While we might enjoy watching the various home improvement shows filling up cable programming, many of us can’t complete the most basic of home improvement projects. The How Do I Fix That? series will show you how to tackle a range of problems that have plagued homeowners for time immemorial. Each installment will provide a walkthrough for the problem at hand so you’ll know what to expect before you get started. Now, get into your old work jeans and roll up your sleeves – we’re going to get messy.
How to Install a Ceiling Fan
Don’t panic! It’s simpler than you think. In fact, you might even call this project a breeze.
All that’s needed is a little prep work, a Phillips screw driver, a slotted screw driver, a pair of linesman pliers, and some plastic wire connectors.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN — TURN THE POWER OFF!
Shocking as that tips may seem, you’ll want to turn off the circuit breaker to the circuit you’ll be working on. If that’s inconvenient, make sure the switch for that circuit is turned off. I like to put a piece of blue painters tape across it the light switch to prevent someone (usually me) from flipping it on accidentally.
How does the ceiling fan stay up there?
The ceiling fan hangs from a fan-rated wiring box that’s fastened between two ceiling joists. Fan-rated wiring boxes are rated to 70 pounds. This isn’t just for the weight of the fan – it’s to handle the amount of torque coming from the fan as it spins.
Retrofitting a fan-rated wiring box is still possible even if there’s no box already in place or if you don’t have access to this space through your attic. Retro-fit braces can be used for replacing existing ceiling light fixtures placed between ceiling joists. here’s how this works:
- Disassemble the wiring in the old wiring box and remove the box first.
- Insert the retrofit wiring box. These retrofit packages come with an expandable crosspiece with spikes on the ends.
- Twist the crosspiece to make it expand and dig the end spikes into the ceiling joists to hold it firmly in place.
- Screw the wiring box into place along the crosspiece.
What if I don’t have an old wiring box where I want the fan?
In order for you to see how the whole process works, we’re going to do this as a cross-section. So, we’re going to begin with installing a brand new wiring box.
Like a retro-fit brace, our PVC wiring box is mounted on a steel bracket that can be adjusted to fit tightly between ceiling joists, but is secured with screws. Once the box is mounted and tightened in place, the wire cable is pushed through one of the non-slip anchor openings and then the ends are stripped.
About the Wiring
The wiring is standard household alternating current (AC). Because AC alternates polarity 120 times per second, there is no positive and negative wiring. AC power works when the electrical circuit has a return path. So, even when the polarity flips 120 times a second, the electrical current still needs to be complete to work.
Inside the wiring box, you’ll see three wires coming out of a single plastic sheath: black, white, and a bare copper wire.
- The black wire is the “hot” ( or “load”) wire. This one carries the 110 volts of AC current.
- The white wire is “neutral.” This wire provides the return path for the electric current and completes the circuit. The neutral wire is also connected to ground in your home’s electrical breaker or fuse box.
- The bare wire is part of the ground system. Many houses connect their electric breaker boxes to either metal plumbing connected to the municipal water supply or a ten foot long copper rod driven into the earth to act as ground. In the event of a short circuit, current from a hot wire has a dedicated straight path to ground —protecting you from electrocution.
For a complete description on wiring, see How Do I Install A Light Fixture?.
Note: if you have a red wire coming from the sheathing with the other wires in the wiring box, that’s also a hot wire. If you are replacing an existing ceiling light fixture this may be part of a three-way switch circuit. In which case, you’ll want to consult an electrician first.
Attaching Fan Mounting Brackets
The fan mounting system not only holds the whole fan fixture in place, but it also has motion or torque damping features that allow the fan to vibrate or wobble without tearing itself from the ceiling. The models that hang down several inches from the ceiling use a single half-ball mount allowing the fan to wobble.
Others models, such as close-fitting ceiling-hugging fans shown, use a combination of a large plate that is attached with two screws to the wiring box.
The plate has four mounting bolts to hold the fan and sturdy metal hook to hang the fan’s mounting bracket while we make the wiring connections.
The fan’s a mounting bracket includes four rubber sleeves in the holes for the mounting bolts. This arrangement lets the motor wobble and move without transferring lots of vibration through the plate and into the wiring box — which would make an awful LOT of noise.
Next, hang the fan bracket on the plate’s hook. If everything’s been done right, the whole thing won’t fall to the floor, and you’ll be able to wire the electrical connections together.
Basic ceiling fans usually come with four wires: black for hot, white for neutral, green for ground, and blue for the light. Ceiling fans usually have a blue wire that connects to a light fixture mounted at the bottom of the fan assembly. This lets you connect the fan and lights to separate wall switches. For our purposes, we’re going wire the lights and the fan to just one hot wire and use the pull chains to turn the lights and fan on and off.
We’ll insert the blue and the black wires into a wire connector and twist until it’s snug. Give each wire a little tug to make certain they’re firmly in place. Do the same thing with the white neutral wires. The green wire is ground and that connects with the bare grounding wire. When all the connections are complete, carefully stuff the wires up through the hole into the wiring box to keep them safe.
Mounting the Fan to the Plate
With the wires safely out of the way, it’s a simple matter of swinging the fan bracket up so the bolts from the plate extend through the holes. Twist on each nut partially until they are all threaded, and then tighten each one a little at a time until the fan bracket is snug and feels even and firm. The fan will vibrate just a little, but the bracket should be tightened enough so it doesn’t wobble.
After attaching the cowling over the fan motor assembly, it’s time to mount the fan blades.
Mount the first blade to the fan motor, then mount the next blade on the opposite side of the fan motor. You don’t have to do it this way, but it helps keep the whole fan somewhat balanced and less wobbly as you attach the other fan blades.
TIP: Push one of the mounting screws through the fan mounting bracket first and then use a magnetic tipped screw driver to guide the screw to the opening. The magnetic screw driver will hold on to the screw so it won’t get lost. Give this first screw a few turns, but don’t tighten it. You just want it to hold the fan blade in place and move freely enough to allow you to insert the second screw. When both are in place, tighten them. After six or eight months, they may need tightening again.
Attach the light fixture. You’ll connect a blue lamp wire from the bottom of the fan to the black wire in the light fixture. Also connect the white neutral wires.
Put on the light shades, insert the light bulbs, and turn it on! Easy right? Why you’re more than a ceiling-fan installer — you’re a Spin Doctor!
Check out more home improvement tips at The Light Lab!