replace your ceiling fan yourself

How to Replace A Ceiling Fan Yourself

Summer is flying by here in Southern Idaho, but high temperatures are just beginning! Air conditioning is great, but it can also cause your electric bill to skyrocket. Ceiling fans on the other hand have been used for decades to cool down (and even help to heat up!) different rooms in the house. During hot months, ceiling fans bring warm air up from the ground to the ceiling. During the cold months, the rotation on ceiling fans can be switched which pushes warm air down.

A quick note before we continue: these instructions are for those who wish to replace a functioning ceiling light. If you do not have a ceiling light, the project will be incredibly difficult since you will need to run an electrical cable to the center of the ceiling. If you want to install a ceiling fan where there is no current ceiling light, please contact a professional electrician. You may even want to contact a professional drywaller as well.

However, if you already have a functioning ceiling light, this will most likely be a simple job. Make sure you’re comfortable working above your head on a ladder for long periods of time though, as this job can take upwards of 3 hours to complete. Also, having a basic (preferably intermediate level) understanding of wiring skills and knowledge is vital.

What You’ll Need

  • 6-foot ladder
  • Cordless drill with Phillips and flat-head driver bits
  • 4-inch hole saw
  • 7/8-inch wrench
  • Stud finder
  • Voltage tester
  • Ceiling fan kit
  • Retrofit ceiling fan brace
  • 4-inch round ceiling box cover
  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask

Check on Permits

Contact your local building department to see if a permit is needed for the ceiling fan installation, for the electrical part of this project, or for both. Always better to be safe than sorry later!

Remove the Ceiling Light

Turn off the circuit breaker on your service panel that controls the power running to the ceiling light. Set your ladder under the light, off to the side just slightly. Remove the light covering and bulbs. Use your drill to remove the light fixture, but don’t remove the wires yet. Next, use the voltage tester to be sure there are no live wires. If no wires are live, remove the plastic wire nuts by untwisting them from the wire pigtails. Then untwist the pigtails and set the light fixture aside.

Install the Brace

A ceiling fan brace will allow you to mount an electrical box between two ceiling joists without the need to access the attic. Make sure it’s labeled as a “retrofit,” “old-work,” or “remodel” fan brace, as these terms all indicate that attic access is not necessary.

Next use the stud finder to find a spot that’s equally centered between two studs, as well as about 6 inches from the existing ceiling box. (Be sure to wear your eye protection and dust mask for this step!) Cut a hole with the 4-inch hole saw, reach into the hole to clean out the area above the drywall.

Once the area is free of insulation and debris, insert the separate brace section into the hole with its legs touching the top of the ceiling drywall. Turn the brace until it lengthens and firmly fits between the two joists. You can do this by hand or by using a wrench.

Finally, remove the electrical wire from the old ceiling box and pull it through the new hole. Insert the wire into the retrofit braces through one of the knock-out holes in the box and attach the box to the brace with the included hardware.

Cover the Old Box

With the wires removed from the old box, install the round cover plate over the box. These plates are usually white, but for a fun pop feel free to paint yours if you’d like! Keep in mind that if the old box is supported only by drywall you can remove it and patch up the hole, but if it’s nailed to the side of a joist it’ll be difficult to remove without also taking out a sizable chunk of drywall. If that’s the case, then  you may want to leave the box and just cover it with a plate.

Install the Mounting Bracket

Most ceiling fans can be installed in two simple steps. First install the mounting bracket on the electrical box and then slide the bulk of the ceiling fan into place. (This will hopefully keep you from having to hold a heavy fan motor above your head while trying to screw it in at the same time!) If the mounting bracket is already attached to the fan’s decorative cover, detach the bracket from the cover and screw the mounting bracket into the electrical box with the provided screws, making sure the wires that were formerly powering the ceiling light pass through the intended opening in the bracket.

Next, slide the fan’s cover onto the fan motor assembly. Keep in mind that this needs to be done before the fan motor assembly is attached to the electrical box. Then, stand on the ladder and slide the fan motor assembly into the mounting bracket until it seats, using the provided hardware to secure the fan motor. For now, don’t worry about the fan’s blades.

Connect the Wires

Consult the ceiling fan’s instructions for wiring details specific to your fan. Hire an electrician at this point if you feel uncomfortable with this procedure. Expose wire ends with a wire stripper and twist them together with the wire nuts typically included in ceiling fan kits.

Attach the Cover and Blades

Slide the cover up and screw it into place with the decorative screws from your kit. Next, your ceiling fan blades may come in both the mount (the metal section that attaches the blade to the motor) and the blade itself. First attach the blade to the mount and then attach both to the ceiling fan. Be precise with this step since any deviation may cause the fan blades to wobble, and no one wants to relax under a shaky ceiling fan!

Attach Light Bulbs and Shade

This step is pretty self-explanatory: screw in the lightbulbs and attach the shade.

Test It Out!

Finally, turn the circuit breaker on again, test out your new fan, and enjoy the cool breeze indoors while it’s scorching hot outdoors!