By comparison to some other DIY home electrical projects, installing a ceiling fan is easy. However, there are a number of things you should keep in mind when you begin your project. Ceiling fans cool you in the same way a nice breeze on a summer day works. This allows you to raise the AC temp to save money as your air conditioner is expensive to operate, but a ceiling fan costs about one cent per hour to run. Here are five safety ideas to keep in mind when you install or replace a ceiling fan.
1- Shock Hazards
It seems completely obvious that there would be a risk of electrocution when you are working with household current, but safety steps may still be skipped or ignored. Always shut off the power to the circuit you are working on at the breaker box. Just shutting off the wall switch is doubly dangerous. First, it is habit for everyone to flick the light switch as they walk into a room. If this happens while you are on the ladder installing the ceiling fan, you are in for a real surprise. Second, in rare instances, a household circuit may be incorrectly wired. Instead of the wall switch cutting the hot side of the AC circuit, it may cut the return side of the circuit. This leaves full household AC current at the fixture. Shut off the breaker, leave a warning note at the breaker why it is off, and use a tester to redundantly check for current at the fixture.
2- Reinforcing the Fixture
If you are replacing a standard ceiling light fixture with a ceiling fan, the electrical work box installed is likely not rated to hold the weight of the fan. Work boxes are designed so that the screw holes on everything from chandeliers to ceiling fans line up to for attachment, but the weight of what is being installed must be considered. Plastic and metal boxes will let you attach a ceiling fan, and they may even seem to be strong enough to initially hold the weight. However, there is a strong risk of failure if the box is not specifically made to hold the weight of a fan motor and blades.
If you have access to an unfinished attic space above, you can install any type of ceiling fan brace. If there is no access from above, use a retrofit ceiling fan brace and work box assembly available at home centers and hardware stores. There are ceiling fan work boxes you can install without needing to cut into and therefore repair your ceiling. They are made to fit through the existing hole in the ceiling that the old work box protruded through and firmly attach to the ceiling joists without needing to pound nails or drive screws.
3- Check Your Wiring
Most ceiling fixture work boxes only have a black (hot), white (neutral) and bare copper (ground) wire present inside the work box with one switch on the wall. If you are replacing a ceiling fan instead of installing a fan where a light fixture used to be, you may find an additional wiring circuit. You may have a circuit for the fan motor and another one for a light fixture kit for a ceiling fan. You can buy a ceiling fan with or without a light fixture.
The instructions will show you how to wire both the fan motor and the light to a single circuit. Then, you need to use the pull chains to control the light and fan. If you have two circuits at the work box, you can control the fan and the light separately from the wall switches. Note whether or not any existing fan motor and light assembly is connected to speed or dimmer control switches on the wall, and make sure your replacement model is compatible with this wiring setup.
4- Lifting the Fan
When you take the ceiling fan motor assembly out of the box, it will likely not feel too heavy to work with. However, when you are on a ladder trying to hoist it over your head and hold it in place for a minute or two, ceiling fans begin to feel very heavy. Two ladders and a helper can make installation safer. Place the stepladders side by side so that you face your helper. This way, you can both be facing the ceiling work box. Most ceiling fan installation kits have a hanger to hold the ceiling fan in place at the work box while you complete the wiring. If your arms are tired after completing the wiring, take a short break before trying to lift the fan in place to be screwed into the work box.
5- Indoor/Outdoor Ceiling Fans
Outdoor living spaces are very popular. Porches, decks and patio areas in homes are being converted into spaces that have all the same comforts and conveniences of the living rooms and kitchens found inside. Porches, roofed decks and other sheltered areas are great spots for the comfort that a ceiling fan can provide. However, a standard indoor ceiling fan should never be installed outdoors or even on an enclosed porch that is not fully climate controlled.
The biggest issues are rusting of the parts and warping of the blades. Indoor ceiling fans often have fan blades made of a pressed wood material that lasts indefinitely inside a climate-controlled space such as your living room but will absorb humidity and moisture and sag if used outdoors or where the temperature is not controlled. You may have even seen a ceiling fan outdoors that had its decorative housing rusted and the fan blades drooping down looking like they melted. To avoid this, just choose a ceiling fan rated for outdoor use, but keep in mind that outdoor ceiling fans are not weatherproof. They still need to be installed where they are sheltered from precipitation, and they need to be installed according to the electric code for appliances in wet areas.
Keep these safety considerations in mind when undertaking your ceiling fan installation or replacement project. Not only will it make the installation process safer, but it will also ensure the longevity of your fan installation and protect your home against fire and shock hazards from a DIY project going wrong.