Ceiling fans are a great way to save money on energy costs by helping your air conditioner work less. In fact, they use 5% less energy than an air conditioner and about the same energy as a 100-watt light bulb. Not only do ceiling fans circulate the cool air from your AC, but come winter, flip the reverse switch on your fan and it’ll circulate the warm air and cut down on your furnace use.

Installing a ceiling fan is a project most DIYers can tackle on a weekend day. Then wait for the warm weather and you’ll not only save money, you’ll also help the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Step 1: Shop for a Fan

    When shopping for a ceiling fan, there are a few things to consider. First, you want a fan that works within the dimensions of the room in which you’re installing it. Calculate the size of the room by measuring the length and width and multiplying these numbers to get the square footage. A 52″ fan should be used in a 225-400 square foot room and a 42″ to 44″ fan should be used in smaller areas.

    Helpful Tip

    Adjust your new fan to rotate counterclockwise if your ceilings are 8′ in height. If your ceilings are 10′ or higher, set it to rotate clockwise.

    Check the floor-to-ceiling height of the fan blades. You can do this by measuring the floor-to-ceiling distance and subtracting for the part of the fan that will extend below the ceiling down to the lower blade surface. An absolute minimum height of 7′ is recommended. Building codes in your area may reinforce this.

    If the floor-to-ceiling distance is too little, check into a low ceiling mount fan. With some models, the fan blade height can be increased by as much as 10″. Remember, though, that you need at least 12″ between the ceiling and the tops of the fan blades for proper airflow. Having 18″ is better if the space is available.

  • Step 2: Turn Off Power and Remove Light Fixture

    Start by turning off the power to the existing light fixture at the circuit breaker or fuse. Verify that power is off by using a circuit tester. Only then is it safe to remove the light fixture.

    Safety Alerts!

    Working with electricity can be dangerous. Even less current than it takes to light a 60-watt bulb can be lethal. Always follow these safety precautions.

    All wiring should conform to local electrical codes as well as to the current National Electrical Code (NEC). You can probably find a copy of the NEC at your local library.

    Never trust a light switch to render a fixture “dead.” Sometimes the power enters at the fixture even when the switch is located in the circuit beyond it.

    Turn off the circuit you’re working on by switching off a circuit breaker or by unscrewing a fuse (the house main switch should be off when handling fuses).

    Make sure the circuit is truly “dead” before touching any wires or terminals. Check with a high-voltage neon tester. Test from the black wires to a grounded metal box or other good ground, then to the white wires. Also, test from the white wires to a ground. Since there may be more than one circuit inside an outlet box, see that all of its circuits are off before you take off a cover. Also, be sure your tester is functioning by first trying it in a live receptacle.

    Test your finished work with the power on using the neon tester. Check black to white and black to a ground. It should light. Test white to ground. It should not light.

    If you aren’t knowledgeable about working with electricity, call a professional.

    A ladder will help you reach the light fixture. Using a cordless drill/screwdriver, remove the screws holding the fixture to the ceiling. Carefully lower the fixture, disconnecting the wires from the junction box.

    Safety Alerts!

    Use only a metal junction box to support a ceiling fan. Never hang the ceiling fan from a plastic box. Depending on your electrical code, the brand, style, and size of your ceiling fan, you may use a 4″ or 3″ octagonal junction box (some local codes don’t permit the use of 3″ boxes).

    The heaviest fan that should be supported by an outlet/junction box is 35 pounds. If it weighs more, the building structure must support it.

    Your mounting must be able to withstand vibration while the fan is running. Even a well-balanced fan creates some vibration when it runs.

  • Step 3: Assemble the Fan

    Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely to ensure proper assembly and operation. It’s important to note that if the fan blades are less than a screwdriver’s length away from the ceiling, you’ll want to install the blades before hanging the fan.

    To attach the fan blades, set the motor unit down where it will be stable. The Styrofoam™ packing for the motor housing usually makes an excellent stabilizer on your worktable. Most fan blades have a two-pronged attachment, using screws that come through holes in the blades and into the flanges. Do not tighten the screws too much because you may damage the threads or crush the laminated blade material. On many fans, the flanges or prongs also need to be mounted to the motor housing. If this is the case, mount them before the flanges are mounted to the blades themselves.

  • Step 4: Mounting the Fan to the Box

    First, install the hanger bracket on the junction box with manufacturer-provided screws and lock washers. If no lock washers are supplied, you can purchase them at your local True Value hardware store. Lock washers will help prevent fan vibration from loosening the screws over time.

    Note: Depending on your fan, the hanger bracket may accept either a half-ball hanger or a hook-type hanger.

    Next you’ll have to wire the unit. Be sure to connect the black house wires to the black fan wires and the white house wires to the white fan wires. The fan should be electrically grounded to the metal box. The grounding wires will be either green or bare copper. Attaching a green grounding pigtail (which grounds the fan to the metal box) to the box with a bonding screw will make your work easier. Use a twist-on wire connector to group the ground wires from the box, as well as the fan and the power supply together.

    Once the fan is wired, the ceiling cover is slipped up to its full height and tightened in place.

  • Step 5: Finish Up

    Return power to the fixture at either the circuit breaker or the fuse box. Then turn on the fan to be sure it operates properly.

    Helpful Tip

    If the fan wobbles when it’s on, the blades might be unbalanced. To correct this try interchanging two adjacent blades. If that doesn’t work, try taping small washers to the top of an individual fan blade. Run the fan at several speeds. Tape the washers to different blades until you find which blade, when weighted, produces the smallest amount of wobble.

    You’re done! Your new ceiling fan will keep you cool and save you money and energy.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.