How to Install a Ceiling Fan Remote

Upgrade your fan with a ceiling fan remote

Old ceiling fans may have inconvenient pull chains, make noise or need repairs. One easy fix is to install a ceiling fan remote control. You may also need to replace broken parts.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Adding new ceiling fan remote controls

There are many “universal” ceiling fan remote control kits on the market for overhead fans controlled by pull chains and a singe wall switch. All of them feature on/off and fan speed control. Others also offer light-dimming and thermostatic control capabilities. But whether you can use a ceiling fan remote kit depends on the amount of free space inside the fan canopy.

Many “ceiling hugger”–style fans have enough free space for the receiver for the ceiling fan remote. But “down-rod” styles may not. Shut off the circuit breaker to the fan and lower the canopy (use a voltage sniffer to make sure the power is really off). Check the fit of the receiver before you commit to wiring it in permanently. Keep your receipt just in case.

With the power off, connect the hot and neutral wires to the “AC-in” wires on the receiver. Then connect the three remaining wires to the fan and light (they’re labeled by the manufacturer).

If you have neighbors nearby, you may have to change the frequency on the ceiling fan remote transmitter and receiver to prevent you or your neighbors from controlling one another’s fans (see Photo 2).

Back to Top

Fixing ceiling fan problems

A ceiling fan can run nonstop for years without a hint of a problem. Then, out of the blue, it can quit completely, stop working on some speeds or start making a loud humming sound. You may think the motor is shot, but it’s probably not. Those are all symptoms of a burned-out capacitor. The capacitor and the pull chain switch are the only two components that control the fan speeds. Switches rarely wear out. But they can break if you pull the chain too hard or it gets caught in the blades. You can hedge your bets and replace both the capacitor and the switch in less than an hour for about $20. Here’s how.

Start by shutting off the power to the fan and the lights (if equipped). You’ll have to gain access to the housing where the speed and direction switches are located. In fans without lights, just remove the bottom cover. Double-check the power with a voltage sniffer before you stick your fingers in the housing. If your fan has lights, remove the globes and bulbs. Then remove the light kit. That’ll expose the wiring in the housing.

Next, remove the capacitor (Photo 1, below). A burned-out capacitor might have a burned smell, swollen sides or scorch marks. Those are sure signs it’s bad. But even if yours appears to be in good shape, replace it anyway because it’s still the most likely cause of your speed/humming problem (Photo 2, below). If you have any doubts about the fan switch, replace it, too. Remove the pull-chain switch by unscrewing the knurled outer knob. Pull the switch into the housing and disconnect the wires. Take both pieces to a ceiling fan or appliance parts store to get replacements. If you don’t have a local source for parts, go to eceilingfans.com. Click on the “Capacitors” or “Wall Switches” tab to match each to a replacement. Finish the job by connecting the new parts and tucking everything back into the housing (Photo 3).

Fixing A Ceiling Fan Remote Control

Ceiling fans with factory remote controls don’t use traditional capacitors to control fan speed. The remote receiver varies the voltage and current to change the fan motor speed. But ceiling fan remote control units can go bad too. Before you even think about tearing the fan apart to diagnose a problem, replace the batteries in the transmitter first. Then press the transmitter buttons to see if the LEDs light up. If you’re not sure whether the problem is in the transmitter or receiver, you can send both units to eceilingfans.com for testing (testing and repair usually run about $25). The receiver is usually tucked into the fan’s mounting bracket, which is connected to the electrical box.

Ceiling fan receiver and transmitter
Back to Top

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Electrical tape
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Wire stripper/cutter

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Remote control for ceiling fan
  • Wire nuts
  • Capacitor
  • Ceiling fan switch