A ceiling fan is a great addition to any home. Not only does it provide a handsome look and a refreshing flow of air, but it can also save you energy year-round. 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, 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: Internal vs. External
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 the mid-point. The break is visible and easily accessible. This kind of break can be repaired with an extension chain.
Internal: When the ceiling fan chain breaks inside of the fan housing, 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. 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. Have an assistant work with you.
Equipment / Tools
- 6-foot step ladder
- Voltage tester
- Wire stripper
- Manual screwdriver
- Pliers (if needed)
- Soft rag (if needed)
- Pull chain extender or pull chain switch kit
- Electrical wire nuts
Repair an External Ceiling Fan Chain Break
If the remaining ceiling fan chain on the ceiling fan extends at least 1/2-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 approach.
Attach the extension to the end of the remaining ceiling fan chain, pushing firmly to snap the end of the chain into the connector.
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. In that case, proceed to the next step.
Remove the Metal Collar
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.
Open 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. Gently pull off the removable section. 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 usually attached to the fan with three or four 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 three or four 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 three or four 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.
Be very careful to match the wiring of the old switch with the wiring of the new switch.
Thread the Pull Chain 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.
Reassemble and Test the Ceiling Fan
Tighten the metal collar by hand. Reattach the lower section of the ceiling fan. Add any light bulbs. Turn the power back on at the circuit breaker and any wall switches. Test the fan by carefully pulling on the ceiling fan pull.