What you need to know about installing a Residential Ceiling Fan

Keeping it cool

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 ceiling fans     

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


Fan Mounting – Electrical box requirements

     A important first step that may make or break your project is making sure you have the proper electrical box.  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 many 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 to the electrical junction box or wood structure in the ceiling,  The safety wire is important as in the case of a home 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.  This is good to know if your buying a used home as you can sometimes use it as leverage in negotiating a better price.


Energy Savings

     One of these reasons might be to more economically utilize electricity vs operating an Air conditioner or Hvac system.  Some 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.  Another big advantage to using a ceiling fan is that they can be used all season round to distribute air and 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 back is that eventually the remote control will require battery replacement.


Cost – affordable solution for moving air

     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 load draw, they can be run off a small generator easily.  It would allow your wood stove or fireplace to distribute heat more effectively throughout your home.  You may want to avoid running or can’t use a forced air furnace system on a generator due to its electrical requirements.  Also it would be expensive to replace its electronics should something malfunction while on generator power.  A ceiling fan would allow you some immunity to dirty power and if something did go wrong would be far cheaper to replace 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 humidity levels in check to help with condensation as well as cycle the 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 complete install solution would have return vents added in bathrooms and in the kitchen to take the moist air outside of the home.  This works similar to an 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.


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 air around.  Getting the correct size 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’s 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, finding 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.  Another point goes for LED lights as you wont be removing 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 renovation safely, it is advised you seek a qualified electrician for assistance with removing and installing the new fan.


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