How to Install a Ceiling Fan

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Estimated Time: 
Half a Day
A Little Fan-Fare

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Install a Ceiling Fan in one Afternoon

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We love ceiling fans: they offer style, lighting, and energy savings all in one package. Installing one is a project that will appeal to your practical and romantic sides at the same time—no small feat when it comes to home improvement.

Want to see this project in action? You can watch the video of how we installed a fan here.

It's a no-brainer that fans keep you cool in summer's heat, but in colder weather, ceiling fans pull warmer air down and circulate it throughout the room. With a ceiling fan, your heating and cooling systems won't need to run as long or work as hard. And with the rising cost of energy, that's a win-win situation. This project is deceptively simple; don't be intimidated because electricity is involved. All you need to begin is an existing light fixture that you can swap out.

For this task, the toughest and most time-consuming component is selecting the right fan. Once purchased, it's only a few hours until you can sit back and enjoy the benefits.

Step 1

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There are more than a few technical details to consider when selecting the right fan. Blade size, motor speed, materials and lighting options are some of the most important to keep in mind when shopping. When considering blade size, measure your room to select a kit that's right for your space. While fan blades span from 24"-72", the most popular size is 52", which is suitable for an 18' x 20' room. We chose a 6 blade, 52" fan from Hunter in a rubbed oil finish.

Motor speed and strength depend on how often the fan will run. For continuous use, choose a ceiling fan with a performance grade, quiet motor. For occasional use, consider an economy or medium grade motor. Either way, maximize efficiency by selecting a reversible model or one with adjustable blades to push warm air upward in summer and down into the room in winter. Look for fans bearing the Energy Star(R) label, which indicates that they move air up to 20% more efficiently.

Choose fans rated for damp or wet environments if you're buying for a bathroom, kitchen or covered porch. Avoid solid wood blades in damp areas as they may warp over time. Keep in mind that unusually-shaped fan blades such as simulated palm fronds and wicker colonial-inspired designs are the least efficient styles and add little more than designer appeal.

Most ceiling fans have a "downrod," a 3"- 5" rod that runs from the ceiling mount to the fan. If your ceiling is less than the standard 9', forego the downrod and choose a flush mount model instead. While flush mounts do reduce airflow, fan blades need to be more than 7' above the floor for obvious safety reasons. Keep in mind that even flush mount fan blades need to be at least one foot from the ceiling to be efficient. Alternately, if you have sloped or high ceilings angled and extended mounts with longer downrods are available as well.

Jane Tip: Try an all-in-one fan and light combination to eliminate the need for additional lighting. The fan and light should be controlled separately, especially if your fan has multiple settings or your light is on a dimmer. While a remote controlled fan seems like a great idea, we find it's worth the few extra steps to the light switch to avoid having one more remote to track down.

Step 2

First, shut off the circuit at the circuit breaker or fuse box, not just the light switch. If you've got roommates, children, or an oblivious mate, let them know not to touch the breaker under any circumstances.

ceiling fan2

If the location of the junction box that you'll be working with is up high, you should consider renting a small scaffold. We rented a six-foot platform with room for two people to work for about $25/day from our local tool rental outfit. Having a big, stable platform will let you work both safer and faster.

The first step is to remove the existing fixture. Unscrew any retaining screws; remove the shade, light bulb and any mounting hardware. Carefully unscrew the wire nuts (saving them for later), pull the wires apart, and remove the old fixture.

Step 3

Read the instructions that come with the ceiling fan and make sure all referenced parts are included. Locate the fan's mounting bracket and, using a screwdriver, attach it to the electrical box, making sure all connections are tight.

SAFETY TIP: Never rely on ceiling material alone to support your fixture. Check the mount of the electrical box to be sure it's anchored firmly to a structural support or rafter. Many fans are heavy and may need extra bracing for support. Note the weight of your ceiling fan before installation and consult with a store expert to see if you need to install a brace or other support first.

Jane Tip: There are special ceiling fan mounting brackets designed to be installed from inside the room, eliminating a trip into the attic. The mounting brackets consist of a steel pole that can be accommodated on joists that are 2' on center.

Step 4

Connect the circuit wires using the wire connectors or caps provided in your installation kit or use the ones you just removed from your old fixtures. Don't use electrical tape in place of the caps. Match up the colors of the wires. Most kits have white and black fan wires where you match white to white and black to black. Blue wires are used for the lighting. The grounding wire connecting to the lead is usually green or copper. Check the manufacturer's instructions if you're unsure or if the colors mentioned don't match up.

Once you've connected your house AC power to the fan base, you've completed the only tricky electrical chore, because most fan kits include a pre-built wiring "harness" to finish the connections between the base and the motor assembly itself.

Slip on the ceiling cover and attach it firmly, making sure you tuck in all wires and the mount is flush to the ceiling. This is most likely a two-person job; have one person hold the fan while the other connects the wires. Our Hunter fan had a handy mounting hook which supported the fan's weight as we connected the wires, making it much easier. Even so, two people make this job go more than twice as fast.

Step 5

Attach the fan motor to the mounting bracket according to manufacturer's instructions, then switch the power back on to test the connections. Be sure to have the switch and pull-chain both in the "on" position so you don't mistake human error for an electrical problem! When you're satisfied with the connections, turn the power back off at the switch plate and the fuse box before continuing with installation.

Step 6

Using your screwdriver, put on the motor cover if your kit includes one. Screwdriver still in hand, attach each fan blade securely to its mounting bracket, then attach each one to the fan motor. This will require a lot of stretching and reaching so take your time and rest often. When all of the blades have been attached, switch the power back on at the fuse box and the switch plate.

SAFETY TIP: If your fan wobbles or shakes after installation, double-check all connections to make sure they're tight. If they check out, purchase a ceiling fan balancing kit which uses small weights to even out the rotation. Inexpensive and easy to use, the kit will test and correct any balancing issues. If the fan still wobbles, remove the blades and lay them flat to check for possible warping.

Ceiling Fan Care:

  • Do wipe fan blades down with a lint-free cloth on a weekly basis to reduce dust build-up.
  • Do check your fan after a few months of use for wobbling and re-tighten any loose connections if necessary.
  • Many fans offer a reversing switch. If yours does, adjust it to have the blades spin counter-clockwise in summer, clockwise in winter.
  • Now go ahead and grab that iced tea—or a hot toddy if it's the middle of winter—sit back and enjoy your work.

    Related links:
    Five Energy Saving Tips in Under 5 Minutes
    Turn your House into a Hazard-Free Haven
    The Home That Grows with You

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4 comments

21
Sep

I was intimidated to try installing fans at first but it really is not hard (take it from a diy wimp!). It is so worth it as well. This summer was my first summer since I installed both of my ceiling fans it was really helpful! Good luck, Audrey http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Women_Homeowners/
17
Oct

I don't see instructions here for times when there is no pre-existing light fixure - as in my case.
10
Nov

If you have no pre-existing fixture in the location that you want to put the fan in, you'll need to pull wires from nearby. If you're a beginner, this is likely something you want to hire a contractor for. However, if you have experience and know-how in electrical wiring, then it's really a matter of first turning off the power, then tapping into a line for electricity (being sure that you don't pull too much power on that line from the junction box) and then putting a switch on one end for on/off/speed/etc. and then running it through the wall and ceiling to the location of your soon-to-be fan.
16
Nov

Is there any way to reverse the direction of a fan that doesn't have a built reverse direction switch? My ceiling fans do a great job of sending cool air up, but not so much with the pulling warm air down.