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ceiling fan

I live north of Atlanta, Georgia where it tends to get a bit hot and humid from June through September.

My home has a number of temperature-stabilizing facets to it, the best one being that I have high-efficiency windows with argon-filled, low-e, dual paned glazing. Right now, in fact, I have the windows partly open, and even with an outside temperature of about 88 degrees, it's a very comfortable 71 degrees inside.

But ... there's no airflow through my home office (lucky me, to be able to work from my home, however.) Although I have ceiling fans in four other locations, in- and outside of my home, I have been slow (lazy?) to put one in the office; that ended today. Let's take a reasonably detailed look at how to install a ceiling fan. (Kudos to Kelly Smith for his nice article on this same subject.)

Follow the sequence of the gallery to get a good idea of how simple it is to hang one of these babies.

Ceiling fans -- how cool are they?(click thumbnails to view gallery)

The tools for the job.The parts ...The old ceiling chandelier.The old electrical box.The mounting bracket.

-- ENGINEERING CONTENT FOLLOWS: if this doesn't interest you, skip over it.
  • Ceiling fans, in the Summer, don't decrease the air temperature in your home. What they do is increase the evaporation rate of your skin ("wind chill") to make you feel cooler. In the Winter it's a tad different. When the fan direction is reversed, the upward airflow from the fan moves the stratified (your word of the day; look it up) hot air from the ceiling down along the walls to the living space where it hits the cooler air nearer the floor, in a somewhat crude mixing pattern, transferring the warm air to the cooler, via forced convection.
  • More fan blades don't equate to more air moved. Too many blades restrict the amount air that can be drawn through the blade area; additionally, extra blades increase the motor load, upping the power use, and reducing the motor RPM, thus reducing the airflow. Many fans have 5 blades for aesthetic and balance reasons; I have four, five, and a six blade fan in my home; I really prefer the four blade fans for reduced noise versus optimum airflow.
  • Pick the correct fan size for a specific room; don't get the same fan for different sized rooms. A bunch of research has been conducted to determine optimum size -- go with it.
  • The optimum pitch of the fan blades is between 12 and 14 degrees, with increasing efficiency, and increasing motor size and power requirements, above that range. While you can generally choose some facets of the fan's design, like the number of blades, pitch is pretty much not your call. That said, my experience is that an 11-13 degree blade pitch fan is more than suitable for the majority of home installations.
  • The distance the fan is from the ceiling, and the floor, is quite important. As you might imagine, the closer the fan is to the peeps in the room, the more breeze you'll feel. Most installation codes (and common sense) require that the blades have a clearance of at least 7'. I mean, if all your NBA pals are wandering about the family room, do you really want to get sued? On the other hand, a minimum of 12" distance is recommended from the fan blades to the ceiling, in order to achieve optimum air circulation. So, you'll have to know the ceiling height in order to ensure that the blades are 8-9' from the floor. That distance will then dictate whether you will require a flush mount, or down rods, available in various lengths.
  • Fan power consumption is minimal -- fans use only 10% of the energy of an air conditioner, or about that of a 100 watt bulb (what a deal!) The general consensus is that for every degree you increase the set point on your a/c thermostat, you can enjoy a 6-8% power savings. (Look for an Energy Star fan for the most efficient model.)
  • Ensure that your prospective fan has a reversing switch. Except for a real "cheapo", I suspect that most fans do, but it doesn't hurt to check. HINT: some boxes indicate that the blades are reversible; this means that they can be turned upside down to have a choice of color schemes.
  • A final note -- be sure that you have your fan rotation properly set for the appropriate season; in the summer, you want the airflow to be down, so the fan should be set to rotate with the leading edge up. The reverse is true for the heating season.

Alright, enough nerd stuff; on to the fun.

There are a bazillion options for fans and light kits and remotes. I bought my fan at a "home store" and was very satisfied. This is the third fan, from the same maker, that I have installed, and I have two of the same model -- 52", four blade, three-speed reversible, sealed bearings, 12 degree blade pitch, three lamps, pull chains for the fan and lamps.

First off -- safety: you're working with electricity here, so extreme caution is called for. Throw the circuit breaker(s) and test the line(s) before you go to work. Don't just "slap" the wire to see if you get a jolt! Please note I mentioned circuit breaker(s) -- some of you folks may have fans that are wired into two wall switches; shut both circuits down and check both of them or you may get bitten.

The time -- took me about one hour and 15 minutes to do this installation, but I was in no particular hurry.

The tools --

  • flat and cross-tip screwdrivers
  • wire cutters
  • electrical tape
  • circuit tester
  • ladder
  • work light

The materials --

  • The fan, of course, described above; it had all the required parts except the electrical tape -- $78.
  • A switch to replace the old rheostat -- $.78
  • A suitable metal electrical box to support the weight of the fan -- $2.59
  • a new cover plate for the switch -- $1.06

The process --

All fans, in general, have to be installed in pretty much the same fashion, and have basically the same parts. That said, there are always nuances, so read the material enclosed with the fan. As my dad used to say, "when all else fails, read the instructions." So, here goes ...

  1. Ensure all the power to the fan is off.
  2. Remove the old fixture.
  3. As necessary, replace the old electrical box if it won't support a 35 or so pound fan; better safe than sorry.
  4. Hang the fan support bracket on the fan box.
  5. Temporarily supporting the fan -- a helper is really valuable here -- make the wire nut connections between your house and the fan. Don't be surprised to see that you may have to tie the black house power line to the black (fan power) and blue (light kit power) leads on the fan motor. You'll also have to connect the white neutral and the green ground lines to their respective leads. You'll likely have to cram a lot of wire into a little bit of space; that's why I like to tape the wire nuts to the lines so they don't come apart in the "stuffing" phase of the project.
  6. Lock the fan motor in place with the keeper.
  7. Hang the fan motor cover.
  8. Assemble the blades.
  9. Attach the blades to the motor.
  10. Attach the light kit, if you have have one, connecting the appropriate leads.
  11. Install the lamp globes and lamps.
  12. Replace, as necessary, the fan switch and cover plate.
  13. Re-energize the circuits and test the fan.
  14. Ensure the blade direction switch is set in the correct position.

OK, good job. Clean up the mess so The Boss doesn't disparage your mechanical acumen (yet another word of the day -- a three-fer!) by tripping over your tools and junk. (Remember that leftover parts are not always indicative that the manufacturer was overly generous with his nut and bolt inventory.)

If you find yourself with a noisy ceiling fan, Dan has some great tips on silencing it.

If you've found this article helpful, you may be interested in my features on water conservation, rain barrels, and "greening" your home.


  • Hal

    Is it possible to turn a ceiling fan upside down and mount it on a floor positioned support stand? The top of the stand (and interface with the fan) would be a 3/4" downrod. The power would come up inside the downrod; the on/off chains would have to be altered and a fan speed controller would have to be placed in line, I realize. But is there anything inherently wrong with turning the the fan housing upside down and still have it run properly? The stand itself is substantial and height-adjustable.

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