How to Wire a Ceiling Fan
Ceiling fans are incredibly helpful for managing interior temperatures throughout the year. In summer, ceiling fans draw hot air up and away. In winter, they can be reversed to direct warm air into living spaces. With these benefits, it's usually well worth the time and expense to install a ceiling fan, even if the installation does require a little extra planning and work.
Supporting the Ceiling Fan
The ceiling fan should hang from an electrical box that is supported between two ceiling joists. Using a metal retrofit or remodel ceiling fan brace and box lets you avoid tearing out ceiling drywall to construct wood bracing.
The retrofit brace fits through a 4-inch hole in the ceiling. Twisting the brace tightens it between two adjacent 16-inch on-center joists. The 4-inch metal electrical box then attaches to the brace and fits perfectly in the ceiling hole.
Retrofit ceiling fan braces meet or exceed the National Electric Code weight strength requirement of 70 pounds. Most ceiling fans weigh 50 pounds or less. There are also new retrofit ceiling fan boxes that mount directly to the side of a joist via a 3-screw configuration secured from inside the box. These can be plastic or metal boxes, but they must be rated for fan use.
Controlling the Ceiling Fan
Depending on the fan and on your needs, you can wire the ceiling fan so that it is controlled directly on the fan (with a cord, chain, or remote) or controlled by a wall switch.
Fan Without Wall Switch
A ceiling fan can be controlled by a pull chain located on the fan body or by remote control. With this arrangement, the fan is not controlled by a wall switch. In this situation, wiring travels from the ceiling fan's electrical box directly to the electrical service panel or an existing power source nearby.
Fan Controlled by Wall Switch
A ceiling fan can be controlled by a wall switch. With this arrangement, the fan can also be turned on or off at the fan housing. Plus, fan direction and speed can be controlled at the fan housing. This type of wiring must first make a stop in a light switch box before continuing onto the electric service panel.
When to Wire a Ceiling Fan on Its Own Circuit
A common method of wiring a ceiling fan is to work off an existing ceiling light. The ceiling light's electrical box is replaced with an electrical box strong enough to support a ceiling fan, or a separate ceiling fan box can be placed near the ceiling light.
If no suitable electrical source exists, one can be brought in. A new circuit is created at the electric service panel and the electric cable is pulled through the walls or ceiling to the ceiling fan location.
Due to their relatively meager power requirements, ceiling fans generally do not require dedicated circuits. It's only necessary to wire a ceiling fan from scratch on a dedicated circuit if no other power sources are available or if those sources are inconvenient or impractical.
Do not wire the ceiling fan into another device that must be on a dedicated circuit—for example, refrigerators, freezers, sump pumps, or dishwashers.
The large lugs in the electric service panel that receive power from the home's electric service drop are always highly energized. Shutting off the main breaker/disconnect will deactivate all power flowing past that point but will not deactivate the lugs. Exercise extreme caution when working in an electric service panel.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Work light
- Needle-nose pliers
- Utility knife
- Voltage tester
- Cable ripper
- Wire stripper
- 4-inch hole saw
- Stud finder
- Ceiling fan
- Circuit breaker
- Cable clamps
- Retrofit ceiling fan brace
- Wire nuts
- Electrical tape
- 1 50- to 100-foot coil of 12- or 14-gauge NM cable
Choose Location for Ceiling Fan
Locate the ceiling fan in the center of the room or as near to the center as possible. Remain clear of any ceiling light fixtures and hardwired smoke alarms.
Use the stud finder to scan the ceiling for joists. Mark the joist locations with pencil marks or with strips of painter's tape. The ceiling fan will need to be centered and braced between two joists. Mark the center point with the pencil.
Locate Electric Service Panel
Find the home's electric service panel or circuit breaker box. You may find it in a garage, hallway, basement, bedroom closet, or kitchen pantry closet.
Cut Hole in Ceiling
Shut off electricity to any circuits that might be running through the ceiling. Attach the 4-inch hole saw to the drill. Cut a hole centered on the mark from the previous step.
