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Get fans up to speed with spring cleaning

Dan Veeneman for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 April 2018
Dirty fans fall short of properly cooling cows.

We’ve all seen them, and most of us are probably guilty of ignoring them at one point or another. I’m referring to fans so coated in dust and other organic material you wonder how they still spin and, if they are off, you can only imagine the cloud that will be blown into the air when they do eventually start up.

We know they should be cleaned – but for some reason we still ignore them. How many times have we said, “That’s a job for someone else to tackle another day” and then move on to other things?

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Trouble is, tomorrow rarely comes, and “someone” always seems to have other things more important on their to-do list.

What happens to fans when we ignore them?

1.  Reduced performance: Dust buildup of 1/8-inch on blades can reduce fan performance by as much as 30 percent, so keeping fans clean is important to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of your ventilation system. Extra weight on shutters also prevents them from opening fully, raising the static pressure on your fans and further reducing performance.

2.  Reduced life span: Dirty fans are prone to a number of issues. Dirt buildup on fan motors can act as insulation and cause the motor to operate at elevated temperatures, shortening the motor life and causing burnout. It can lead to the premature failure of belts, bearings and pulleys as well.

3.  Increased ventilation costs: Whether replacing a burnt-out motor or running fans at a higher speed or even running more fans to get the desired airspeed, working with a system running at less than peak efficiency impacts your bottom line.

4.  Decreases in production: Your ventilation system is an investment in your bottom line. More and more research indicates fresh, clean air improves a cow’s environment and encourages the cow to lie down more often and for longer bouts. Dirty fans are less effective and can ultimately impact milk production levels.

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Preventative maintenance is key

Having a plan to clean your fans at least once a year will not only limit the amount of dust and dirt buildup, ultimately reducing the time and energy needed to clean them versus dealing with several years of buildup; it will also give you the opportunity to perform the necessary preventative maintenance needed to ensure everything is running as it should.

Combining these two tasks makes sense. Why not take the time to deal with belt replacement and greasing while giving equipment a good once-over? Make it part of a spring or fall routine, cleaning fans as well as curtains, air inlets, weather hoods or evaporative pads. Reduced inlets can have a huge impact on the performance of a ventilation system, especially in a closed setup like a tunnel or cross-ventilated barn.

The good, the bad and the dirty

How you clean your fans will differ from facility to facility, but we’ve compiled a list of ways we’d recommend you tackle this project.

1.  Cleaning stinks … We know this: But the right equipment can make it easier. Consider using an industrial vacuum with a stiff-bristled nylon brush to simplify your cleaning process and loosen stubborn dirt. This method gives the dust and dirt a place to go, unlike with air compressors, and eliminates the other hassles associated with cleaning with water.

2.  Water, water everywhere: Newer fans or fans cleaned often might not be very dirty; in these cases, a damp rag may be enough to wipe off minimal buildup.

However, if your fans have been ignored for a longer period of time, you may need to use more water or a pressure washer to properly clean them. If that’s the case, keep these things in mind:

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  • Ensure you protect any electrical equipment, like motors or controllers, from water damage. When using a pressure washer, be sure your fans have a fully enclosed motor housing so dirt and water can’t get into the motor windings. Even with a fully enclosed motor, ensure the electricity to the fan is disconnected.

  • Look at taking off any removable components such as guards, louvers, shutters and blades. Bringing them to a proper wash bay can make it easier to give them the thorough clean they need.

  • If you are cleaning fans in the barn, take precautions to keep bedding and surrounding areas as dry as possible. Consider hanging a tarp behind the fan to direct excess water where you’d like to have it go.

  • Finish off with drying your fans; leaving fans damp will only attract more dust. Wet fans will also start to corrode or rust, depending on the construction materials.

3. When water isn’t enough: Consider using a detergent or heavy-duty degreaser to help break up the more stubborn grime. A brush or plastic windshield scraper can be helpful when removing heavy dirt buildup, but you need to be careful with blades, as harsh scraping can scratch or bend them, causing imbalance and increasing the risk of corrosion.

Many fan manufacturers have cleaning listed as a part of their recommended maintenance cycle. It’s important to follow these recommendations because warranty policies often depend on proper fan care and maintenance.

Just like you take your truck in for regular maintenance, and occasionally take it through the car wash or maybe just pay your kids to wash it, fans need the same care and attention.

Taking a preventative approach to cleaning and maintenance with a yearly spring or fall cleaning will save you time, energy and money in the long term.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

PHOTO: Dirty fans fall short of properly cooling cows. Now is the time to give ventilation systems a good spring cleaning.  Photo by Mike Dixon.

Dan Veeneman
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