Do It Yourself: How To Install A Ceiling Fan

Installing a ceiling fan is not difficult, but it does require a basic knowledge of electrical wiring and attention to detail.

Ceiling fans make great room additions, because they can eliminate two or three concerns all at once. Ceiling fans equipped with lighting units can provide much-needed overhead light, while also providing visual interest and air circulation. The primary function of a ceiling fan is to draw cold air towards the ceiling and/or force hot air towards the floor. The result is a more efficient blend of temperate air- occupants of the room are more comfortable and heating/cooling units don't have to work nearly as hard. The main drawback to most household ceiling fans, however, is installation. Most ceiling fan units sold in hardware stores or home improvement centers are not designed for amateur repairmen. Instructions for installation routinely point out the need for a qualified electrician, and occasionally the parts themselves are not completely finished. All is not lost for an experience homeowner, however. Here's what you'll need to understand in order to install a ceiling fan without the aid of a professional electrician or contractor:

1. The process begins with the right ceiling fan for the job. While shopping for a fan, ask yourself what you want out of a new ceiling fan. Is it better air circulation? Visual interest? Overhead lighting? Some ceiling fans are very utilitarian- they'll hang from the ceiling and circulate air, but they're not overly decorative. This would be fine for rooms outside of public view, such as a storage closet or basement den. Other models are more ornate, with brass and glass fixtures but no lamps. These would be best for public rooms with pre-existing overhead lighting. The most elaborate ceiling fans will often feature ornate blades, elegant metal work and either a single lighting unit or several extensions for light bulbs.

Ceiling fans also come with various size blades, so be sure not to buy too much fan for too little room. Look at the existing overhead outlets and measure around them to make sure you have proper clearance.

2. Once the ceiling fan is home, get the area ready for installation. This means clearing a path from the assembly area to the overhead outlet, securing a ladder under the work area and locating all the proper tools. The electricity leading to the overhead outlet will DEFINITELY need to be turned off both at the wall switch and the fuse box or circuit breaker. Once you've made sure the power has been completely cut off, you can safely begin the assembly process.

3. Most ceiling fans include detailed assembly instructions, but sometimes these instructions are written for contractors and electricians, not consumers. If you find a certain instruction confusing, a representative from the electrical or lighting department of a local home improvement store should have answers. Essentially, assembling a ceiling fan involves attaching blades to holders and holders to the main motor housing. A power screwdriver should make short work of most of the assembly. Lighting units may require additional steps, such as connecting the wires to the main motor power supply. Other parts are usually housing for the motor or bracing for the ceiling joists. These parts will not be fully assembled until the fan is almost installed.

4. Once the blades and accessories have all been assembled, it's time to begin the actual installation of the main motor unit. Because this step involves some advanced wiring techniques, the instructions may be especially emphatic about hiring professionals. While this is always a good idea when practical, wiring in a typical ceiling fan is not completely out of the wheelhouse of an amateur handyman. The outlet and wiring already exist, so there shouldn't be a need for any additional circuits or breakers. The wiring process itself is not difficult, but a professional would instinctively know some things about safety and proper grounding that a non-professional might not.

If a lighting unit already uses the overhead junction box, it must be removed. Use the proper tools to remove the screws holding the unit to the ceiling and the main bolt in the center. The entire unit should fall out of the ceiling, with some wires attached to the bottom. These wires must be unattached and the old unit moved out of the way. You should notice a junction box between two ceiling joists. This junction box will contain electrical wires and usually a hole for a bolt in the middle. These wires will eventually supply the power for the fan and light, while the center bolt hole will support much of the fan's weight.

5. Once the junction box has been prepped, the ceiling fan itself should be carried up to the work area. A special attachment might be included which will provide additional support for the ceiling fan. Once this piece is installed, then detailed instructions should show where the main motor wires are located. These wires should match the color of the wires coming from the junction box, including an additional green grounding wire. The ceiling fan kit should contain a pair of special screws with plastic caps. These screws are used to twist the wires from the junction to the matching wires of the ceiling fan motor. Make sure these wire nuts are completely secure- they will most likely thread themselves but double check your work. Once these wires are connected, stuff them back into the junction box. The ceiling fan motor unit is now ready to be attached to the support struts in the ceiling. The fan should sit securely in the groove between joists.

6. The metal housing around the motor unit can now be secured with screws. The blades should swing freely and securely. If there is a lighting unit, the bulb(s) should be installed and the globe secured. The most difficult work has now been completed.

Once the area has been cleared, it's now time to test the installation. Restore power to the fuse box or circuit breaker, and then turn on the wall switch. If all went well, the motor should begin to turn as soon as the switch is thrown. An additional switch on the unit itself may also have to be pulled, along with the fan's light switch. If the fan does not turn or the light does not function, then the problem could be electrical. If the unit begins to smoke or make crackling noises, shut off the wall switch immediately. You can either call a professional for advice or retrace your steps. It's better to be too careful than too proud. Faulty wiring in the ceiling can lead to unexpected fires. If everything is moving and not swinging violently, then you've successfully installed a new ceiling fan.

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