How to install a Residential Ceiling Fan

old ceiling fan
Keeping it cool with a ceiling fan

Ceiling Fan Buying Guide

     Your ready to make a small investment in your home by upgrading a living space with a ceiling fan.  Before you bring that shiny new fan home from the store and have it installed, take note of a few pointers you need to know in order to avoid making some common purchasing mistakes.


Advantages to a ceiling fan  

     For starters there are many good reasons why you would want to use a ceiling fan in your home or business.  Energy savings, accessibility, interior design, operating cost and installation cost are usually the biggest reasons one has to utilize a ceiling fan. 


Ceiling Fan installation – Properly mounting the fan to the electrical box

     A important first step that may make or break your project is making sure you have the proper electrical box requirements.  If your plan is to add a fan where a light was originally, I would highly recommend that you inspect the electrical junction box you plan to attach the ceiling fan to.  In almost all cases the existing junction box that formerly had a light fixture will not be rated “cf” (ceiling fan) to support the added weight of the fan.  Also you may have to add extra reinforcement bracing and a safety wire (included with the fan) to the electrical junction box or wood structure in the ceiling,  The safety wire is important as in the case of a fire, it protects you and firefighters from falling objects.  To install the safety wire this will generally require either ceiling access – such as a attic access door or drywall removal.  Having this access will allow you to install the new electrical box properly for the new fan. 

     A telling sign that a improper electrical box was used is if the fan speed wobbles or is drooping down from the ceiling.  Cracked drywall is another sign that the electrical box is incorrect or poorly secured.  This is because a regular electrical box doesn’t have the bracing needed to support the added weight of the fan.  Despite being dangerous I routinely find homes where a DIY’er decides to do their own fan installation and the proper electrical box isn’t used.  Keep in mind that a improper fan electrical box would fail a electrical inspection.  Keep this in mind if your planing to buy a used home as you can sometimes use it as leverage in negotiating a better price.


Energy Savings

     Another big advantage to using a ceiling fan is how they are more economical on utilizing electricity vs operating an Air conditioner or Hvac system.  Some ceiling fan models have added value built into them by design as they can further assist with heating or cooling by changing the direction in which the fan spins.  In the summer it brings the cool air up to the ceiling and in the winter it forces the warm air down to the floor.  This effect of forcing the air up or down can be very important with high ceilings.  Large institutions such as schools, offices, retailers and high bay repair shops use fans for this very reason.  Another big advantage to using a ceiling fan is that they can be used all season round to distribute air. In the cooler months they can prevent condensation buildup on windows.  If the condensation is left unattended it can lead to pooling water onto the window frame causing water damage to the sills and air quality issues forming from mold. 


Accessibility – Are your thinking about your loved one’s safety?

     A great feature that enhances a mobility impaired or elderly persons independence are ceiling fans with the addition of a remote control.  This feature will allow easy accessibility to the controls that will enable you to switch or dim the lighting and change the speed of the fan without the risk of having a serious fall or worry about having to over-reach to access a pull chain or having to get up to use the light switch.  The biggest draw backs are that the remote can be easily misplaced and that it will eventually require battery replacement.


Ceiling Fan operating cost – A affordable backup solution for moving air in the event of power loss

     If you are living in a rural area you may burn wood fuel or have a gas fireplace as a backup heat source for when the power goes out.  Since a fan has a relatively small amperage draw, they can be run off a small generator easily.  In a backup heat situation it would allow your wood stove or fireplace to distribute heat more effectively throughout your home.  You may want to avoid running your forced air furnace or can’t use a forced air furnace system on a generator due to its electrical requirements.  Many modern gas furnaces contain expensive circuit boards that if subject to a generator surge or voltage fluctuation would damage them and its ability to operate.  When you consider the replacement cost of having its electronics board changed out by a service technician it is generally safer to have a different heating method in place should something malfunction while on generator power.  A ceiling fan, floor fan, pedestal fan or tower fan combined with a fireplace would allow you some immunity to dirty power and if something did go wrong it would be far cheaper to replace a fan than to fix a furnace.  The same situation holds true for a summer storm or heatwave that knocks out the utility power line.  The option to have a fan running vs a air-conditioner and forced air is a nice luxury to have.


HRV – Heat Recovery Ventilator

     Still on the topic of fans, its worth mentioning that if your considering building a new home you may want to price out having a HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) installed.  They keep your homes interior humidity levels in check to help with condensation as well as efficiently cycle stale air with outside fresh air.  All this takes place through a box containing coils which either pre-heat or pre-cool incoming fresh air to boost air exchanging efficiency.  A fully complete system would have return vents added in bathrooms and in the kitchen to take the moist air outside of the home.  This works similarly to a bathroom exhaust fan except the HRV extracts all the heat/cool air to recharge the new fresh air coming back into the home.  These systems are very simple to operate via a humidisat and only require periodic filter cleaning.  Keep in mind that a HRV can be installed post building process but to get the full benefit from the system duct work will need to be run in the walls to the individual rooms.


Ceiling Fan Size – Size does matter and its how you use it.

     When selecting a fan you should consider the size of room that the fan will be used in.  A general rule of thumb is that a large room requires a large fan and a small room is better suited to a small fan.  You may want more then one fan in a large room to properly move the air volume around.  Getting the correct size and number of fan allows the fans blades the ability to properly move air.  For example: a fan that is too large placed in a small bedroom may create a large draft even on its low speed setting causing you difficulties falling asleep.  Likewise if the fan was sized too small the speed would have to be turned up to its higher setting creating more noise and consuming more power. 


Lighting requirements – what bulbs do I need?

     While adding extra lighting to a living space is usually desirable you can make a slight mis-step by purchasing a fan with uncommon bulbs and hard to find replacement parts.  Something I like to always look at is the type of bulb that is used in the fans light if equipped.  Some bulbs are somewhat unique in that they must be properly handled to prevent oil from your skin contacting the bulb lens.  By getting oil on the bulb you can significantly shorten the usable life of the bulb.  This makes a DIY repair more difficult.  Many people would not have a spare bulb on hand to replace this type of bulb which is why I prefer fan fixtures that incorporate led lighting into the fixture.  The led’s last a very long time, they are energy efficient and they are not damaged easily from mis-handling. 

     Another pitfall is a fan light that has glass shades.  While a glass shade can look aesthetically pleasing, knowing where to find a replacement shade for broken glass can be very hard to find especially if you need to match a specific glass design or its a older model of fixture.  Another point goes towards LED lights as you wont be needing to frequently remove the glass to replace a burnt out led strip.  Something that should also be noted before making a purchase is if you require wall switching of both the fan and light separately.  You can usually see the fan’s specs on the box or you can look them up online to see if it will be compatible.  Not all fans will have this capability.



     As always If your not confident in your abilities with how to preform this electrical home renovation safely, it is advised you seek or speak to a qualified electrician for assistance with removing and installing the new fan fixture.


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