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Ceiling Fans Overview

Ceiling fans have been a simple answer to home cooling for more than a century. Sure, today we have air conditioning and heat pumps to deliver chilled air, but this type of cooling operates at a price—and that price is sometimes steep. So ceiling fans continue to be a sensible solution for enhancing home comfort.[GARD align=”left”]

On a hot day, a ceiling fan can stir up breezes, making room air feel much cooler. By doing so, it can significantly reduce the need for air conditioning. But what many homeowners don’t realize is that a reversible ceiling fan can also help with heating bills. On cool days, when the heated air in a room naturally rises to the ceiling, a gently moving fan set in reverse mode can circulate the warmed air back down to where it benefits comfort.

Scores of styles, configurations, sizes, materials, finishes, prices, and accessories are available. How do you choose one? In this section of HomeTips, you’ll not only find information to help you choose the best ceiling fan for your home but you’ll also get help with DIY installation and repair tips for keeping your fan operating efficiently.

NEXT SEE:

• Ceiling Fans Buying Guide

How a Ceiling Fan Works

How to Repair a Ceiling Fan

How to Install a Ceiling Fan

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Ceiling Fan Installation Pro

Ceiling Fans

How to Install a Ceiling Fan

How to install a ceiling fan, explained in easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions that show you how,  including information on installing a hanger bar for the necessary support. how to install a ceiling fan

Installing a ceiling fan is a good project for the do-it-yourselfer, as you can simply replace a traditional lighting fixture with a fan or fan-and-light kit. You can wire the fan’s light to be controlled by the light switch on the wall and allow the fan to be turned on manually by pulling a cord, install a second switch to control the fan, or purchase a unit operated by remote control.[GARD align=”left”]

You’ll need to ensure that the junction box to which you will connect your fan can support its weight (it should say “suitable for fan support”), that you have enough clearance between the fan blades and the ground (at least 7 feet), and that your fan is the appropriate size for your room. For more, see Sizing & Locating a Ceiling Fan.

 

install ceiling fan hanger bar

Ceiling fan mounting bar fits into ceiling hole and locks between joists to secure electrical box. Photo: Westinghouse

How to Install a Ceiling Fan: Step-by-Step

Following are instructions for how to install a ceiling fan at an existing ceiling box.

 

1Remove the old light fixture. (See How to Replace a Light Fixture for information about how to do so.)

install a ceiling fan downrod

Assemble the fan unit, inserting the wires through the downrod.

2Install a ceiling fan hanger bar. If the ceiling box is connected at its center to a bar hanger attached to two joists, then continue on to Step 3. If it does not, you will have to install a ceiling fan hanger bar. Take out the ceiling box, and insert the hanger into the ceiling hole. Ram the edges (or “feet”) of the bar toward the two ceiling joists by turning the center of the bar, and use a wrench to tighten the bar and embed the sides into the joists. Attach the ceiling box to the hanger.

 

3Insert the fan’s downrod through the canopy. Thread the motor’s wires though the downrod and canopy. Screw the downrod onto the motor.

 

 

install ceiling fan wiring

Mount the fan to the box and assemble the wires with wire nuts.

4Screw the fan’s ceiling plate to the electrical box, first threading the wires from the box through the plate. Suspend the fan from the ceiling box’s support.

 

5Wire the fan according to the manufacturer’s directions.

 

 

how to install a ceiling fan canopy

Screw the ceiling canopy in place.

6Remove the fan from the hook, put the canopy over the ceiling plate, and screw the canopy into place. Affix the fan blades.

 

7Finish by wiring the fan’s light fixture (if your fan has one) according to manufacturer directions, and screw the fixture into place.

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Ceiling Fan Installation Pro[GARD align=”left”]

Ceiling Fans

How a Ceiling Fan Works

Because of the slight breeze it creates, a fan makes a room more comfortable at higher temperatures during the summer so a room’s thermostat can be set 5 to 7 degrees higher. And in the winter, a fan recirculates rising warm air that would otherwise collect and give off its heat at the ceiling.

