How to install a ceiling fan
So, you’ve decided you want to add a ceiling fan or upgrade your existing one. Well, let us help you out with some tips on doing this.
Ceiling Fans are Heavy! Installing one by yourself will require using proper lifting techniques to not damage either the fan or yourself. Ideally, you’ll have someone to help you hold it steady as well as prevent any possible injuries. If you need to install it alone, use a jack or sawhorses for support and lift with your legs bent and back straight.
Make sure you have all of your tools before starting! You’ll need an outlet tester (to test wiring), screwdriver (to remove the old fixture), level (so your fan hangs evenly), drill (for pilot holes), and an adjustable wrench (for connecting the electrical box).
1. Turn off power at the main circuit breaker or fuse box; check that power is off using an outlet tester.
2. Remove existing fixtures by disconnecting wires in the electrical box and unscrewing mounting screws.
3. Test the voltage of your existing wiring with a continuity tester or outlet tester to make sure it is dead before touching any wires.
4. Once power is off, remove the old light bulb and unpack the new fan (some fans come fully assembled).
5. Connect the black wire from the house wiring to the black (or “hot”) wire coming from your electrical ceiling box; connect white wire from electric house wiring to white (or “neutral”) wire coming from ceiling fixture; tape all connections with electrical tape for safety. You can now plug in your fan and turn on the power at the main circuit breaker again!
Locating the Ceiling Box.
Most ceiling fans come with an electrical box that can be simply attached to the joists in your ceiling. The problem is that they aren’t as strong as a metal junction box and somewhat flimsy. If you ever wanted to add more wiring to this switch, for example, it could collapse under pressure and cause injury. So what are the two options? You can either hire an electrician or get a new junction box that’s more solid than the original provided by the manufacturer of the fan.
Most of the ceiling fans are designed to fit within a 6″ x 6″ or 6″ x 8″ joist space, so that’s what you need to find in your ceiling. Also, note that some older homes may have smaller boxes – 4″ x 4″, for example – and this will only support the smaller-sized fans out there (the smallest is about 42″). So before buying a fan, make sure it fits with your existing box. If you can’t replace or move your ceiling fixture, an adapter kit can be used to install a larger fan where a smaller one currently exists.
Finding Your Wires
To attach your fan to the power source, you’ll need to know which cable or wires are “hot” (carrying current). First, turn off the circuit breaker that feeds electricity into whatever switch you’re attaching your ceiling fan to. Once this is done (and it’s important not to assume that turning off the main breaker is sufficient), use a voltage tester on all cables coming in to make sure there’s no current running through them – if there is, you risk injury and death. If one of these cables gets hot when tested with the meter, keep looking for other possibilities (another wire may be touching it).
Once you find the correct wire(s) – most fans will connect directly from the black wire to black, white to white, and the green ground wire will attach to a grounding screw within the junction box – disconnect them from whatever or whoever they’re feeding. In the event that you have a switch, disconnect it from power completely and attach your fan’s black wire to the top terminal on the switch (the one going to the “hot” wire coming in from the ceiling). Next, attach your fan’s white wire to either of the bottom two terminals.
If there is no switch, simply remove all wires from this part of the box. Reattach them only after you’ve wired everything up properly. If you’re now ready to mount your fan, locate those four mounting screws within your junction box and use an adjustable wrench to tighten them securely into place.
Safety should be a primary concern, especially if working with electricity. It’s important not to overload your ceiling fan with too many watts of electricity, or you risk burning out the motor and starting a fire. The standard ceiling fan should use no more than 120-watts (give or take) and be marked on your fan’s label where you’ll find this information.
Ceiling Fan Support Bracket
All Ceiling fans have this metal bracket that attaches to both the fan motor itself and any braces in your ceiling, so it’s important to either enhance yours for more support (as shown above) or get a new one during installation. Many cheaper fans come with brackets that can’t handle all of the weight from these larger models. So if you need a replacement, make sure it’s capable of supporting at least 50 pounds. If not, don’t hesitate to buy an upgrade.
Connecting the Fan to the Box
Now it’s time to attach your fan to this new junction box. If you have a preferred brand, use the installation instructions that came with the motor. If not, here are a few general tips: The box will usually need an exterior lock washer, and a nut tightened from beneath to keep the fan secure against gravity – don’t over-tighten these as you can bend or break them. Also, remember that most fans come with a variety of decorative covers (plain metal, fancy light fixtures, etc.), so make sure you get one that goes with your house décor. Finally, attaching any wire connections should be done using wire connectors rather than twisting them together since this will reduce the potential for short circuits (which could not only damage the fan but cause a fire).
Once everything is connected, don’t forget to turn on the circuit breaker (if it’s an outdoor fan, be sure the power source you’re using is protected with GFCI) and check to make sure that your ceiling fan is spinning in reverse. If not, this is likely because the pull-string in most motors will either need to be adjusted or replaced (don’t try this without turning off the power first!).
