Both for looks and for saving energy, a ceiling fan is a great addition to any home. During the winter, the fan pushes warm air down into living areas. During the summer, it draws warm air upward and away. Yet for all of their marvels, so many ceiling fans rely on a quite low-tech way of controlling the fan: a chain. And where there is a chain, there is eventually a broken chain.
A broken ceiling fan chain is a common problem. Even during normal use, the weak beaded metal pull chain can easily break with a moderate pull. The great news is that there is no need to replace the entire ceiling fan or even call in a technician for this repair. Fixing a broken ceiling fan pull is an inexpensive, simple, and quick repair that will save you much time and aggravation.
Broken Ceiling Fan Chains: External vs. Internal
There are two types of ceiling fan chain breaks: external or internal to the fan housing. The first repair is simple and takes only a few minutes. The second repair is more involved and usually requires some disassembly.
- External: When the ceiling fan chain breaks outside of the fan housing, it usually breaks somewhere at mid-point. The break is visible and easily accessible. The break can be repaired with an extension chain.
- Internal: When the ceiling fan chain breaks inside of the fan housing, it remains an inexpensive repair but more work is involved. Typically, the entire visible portion of the chain has broken off, and the remaining chain has disappeared inside of the fan housing. This becomes a pull chain switch replacement project.
So many ceiling fan chains break and disappear internally—rather than in the more convenient external spot—because the hole on the fan housing is a friction point. With the chain continually rubbing against the sides of the metal collar, breakage is inevitable.
Cut power to the ceiling fan by flipping off the switch on the wall, if any. Also, find the circuit breaker at the electrical service panel that controls the ceiling fan, and turn off that circuit breaker. After you have opened up the ceiling fan housing, double-check that the power is off by using a voltage tester. Be careful when working on the ladder as it is easy to become distracted. Have an assistant work with you.
- Working Time: 5 to 10 minutes for a ceiling fan chain extension repair; 30 to 40 minutes for a ceiling fan chain switch replacement
- Total Time: 10 to 15 minutes for a ceiling fan chain extension repair; 40 to 60 minutes for a ceiling fan chain switch replacement
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Material Cost: $5 to $10
What You Will Need
- Six-foot step ladder
- Voltage tester
- Wire stripper
- Manual screwdriver
- Pull chain extender or pull chain switch kit
- Electrical wire nuts
For External Ceiling Fan Chain Breaks
If the remaining ceiling fan chain on the ceiling fan extends at least half an inch out of the fan housing, you only need to add a ceiling fan chain extension. As long as you have enough existing chain to work with, this is the best direction to go.
Attach the extension to the end of the remaining ceiling fan chain, pushing firmly to snap the end of the chain into the connector.
For Internal Ceiling Fan Chain Breaks
When no ceiling fan chain is visible, this likely means that the pull within the ceiling fan has broken near or inside the ceiling fan pull switch.
Unscrew the metal collar through which the ceiling fan chain should extend. First try screwing off the collar with your fingers, turning counterclockwise. If this does not work, use pliers and a soft rag wrapped around the metal collar to protect the collar and the fan housing from damage.
Unscrew the Ceiling Fan Base
Remove any light bulbs from the ceiling fan. With a manual screwdriver, turn out the screws holding the removable lower section from the ceiling fan motor base. Set the screws aside. Pull off the removable section gently. Leave it attached by its wires to the ceiling fan base.
Pull Out the Pull Chain Switch
Locate the ceiling fan chain switch. It should be a small plastic unit, often with a transparent side. You may even be able to see the broken pull within the switch unit. Carefully pull this down. It will be attached to the fan with two wires.
Do not attempt to fix the pull chain switch. Instead, it is easier and safer to discard the old switch and replace it with a new switch. Ceiling fan pull switch kits are inexpensive and readily available online.
Cut the Wires to the Ceiling Fan Chain Switch
With the wire stripper, use the cutting section to snip off the two wires that attach the ceiling fan chain switch to the ceiling fan base. Leave at least 2 inches of wire attached to the ceiling fan base to make it easier to reattach the new pull chain switch.
Attach the New Pull Switch to the Ceiling Fan
After stripping the plastic from the wires to expose the copper wire, attach the two wires of the new ceiling fan chain pull switch to the fan's wires. Twist together the wires. Top off each connection with a plastic wire nut.
Thread the Pull Chain Back Through the Hole
Gently press the pull chain switch back into the ceiling fan base. Thread the pull chain through the hole in the housing.
Tighten the Metal Collar in Place
Tighten the metal collar by hand.
Reattach the Remaining Parts
Reattach the lower section of the ceiling fan. Add any light bulbs. Turn the power back on at the circuit breaker and at any wall switches. Test the fan by carefully pulling on the ceiling fan pull.