Ceiling Fan Parts Diagram ©HomeTips

A ceiling fan consists of a few basic parts, namely an electric motor with a housing, blades and the “irons” that hold most types in place, and a downrod or other mounting device. In addition, many fans are designed to receive decorative “fitters” beneath the blades that hold lamps and glass or crystal shades. Some have a control that is wall-mounted or a hand-held remote.

The lion’s share of fans are sold by a few companies, including Hunter, Casablanca, Emerson, and Fasco. Many others import or distribute fans under a variety of labels.[GARD align=”left”]

Most large manufacturers make housings, blades, fitters, and shades in a wide variety of styles so you can mix and match the different parts to create the fan of your dreams. Many of these same fan makers also produce models that are sold complete through mass merchandisers.

Surprisingly, most fan parts and pieces come from only three sources in Taiwan. This is why fans offered by competing companies often look similar. Many American companies import, repackage, and distribute these components.

Some companies stand out from the pack by being more innovative in design or by utilizing better materials, finishes, or proprietary manufacturing processes. Casablanca boasts parts made of die-cast zinc, hand-lacquered blades of hardwood veneer, and the most sophisticated controls in the industry. The Hunter Original—the fan with 100 years of experience—is made in America and features a limited lifetime warranty (as do several other companies’ fans). Emerson makes its own motors domestically.

Ceiling Fans

How to Repair a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fanLisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

Removing the center hub allows access to the electrical workings.

If your ceiling fan doesn’t work, you can save time and money by repairing it yourself.

A ceiling fan can stop working properly for a variety of reasons, discussed here and on successive pages of this article. On this page, we show you how to deal with a fan that doesn’t work at all because it isn’t receiving electrical power.

If you fan hums, see How to Fix a Fan that Hums. If it wobbles, see How to Fix a Fan That Wobbles. If it hums but it doesn’t spin, see How to Fix a Fan’s Broken Flywheel.

Be sure to turn off the fan’s circuit breaker before disassembling the fan!

Ceiling Fan Is Dead

When a ceiling fan doesn’t work at all, be sure it is receiving electrical power from its switch and from the circuit breaker or fuse box.[GARD align=”left”]

repair a ceiling fan light switch

Remove the light switch’s cover plate.

First check the circuit breaker or fuse, then the switch. Here’s how to check the switch that controls the fan:

1Turn off the power to the fan circuit. Remove the switch’s cover plate and unscrew the screws that mount the switch to the electrical box.

 

repair ceiling fan circuit tester

Use a circuit tester to make sure the switch is not charged.

 

2Use a voltage tester to check the screw terminals on the side of the switch to make sure they’re not hot (charged) and then gently pull the switch out from the box.

 

repair a ceiling fan wires

Reconnect the wires with a wire nut.

3Unscrew the wires from the two terminals and straighten their ends with pliers. Twist the two bare ends together and screw on a wire nut.

4Turn the circuit back on. If the fan goes on, the switch is bad—just buy a new one and install it. If the fan still doesn’t work, the problem is in the wiring or the fixture.

5Turn off the power to the circuit, reconnect the switch, put the cover plate back on, restore the power to the circuit, and check the fan fixture or call an electrician.

How to Fix a Fan That Hums

If the fan makes a humming noise when it runs, you may be able to eliminate the problem by changing the control. This is a relatively easy fix, but it may not work if your fan has a very cheaply made motor.

Be sure to buy a control compatible with your fan that has an anti-hum feature; the amperage rating must be equal to or greater than the demands of your fan. Multiple fans or fans with lights may require special controls.

1Turn off the power to the fan at the circuit breaker.

 

2Check the fan’s switch to be sure it’s off.

 

 

3Remove the faceplate and the switch. Use a voltage tester to be sure the wires connected to the fan switch are not “hot.”

4Disconnect the wires from the switch.

