wireless Caseta Fan Controller, and a Lutron Caseta Starter Kit combined with any 3-speed or 4-speed "dumb" ceiling fan like the Hunter I had installed previously. 

That said, the fan intelligence with its onboard sensors distinguishes the Haiku and the ES6 from other products on the market, particularly the scheduling, motion sensing, room temperature optimization, and the "whoosh" mode that simulates a natural breeze. And the fact that the company is willing to stand behind its products, even replace them after ten years of service, means that the investment is sound.

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