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How to Install Ceiling Fans

A ceiling fan improves cooling in summer and heating in winter. The result: You feel more comfortable while you save on utility bills. And installing them yourself is much easier, thanks to new, strong hanging systems and electronic controls. We show you how to avoid common pitfalls when installing one yourself.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

  • COMPLEXITY
  • ComplexityComplexityComplexity Moderate
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    You need basic electrical skills; you have to put in a new ceiling electrical box and make wiring connections.

  • COST
  • CostCostCost $100 - $500
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    Ceiling fan prices start at about $150. Add another $20 - $50 for switches and other materials. Radio receiver kit option for remote controls runs about $75 and up.

Step 1: Overview and getting started

You don't have to be a “Casablanca” aficionado to appreciate the elegance a ceiling fan can bring to your home. And you can enjoy a fan all year long as it creates a welcome breeze in the summer and circulates warm air in the winter.

Ceiling fans (technically called “paddle fans”) used to be frustrating to install, to say the least. Most of the time you had to wing it because specialty hanging systems were poorly developed or nonexistent. Nowadays, most manufacturers have designed versatile mounting systems that take the hassle out of installation. When you add in the improved, stronger ceiling boxes, you'll find that just about any ceiling fan can go up quick and easy on any ceiling, sloped or flat.

In this article, we'll illustrate crystal-clear instructions that go beyond the basic set included with the fan. We'll also show you how to avoid common pitfalls like putting on parts in the wrong order and forgetting to slip shrouds on ahead of time. Some mistakes are more serious than these. Standard electrical boxes or blades hung too low can be downright dangerous.

In addition to the fan, you can buy accessories like electronic controls, fancy light packages and furniture-grade paddles.

Put up a new fan in a leisurely Saturday afternoon
If everything goes well, you can put up a ceiling fan in a couple of hours, including cleanup. In most cases, the whole job will take only a hammer, a screwdriver, a 3/8-in. nut driver and a wire stripper.

Most of the time, the wires that fed a previous ceiling light fixture are adequate for hooking up a new fan. If you have a wiring arrangement that's different from ours and you are unfamiliar with wiring techniques, consult an electrician or building inspector for help.

Follow the photo series for basic installation steps that apply to more than 95 percent of all fans. There may be small variations, particularly when it comes to the light and blade mountings, so you'll still need to consult the instructions provided with your fan. As with any other electrical work, you may need an electrical permit from your local building department before starting the job. The inspector will tell you when to call for an inspection.

Minimum downrod lengths ( in inches) for angled ceilings

Minimum downrod lengths ( in inches) for angled ceilings

Fan Height Requirements

Manufacturers generally require that fan blades be at least 7 ft. above the floor. Since most fan and motor assemblies are less than 12 in. high, they'll fit under a standard 8-ft. ceiling with the proper clearance.

Angled ceilings require that you install “downrods” (also called extension tubes or downtubes) that will lower the motor and fan blades so they'll clear a sloped ceiling surface. The more space between the ceiling and the fan, the better. The fan will have more air to draw from, and you'll feel more air movement because the blades are closer to you.

Most fans come with a short downrod designed for mounting on 8-ft. ceilings. If your ceiling's less than 8 ft., you'll need to remove the rod provided and flush-mount the fan. But if you have a higher or sloped ceiling, purchase a longer downrod.

Step 2: Knock out the old box and install a fan brace

Before starting any work, shut off the circuit breaker that feeds the switch and light fixture. If there's a working bulb in the fixture, turn it on. Then you'll know you have the right breaker when the bulb goes out. Check the wires with a voltage tester to make sure they're off after removing the fixture and when changing the wall switch.

The next step is to remove the existing plastic or metal electrical box and install a “fan brace” that's designed to hold ceiling fans. Few conventional boxes are strong enough to support a ceiling fan, so don't even think about trying to hang your fan from an existing box. Instead, buy a fan brace when you purchase your fan. You can choose braces that fasten with screws if the framing is accessible from the attic or if it's new construction. Otherwise, pick a brace that's designed to slip through the ceiling hole and through the electrical box. These braces (Photos 3 and 3A) adjust to fit between the framing members in your ceiling; you simply rotate the shaft to anchor them to the framing.

Most existing electrical boxes are fastened to the framing with nails, making them easy to pound out with a hammer and a block of wood (Photo 2). After you free the cable, just leave the old box in the cavity (Photo 3) rather than struggling to work the box through the ceiling hole. Then pull the cable through the hole and slip the fan brace through the opening and secure it, following the directions that came with the brace. Little feet on the ends of braces keep them the correct distance from the backside of 1/2-in. thick ceilings so the new electrical box will be flush with the surface. If you have a thicker ceiling (like ours), rotate the ends to achieve the correct spacing.

Video: How to Install a Ceiling Fan Brace

Gary Wentz, an editor for The Family Handyman, will show you how to remove an old light and install a ceiling fan brace where you can properly install a ceiling fan.