 

5Straighten the ends of the wires in the electrical box and twist them together with the wires of the new anti-hum fan control.

6Add wire nuts, screw the control to the electrical box, reattach the faceplate, and then restore the power.

How to Fix a Fan That Wobbles

Though a little wobble is typical for ceiling fans, significant wobble can be dangerous. Begin by checking for the source of the wobble. In many cases, wobble happens when a fan has been hung from a regular ceiling electrical box instead of an electrical box that’s rated for fans. Because of its weight and constant movement, a fan exerts far more force on the electrical box than does a light. if a fan works its way loose, it could come crashing down.

Remove the fan’s housing at the ceiling.

1Unscrew and lower the bracket housing at the ceiling. Check the electrical box for a label that designates it as a fan-rated box. Also check to see how it’s fastened. U-bolts or lag screws should connect the metal box to a bracket or solid wood block in the attic.

2Check the fan’s support. If the fan hangs from the wrong type of box or is clearly under-supported, call a fan-installation specialist or an electrician. If you can’t determine the type of support from below, you may have to climb into the attic, but before you do follow steps 4 through 7 to see if these easier steps solve the problem.

3Wiggle the support bracket. If it isn’t firm, tighten it.

 

4Check the drop rod. If your fan hangs from a drop rod, as most do, be sure the ball joint at the top of the drop rod is properly engaged with the fan support bracket.

5Check and, if necessary, tighten all bolts and screws.

 

6Measure to see if the blade tips hang an even distance from the ceiling. If they don’t, one or more of the blades may be bent or warped. Report this to the manufacturer; most of them offer replacement blades.

How to Replace a Flywheel

A flywheel is a rubber disc that is used to attach the shaft of a ceiling fan’s motor to the blades. The rubber helps minimize vibration in the blades, but over time the material can crack and break. If the fan stops turning but the motor continues to hum, you probably have a damaged or broken flywheel. It is recommended that you replace the part as opposed to attempting to repair it.

Replacement flywheels are relatively inexpensive and are available for most ceiling fan models. Determine which make and model ceiling fan you have. If this is not immediately apparent, remove the broken flywheel and measure it carefully. Make sure to note the inside and outside diameter and locations and spacing between bracket and screw holes. Then find a replacement through a licensed retailer or appliance parts house.

To remove the broken flywheel, you must disassemble the fan assembly. Before working on the fan, be sure to turn the power off at the circuit breaker.

1Remove the fan’s blades and open the fan switch housing.[GARD align=”right”]

2Detach any switches and controls, noting how and where these were connected.

3Disconnect any wires attached to the motor, making sure you know where to re-connect them once the new flywheel is in place. Then remove the entire switch housing with a screwdriver, wrench or pliers, depending on the model.

4Remove the broken flywheel, making note of its exact placement on the shaft. It may be a good idea to mark the location with a permanent marker once the flywheel is removed.

5Slide the new flywheel into place and make sure any wires are fed through the correct holes as they were with the previous assembly. Tighten any screws and replace any other parts that may have been removed in the process.

6Re-connect any switches or controls and replace the housing. Re-attach the blades to the fan and test it.

If you feel that this repair is too much to handle, contact a licensed fan repair pro.

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
1-866-342-3263

Ceiling Fans

How to Troubleshoot & Repair Ceiling Fan Problems

Ceiling fanLisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

Removing the center hub allows access to the electrical workings.

If your ceiling fan doesn’t work, you can save time and money by repairing it yourself.

A ceiling fan can stop working properly for a variety of reasons, discussed here and on successive pages of this article. On this page, we show you how to deal with a fan that doesn’t work at all because it isn’t receiving electrical power.

If you fan hums, see How to Fix a Fan that Hums. If it wobbles, see How to Fix a Fan That Wobbles. If it hums but it doesn’t spin, see How to Fix a Fan’s Broken Flywheel.

Be sure to turn off the fan’s circuit breaker before disassembling the fan!