When Installing Ceiling Fans Over Existing Light Fixtures
If you have an existing light fixture, you should first disconnect the wires and remove them. Once the screws holding it in place are removed, carefully lower the fixture so that it hangs down from the ceiling and doesn’t hit anything on its way down. It also helps to have a second person hold onto this for you as well.
Once you’ve done that, either attach a metal junction box directly into your ceiling or attach one mounting bracket of your fan to the old location of the light fixture (normally two screws coming up from within). And then attach another bracket to support it from below. To brace against swaying, many people just use ropes attached to the joists above and further secure them with cleats. From there, rewire as needed, install the new light fixture, and enjoy your newly installed ceiling fan.
The Electrical Code requires that “support devices” such as bolts be used on all ceiling fans so that they can support at least 50 pounds of distributed weight. Unfortunately, many homeowners ignore this provision because it’s a pain, and they don’t want to drill extra holes in their ceilings.
So why isn’t this requirement being enforced? It’s because of an unfortunate loophole. When the electrical code was written over 100 years ago, nobody could have foreseen the amount of energy it takes to run these newer appliances like ceiling fans. Back then, only incandescent bulbs were available to use at home, and they used very little wattage compared with today’s compact fluorescents or LEDs. So if your fan falls down, you will be OK – but if your old-fashioned light fixture falls down due to a faulty wire connection or other faults which present an electrical hazard, you could be in trouble.
The fact that your ceiling fan can support 50 pounds of weight is meaningless when it comes to its electrical safety. So following the letter of the law and installing a metal junction box is really the best thing to do (it’s part of Section 390-3). Putting cleats on joists above is merely a band-aid approach and is not good enough for most inspectors. If you don’t want to drill extra holes in your ceiling, then make sure there aren’t any wires attached that will fall down if the light fixture falls down!
So what happens if you install a new ceiling fan without using a metal junction box or concrete anchors? Well, that depends on who finds out about it. If you’re lucky, nothing. But if the inspector who has to approve your home for sale (and/or your homeowner’s insurance agents) finds out about it, then there could be trouble.
Where to Install Ceiling Fans
The most common installation is in a living room or bedroom. But any room of your house can get ceiling fans, depending on how you want them to look for aesthetics or function. For example, it’s usually recommended that you don’t put them in places where people might walk through – like doorways – since there are safety concerns about children walking into spinning blades (and it would be silly to hit up all kinds of extra energy costs just for this). However, there are some fans designed with safety features that may work well for these areas. And remote controls seem ideal if the fan is located high above where pulling a chain is difficult.
Ceiling fans also work well in parts of your home where you want to circulate air for cooling purposes. Again, the main consideration is the ceiling height, but if it’s a tall room, you could get a large fan that can move a lot of air and still be aesthetically pleasing – just make sure there’s enough clearance from the blades to any surrounding objects.
In order to install a ceiling fan, determine what size box will support your new fixture. This should be done before purchasing the fan. Once that has been determined, hold up your wire to see how much cord you have left once installed. If there isn’t enough cord available at the switch location you have chosen, take an additional length of wire and run it from the switch location to where you have determined your ceiling fan will be installed. If there is no existing joist available at this location, rip cut a 2×4 the depth of the joists in your ceiling. Using two lag screws, attach it into position. Run about three inches of insulation into this channel between the top plate of the exterior wall and sub flooring. Place an outlet box at the end of the channel with a bottom flush against sub flooring and fill excess space with fiberglass insulation for fire breaks.
Attach the mounting bracket to 2×4 using two bolts provided with a fan kit, or use your own bolts, washers, lock washers, nuts. At this point, make sure the electrical cable has been removed from the cable box attached to the fixture. Feed new electrical cable up through fan box, attach holder onto cables with provided wire nuts (some kits require you to strip back insulation of cord first before inserting into connector). Finally, attach black and white wires from the ceiling bracket to corresponding wires from the switch box.
Lift the fixture up so the weight is supported by wall brackets and connect the second set of lead wires coming from the top of the lighting fixture to the corresponding colored wires in the ceiling box. There should be a ground wire included as well, which attaches to the green screw on the outlet outside of the wiring enclosure. At this point, check all connections for tightness. Next, turn the circuit breaker on temporarily and flip the switch at the location where the circuit breaker controlling source has been turned off. Ensure that light comes on; if not, check all connections again.
Replace the cover plate on the ceiling box and feed excess cord down the wall to switch and rewire as needed. Most switches will require a three-way splitter for having two separate circuits. Some light fixtures will come with a remote control that mounts into the fan housing; others may require you to purchase one that attaches to the existing wall switch or simply purchase a handheld remote (requires line of sight).
For mounting instructions, please refer to the manufactures instructions. Newer models lack the downrod used in older models allowing for shorter blades and smaller spaces.