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How to Replace a Light Fixture With a Ceiling Fan

Save heating and cooling costs by replacing an existing light fixture with an energy-efficent fan/light combination.

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Step 1: Determine the Right-Size Fan

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The larger the room, the bigger the fan. Measure the longest wall in the room. If it is less than 12 feet, you'll need a fan that is 36-inches in diameter. If the longest wall is 12 to 15 feet, get a 42-inch fan. Anything over 15 feet, you'll need a 52-inch fan.

Step 2: Remove the Existing Light Fixture

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Replacing a room’s chandelier or ceiling fixture with a ceiling fan that includes its own light fixture is an easy DIY project for anyone comfortable with basic electrical improvements. If the room has no existing fixture, this project is more difficult and entails cutting through the ceiling and installing new wiring and a switch.

To replace an existing fixture, first turn off electricity at the home’s main electrical panel to the circuit that powers the light and its switch. Cover the switch with tape to make sure it doesn't get turned back on while you are working (Image 1). Use a circuit tester to ensure that the power is off before you touch any of the electrical wiring.

Disconnect the fixture wires and remove the central mounting nut and any screws that hold the old fixture in place. With the fixture out of the way, try to determine whether the electrical box is securely fastened to a ceiling joist or support bracket. Fans can weigh up to 50 pounds and require a sturdy mount. If your ceiling box is enclosed by drywall or other material, you may need to access the joists from above, such as through the attic, to inspect it and attach a support brace if needed. Alternative installation methods are described below.

Step 3: Install a Support Brace

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If you have access from above, you can make and install your own support brace using a length of 2x4 lumber nailed to the ceiling joists on both sides of the box location (Image 2). Position the brace directly above the ceiling box. From below, use wood screws to attach the ceiling box securely to the brace.

If you do not have access to work above the ceiling, you can install an expanding metal brace from below to support the ceiling box and fan. First, remove the existing box, then insert the brace up through the hole and secure it in position by ratcheting the mechanism into place. As the ratchet is turned from below, arms on the brace extend until they contact the ceiling joists on both sides of the hole (Image 3 demonstration). The spikes on the arms anchor securely into the wood. Some braces are available with a ceiling box attached, or you can attach the existing ceiling box to the brace.

This method also may be used to mount a fan on a ceiling where no electrical fixture was previously installed. After a hole is cut in the ceiling, electrical wiring is routed to the hole from a convenient nearby junction box, then the brace and a new ceiling box are installed as described above.

Step 4: Install the Fan Mounting Bracket

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Most ceiling fans come with a mounting bracket; if yours does not, you can buy a mounting kit separately. Attach this bracket to the ceiling box following the manufacturer’s instructions. This bracket typically has a circular receptacle for a ball mount installed on the fan motor or extension rod.

Because mounting a fan too close to the ceiling restricts air circulation, an extension rod of any length is generally recommended. If you use an extension rod to suspend the fan, temporarily tape the ends of the fan motor wiring together and pull the wiring through the rod. Attach the rod to the fan motor, and secure the ball mount at the upper end of the rod.

Step 5: Connect the Fan Motor Wiring

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Mount the fan motor to the ceiling bracket by inserting the swivel ball into the bracket.

Attach the fan motor wires to the house wiring. Typically, this requires connecting black to black (“hot”) wires and white to white (“neutral”) wires. If the fan has a bare copper or green insulated wire, attach this to the existing ground wire and connect both to the metal electrical box. Additional wires or a receiving unit may be included for an optional remote control operator, which allows you to control the fan and light without a switch or pull-chain. Follow the manufacturer’s wiring instructions carefully. Use wire nuts to secure all connections.

Step 6: Attach the Fan Blades

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Install the fan canopy that covers the ceiling box and mounting bracket.

Attach a blade mounting bracket to each fan blade and then attach these brackets to the rotating bezel below the fan motor. Be sure all of the mounting screws are tight; loose blades will cause the fan to wobble when operating.

Step 7: Attach the Light Fixture

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If your fan includes a light fixture, assemble the fixture and switch housing (if provided), then attach the fixture to the fan motor assembly. Connect the wiring according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Install the glass dome, or decorative light shades and bulbs.

Step 8: Install the Wall Control Switch

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Most fans are controlled by a rheostat-type wall switch that allows for basic on/off and fan speed operation. In order to reverse the direction of the fan, to circulate warmer air near the ceiling during winter months, homeowners have to manually operate a reversing switch located on the fan housing.

Some fans today include “smart” electronics that expand the various functions that can be controlled from a single switch, such as forward/reverse and light dimming, without requiring replacement or upgrading of the home’s existing wiring.

Before you install a new wall switch for your unit, recheck the existing switch wiring with a circuit tester to ensure the power is off. Install the fan control switch according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Turn the power back on, and test the fan and light operation in all operating modes.

Learn more ways to increase your energy efficiency at HGTV's FrontDoor.com

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