Note: For information on kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans, please see How to Repair a Bathroom or Kitchen Fan Yourself.

Ceiling Fan Is Dead

When a ceiling fan doesn’t work at all, be sure it is receiving electrical power from its switch and from the circuit breaker or fuse box.[GARD align=”left”]

repair a ceiling fan light switch©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Remove the light switch’s cover plate.

First check the circuit breaker or fuse, then the switch. Here’s how to check the switch that controls the fan:

1Turn off the power to the fan circuit. Remove the switch’s cover plate and unscrew the screws that mount the switch to the electrical box.

non-contact voltage checkerFluke

Non-contact voltage detector senses active voltage without touching live wires. Buy on Amazon.

 

2Use a voltage tester to check the screw terminals on the side of the switch to make sure they’re not hot (charged) and then gently pull the switch out from the box.

 

repair a ceiling fan wires©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Reconnect the wires with a wire nut.

3Unscrew the wires from the switch’s two terminals and straighten their ends with pliers. Twist the two bare ends together and screw on a wire nut.

4Turn the circuit back on. If the fan goes on, the switch is bad—just buy a new fan switch and install it. If the fan still doesn’t work, the problem is in the wiring or the fixture.

5Turn off the power to the circuit, reconnect the switch, put the cover plate back on, restore the power to the circuit, and check the fan fixture or call an electrician.

How to Fix a Fan That Hums

If the fan makes a humming noise when it runs, you may be able to eliminate the problem by changing the control. This is a relatively easy fix, but it may not work if your fan has a very cheaply made motor—the motor may be shot.

Be sure to buy a control compatible with your fan that has an anti-hum feature; the amperage rating must be equal to or greater than the demands of your fan. Multiple fans or fans with lights may require special controls.

1Turn off the power to the fan at the circuit breaker.

 

2Check the fan’s switch to be sure it’s off.

3Remove the faceplate and the switch. Use a voltage tester to be sure the wires connected to the fan switch are not “hot.”

4Disconnect the wires from the switch.

 

5Straighten the ends of the wires in the electrical box and twist them together with the wires of the new anti-hum fan control.

6Add wire nuts, screw the control to the electrical box, reattach the faceplate, and then restore the power.

How to Fix a Fan That Wobbles

Though a little wobble is typical for ceiling fans, significant wobble can be dangerous. Begin by checking for the source of the wobble. In many cases, wobble happens when a fan has been hung from a regular ceiling electrical box instead of an electrical box that’s rated for fans. Because of its weight and constant movement, a fan exerts far more force on the electrical box than does a light. If a fan works its way loose, it could come crashing down.

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Remove the fan’s housing at the ceiling.

1Unscrew and lower the bracket housing at the ceiling. Check the electrical box for a label that designates it as a fan-rated box. Also check to see how it’s fastened. U-bolts or lag screws should connect the metal box to a bracket or solid wood block in the attic.

ceiling fan support boxWestinghouse

Special support electrical box holds up to 150 pounds and is easy to retrofit. Buy on Amazon.

2Check the fan’s support. If the fan hangs from the wrong type of box or is clearly under-supported, call a fan-installation specialist or an electrician. If you can’t determine the type of support from below, you may have to climb into the attic, but before you do follow steps 4 through 7 to see if these easier steps solve the problem.

3Wiggle the support bracket. If it isn’t firm, tighten it.

 

4Check the drop rod. If your fan hangs from a drop rod, as most do, be sure the ball joint at the top of the drop rod is properly engaged with the fan support bracket.

5Check and, if necessary, tighten all bolts and screws.

 

6Measure to see if the blade tips hang an even distance from the ceiling. If they don’t, one or more of the blades may be bent or warped. Report this to the manufacturer; most of them offer replacement blades.