 

Step 3: Install a new box and fan hanger bracket

Pull the wires into the new box, mount the box onto the brace (Photo 4) and attach the fan hanger bracket (Photo 5).

Step 4: Assemble the fan and hang it

Your fan will include assembly instructions. Photos 6 – 9 will help you with several key steps.

Step 5: Wire the fan, fan light and switch

New electronic controls save you from running additional wiring.
Since most fan installations are retrofits into existing electrical boxes, there's usually a single electrical cable connecting the fixture to a single wall switch. You can leave the switch and use it to turn the fan on and off, then use the pull chains on the fan to control fan speed and lights. A second option is to install electronic controls. Higher-quality fans give you the option of adding a radio receiver kit. The receiver accepts signals from a special wall switch (included in the kit) to control the fan and light separately without additional wiring. The receiver also accepts signals from a handheld remote, so you can operate multiple fans and fine-tune fan speed and light intensity from your La-Z-Boy. Electronic switches are matched to fans by flipping code toggles in the controls and the fan, just like with your garage door opener. Installing an electronic switch (Photo 12) is a snap. The receiver drops right into the fan housing and plugs into the bottom of the motor.

If the old light is fed by two threeway switches instead of a single switch, the control options are a little more complicated. You have three choices:
  1. Leave the existing switches in place and turn one of them on. Then use a remote control to control the fan and lights.
  2. Use the existing switches and control the fan and lights independently with pull chains.
  3. Disable one of the three-way switches and rewire the other one to receive a wall-mounted electronic control. Sorting out all the wires is complex. You'll need an electrician's help for this.
Remote control accessory

Remote control accessory

Buying a Ceiling Fan

If you haven't walked under a large fan display yet, hold onto your hat. You'll be overwhelmed by the selection of colors, styles and accessories, especially if you visit a ceiling fan store. If you intend to use your fan regularly, invest in a high quality model. You'll get a quieter, more efficient, more durable unit. If you spend beyond that amount, you're usually paying for light packages, radio-actuated remote and wall controls, style, and design (fancier motor castings, inlays, blade adornments or glasswork). If you spend less, you're likely to get a less efficient, less durable, noisier unit with fewer color, blade and electronic choices.

Choose the blade diameter that best suits the room visually and make sure the unit will fit under the ceiling without jeopardizing beehive hairdos.
Bigger rooms call for wider fan blade diameters.
The bigger fan will not only look better but also move more air.

Most ceiling fans are designed for heated, enclosed spaces. If you're putting a fan in a screen room, a gazebo or other damp area, the building code requires you to use a “damp-rated” fan. These fans have corrosion-resistant stainless steel or plastic parts that can stand up to high humidity and condensation. If you live in a coastal area with corrosive sea air, or if you're putting a fan in a particularly wet environment like a greenhouse or an enclosed pool area, you should choose a “wet-rated” fan.

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Required Tools for this Project

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

    • Hammer
    • Tape measure
    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Needle-nose pliers
    • Nut driver
    • Non-contact voltage tester
    • Wire stripper/cutter
    • Wrench set

Level, 2-ft.

Required Materials for this Project

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

    • Ceiling fan
    • Fan brace and box assembly
    • Switch
    • Wire connectors

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 7 of 7 comments
Show per page: 20   All

September 09, 2:39 PM [GMT -5]

Red Wire - normally used in situations where the builder provided wiring for dual controls, like separate 'hot' wires for the light and the fan.

To be more technical, they used 12/3 wiring (I'm guessing on the gauge) - one white (neutral), one black (hot #1), one red (hot #2) and a bare (ground).

Check in the box where your wall switch is, you should find a red one there as well. It is either capped off, or connected to that other switch that you could never figure out what it was for...

June 24, 12:03 PM [GMT -5]

This is great if you already have a ceiling fixture in the room. Instructions for installing a ceiling fan without a pre-existing ceiling fixture would be great.

July 30, 7:52 AM [GMT -5]

You have got to be kidding. After 30 years of wanting a ceiling fan I called an electrician. The ceiling fan makes such a noise in an upstairs bedroom on high that it is useless. Then the 1,000. Dollar bill killed me. Dumb. Idea. Wish I had never put a ceiling fan in.

June 25, 3:10 PM [GMT -5]

If this is for new construction home and the plastic light box is attached to a metal pole inside the wall, how do you get it removed in order to insert the metal box rated for ceiling fans? suggestions?

June 30, 11:37 AM [GMT -5]

It could be a runner wire. Do you have multiple switches that control the ceiling fan?

Remove the cover plate on the switches and pull the switch from the wall. Look for a red wire. Check continuity of the red wire to make sure that is the one running to the ceiling fan.

Depending on where the red wire connects on the switch (hot or neutral) will help you determine where to connect it on the ceiling fan.

The other question I would have is what was at the ceiling fan location before and what was the red wire connected to?

June 29, 10:48 PM [GMT -5]

Including the red wire how many wires are coming from the ceiling?

June 29, 11:21 AM [GMT -5]

there is a red wire hanging from the wires that come from the ceiling what do I connect the red wire too.

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