Run Cable Through Hole
Depending on your model of ceiling fan, you may need to use either 14-gauge or 12-gauge NM wiring. Consult the fan's instructions. Keep the cable on the coil as you push the free end into the hole.
Fish Wire Through Ceiling
Fan Without Wall Switch: Fish the cable through the ceiling and all the way to the electric service panel or other nearby constant power source. Bypass any switch or junction boxes along the way. The cable must remain continuous. No splices can be hidden within the ceiling or walls.
Fan Controlled by Wall Switch: Fish the cable through the ceiling hole to the wall that has the light switch. Run the cable down and through one of the open holes in the switch box.
Terminate Wire at Panel or Box
Fan Without Wall Switch: Pull the wire to the electric service panel and cut it off, leaving 2 to 3 feet of cable to work with. This is the terminus.
Fan Controlled by Wall Switch: Cut off the cable at the switch box, leaving 6 to 8 inches of wire extending from the front of the switch box. Pull a second length of cable from the switch box to the electric service panel or other nearby constant power source. At the switch end, push the cable through one of the holes in the box, leaving 6 to 8 inches extending. At the service panel end, leave about 2 feet to work with.
Attach Wires to Switch (Switch-Controlled Configuration Only)
Rip the sheathing from all cables in the light switch box. Strip back wire coating by 1/2-inch. Wire attachments, by color:
- Black: Attach the black wire coming from the ceiling fan to one of the light switch's gold terminals. Attach the other black wire (the one heading to the service panel) to the other gold terminal on the light switch.
- White: Attach the two white wires to each other with a wire nut, bypassing the light switch.
- Ground: Attach the two bare ground wires by twisting them together, also bypassing the light switch.
Attach the light switch to the box and add the faceplate.
Attach Ceiling Fan Brace to Joists
Clear out any insulation from the hole. Detach the electrical box from the brace. Insert the brace through the hole. Center the brace over the hole. It should run perpendicular to the joists.
With the feet of the brace resting on top of the ceiling drywall, rotate the brace by hand until it is snug between the joists. Make a final turn or two with a wrench. Finish with a flat side of the brace facing downward.
Run Cable Into Ceiling Electrical Box
Knock out one of the slugs on the side of the metal ceiling fan box. Attach a cable clamp. Run the cable through the clamp, stripping back the sheathing so that only 1/2- to 1/4-inch of the sheathing remains in the box. Strip the ends of the wire back 1/2-inch. Tighten the clamp.
Attach Ceiling Fan Box to Brace
Screw the ceiling fan box onto the retrofit brace. The box should be flush with the bottom of the ceiling drywall.
Attach Wires to Ceiling Fan
For either type of installation (wall switch or not), attach the following by pigtailing the wires and attaching wirenuts:
From: Electric Cable To: Ceiling Fan Wires Result Black Black and blue Black, black, and blue wires attached White White White and white wires attached Copper Green and green Copper, green, and green wires attached
Create New Circuit
At the service panel end, attach the cable to the circuit breaker:
- Open the service panel door. Turn off the main breaker switch.
- Remove the panel back by turning out the screws with a screwdriver.
- With a screwdriver, knock out the metal slug closest to the intended circuit breaker location.
- Insert a snap-in cable clamp in the open hole.
- Use the cable ripper to strip off about 12 inches of sheathing.
- With the wire stripper, remove about 1/2-inch of coating from all wires.
- Insert the cable into the side of the service panel, through the cable clamp.
- Attach the bare ground wire into an open space on the bus bar with the other bare copper ground wires.
- Attach the white wire to an open space on the neutral bus bar.
- Attach the black wire to the back of the circuit breaker.
- Snap the circuit breaker into place in one of the available slots.
- Close the panel.
When to Call a Professional
Unless you are experienced at establishing new circuits and working in electric service panels, have a qualified, licensed electrician do this part of the project for you.