How to Replace a Flywheel

A flywheel is a rubber disc that is used to attach the shaft of a ceiling fan’s motor to the blades. The rubber helps minimize vibration in the blades, but over time the material can crack and break. If the fan stops turning but the motor continues to hum, you probably have a damaged or broken flywheel. It is recommended that you replace the fan’s flywheel as opposed to attempting to repair it.

Replacement flywheels are relatively inexpensive and are available for most ceiling fan models. Determine which make and model ceiling fan you have. If this is not immediately apparent, remove the broken flywheel and measure it carefully. Make sure to note the inside and outside diameter and locations and spacing between bracket and screw holes. Then find a replacement through a licensed retailer or appliance parts house—or search the part online.

To remove the broken flywheel, you must disassemble the fan assembly.

expert tip

It’s helpful to take pictures of the fan as you disassemble it to make reassembly easier.

Before working on the fan, be sure to turn the power off at the circuit breaker.

1Remove the fan’s blades and open the fan switch housing.[GARD align=”right”]

2Detach any switches and controls, noting how and where these were connected.

3Disconnect any wires attached to the motor, making sure you know where to re-connect them once the new flywheel is in place. Then remove the entire switch housing with a screwdriver, wrench or pliers, depending on the model.

4Remove the broken flywheel, making note of its exact placement on the shaft. It may be a good idea to mark the location with a permanent marker once the flywheel is removed.

5Slide the new flywheel into place and make sure any wires are fed through the correct holes as they were with the previous assembly. Tighten any screws and replace any other parts that may have been removed in the process.

6Re-connect any switches or controls and replace the housing. Re-attach the blades to the fan and test it.

If you feel that this repair is too much to handle, contact a licensed fan repair pro.

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
1-866-342-3263

NEXT SEE: How to Install a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling Fans Buying Guide

This expert, unbiased buying guide will help you find the best ceiling fan for your home. It discusses types, how to size a ceiling fan, and options to consider.

When buying a ceiling fan, you'll find styles that range from sleekly contemporary to ornately traditional.Kamui29 / Shutterstock.com

When buying a ceiling fan, you’ll find styles that range from sleekly contemporary to ornately traditional.


The ceiling fan— a child of the Industrial Revolution—is still one of the most sensible solutions to home comfort despite a virtual revolution in the world of home comfort appliances. After more than a century, ceiling fans continue to be a simple but charming supplement to home cooling and heating.[GARD align=”left”]

Why this lasting popularity? Certainly charm is a factor. For some people, the steady, quiet whirl of the paddles evokes the romance of bygone days and sultry summer afternoons. More important is the fan’s practical side. It makes a room more comfortable and lowers energy bills. By forcing warm air downward in the winter and stirring up breezes in the summer, it decreases demands on heating and air-conditioning systems. And yet it operates on just pennies a day.

During the summer, using a ceiling fan in conjunction with an air conditioner will allow you to set the thermostat higher without a noticeable difference in comfort. A fan’s breeze will make a 79-degree room feel more like 72 degrees. By raising the thermostat, you can save up to 30% on your air-conditioning bills, depending on your home’s construction and where you live.

In the winter, a fan can re-circulate warm air that naturally rises in a room and is trapped at the ceiling. All you do is turn it on in the reverse direction (most have reversible motors). By bringing warm air down into the living space, the furnace can work less.

The best of today’s ceiling fans have taken a considerable step up from their ancestors. They benefit from better motors, more durable materials, more handsome finishes, and intuitive controls. You can choose from scores of styles, configurations, sizes, and prices. Here we offer information to help you choose the best ceiling fan for your needs.

Ceiling Fan Controls

Most fans are mounted at a ceiling box where a light fixture was formerly located. Typically, the light switch is replaced with a control that allows various fan speeds and—if the fan includes lights—light settings. It’s important that this control have a capacitor design and be made by the same manufacturer as the fan to eliminate buzz and hum.

Fans located at an electrical box that isn’t controlled by a wall switch can be operated by a pull chain or, with some brands, a remote control. Casablanca’s Intelli-Touch remote control is very sophisticated. This control features programmable light and fan settings. It even automatically adjusts fan speed to suit changes in room temperature and turns the fan light off and on in an irregular sequence when you’re away from home.

Fan Blade Sizes & Materials

Fans have from three to five blades; the traditional number is four. Though the number of blades does not affect performance much, it does affect cost. Generally speaking, the more blades the higher the cost.

Blades come in several lengths, measured by the full blade sweep they produce: 30, 42, 44, 46, 50, 52, and 60 inches. Most manufacturers only make two or three different lengths.

Blades are made from a number of materials and are given a wide variety of finishes. Natural wood and painted blades are made from solid wood, cross-laminated veneer (like plywood), and the less expensive veneered constant-density board.

Finishes include natural, appliance white, cherry, oak, walnut, burled camphor, bleached oak, white, faux granite, rosewood, black, high luster, colors, and more.

Some blades have a reversible finish—for example, they might offer a bleached oak look on one side and a painted white finish on the other. Simply turn the blades over to completely transform the fan’s appearance.

Other blades are made of clear or smoked acrylic. Hunter’s Original Outdoor fans feature blades of washable sailcloth stretched over a frame; the fabric is available in several colors. Both Casablanca and Fasco have similar offerings.

Sizing & Locating a Fan

A rule of thumb is to use a 52-inch fan for up to a 400-square-foot room, a 44-inch fan for up to 225 square feet, and a 42-inch fan for up to 144 square feet. For rooms more than 18 feet long, consider using two medium-sized fans.

 

If possible, put the fan in the middle of the room, close to where people gather. Be sure the blade tips are at least 24 inches from walls or sloping ceilings. Fans mounted close to a ceiling may produce a “cavitational effect,” which means they move less air. Some surface-mounted, low-profile fans—Hunter’s, for example—are designed to circulate more air than standard models.

For ceilings taller than 8 feet, hang the fan from a drop rod so that it’s down where it can be more effective. The distance the fan should hang from the ceiling will depend on the ceiling’s height. A fan should never hang lower than 7 feet from the floor.

Strong support is required for all ceiling fans. Their heavy weight and centrifugal motion strains hangers. Because of this, they must be mounted to conventional ceiling light fixture boxes that are securely fixed to framing members or they must attach to hooks, metal crossbars, or special hangers meant for fans.


Here are the suggested lengths of drop rod for ceilings ranging from 9 to 13 feet or more:

Ceiling Height (feet)Drop Rod Length (inches)
912
1018
1124
1236
1348

Judging Ceiling Fan Quality

Ceiling fans can cost from as little as $39.95 all the way up to several hundred dollars, depending on their quality. A high-quality fan has several traits that you’re not likely to find for under $100. It moves air effectively and quietly. The parts are well designed, made from high-grade materials, and sport lasting, attractive finishes. The motor has several speeds. And, it’s backed by a long-term warranty—at least 10 years.

Although fans are rated by the amount of air they move, measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), these ratings are not terribly relevant because they are not based on universally accepted standards and because a fan is rarely used at full speed.

Movement of air is a factor of the pitch, length, and number of blades; their distance from the ceiling; and their revolutions per minute (rpms). A weak motor can spin short blades quickly if the blades are at a minimum pitch of about 10 degrees, though this type of fan is likely to be noisier than a fan that swirls longer blades at a 14-degree pitch more slowly.

Some inexpensive fans sold through mass merchandisers have motors made in China. These have proven to be unreliable, as evidenced by high return rates. Low-end fans lack quality in construction and design— they’re likely to wobble and hum even at low speeds.[GARD align=”left”]

A motor should have sealed bearings that require no lubrication (these should run quietly for up to 12 years). The best measure of motor quality is a company’s reputation and warranty. Also be sure it is listed by Underwriters Laboratories or an equivalent testing agency.

Featured Resource: Find a Ceiling Fan Installation Pro

Ceiling Fans

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