How (Not) To Install a Ceiling Fan

Posted: 2007-11-08 in General
Tags: , , , , ,

Last month, I decided to try my hand at being a handyman and install a ceiling fan in place of a fluorescent light fixture located in my kitchen.  In the end, I finally got the ceiling fan up and running, with only minor injuries and time wasted.  Now that I'm a so-called "expert" at installing ceiling fans, I thought I'd share my recently-gained wisdom with the world, so everyone else knows exactly how (not) to install a ceiling fan.

This set of instructions assumes you already have your ceiling fan and any downrod extensions you plan to have for the fan, as well as all tools needed. 

Allocate one extra trip to the hardware store per item you do not have, as you will most likely forget to buy them all at one time and need to go back again and again for each thing you do not have.

Step 1:  Read ALL the installation directions. 

  • This is vitally important.  Even if you think you know all the steps, read them anyway.  The worst that will happen is you'll have wasted 5 minutes of your time.  At best, you'll save yourself from doing something stupid (more on this later).

Step 2: Determine whether you need to install a new ceiling box to hold your fan. 

  • If you have a ceiling fan in place already, you probably don't need to do anything.  Skip to step 4, unless you like to hurt yourself.
  • If you have a light in the place where you're installing your fan, you're probably going to have to take the old light down to find out if you need to do anything.  If you're like me, this will involve much cursing, dropping of screws and screwdrivers, and will result in a trip to the hardware store to buy a new junction box and mounting kit for a ceiling fan. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #1]

Step 3: Install the new ceiling fan box (if required).

  • Turn off power to the old light via the appropriate circuit breaker.  Make note of which breaker this is – you'll need to know  for later.  Remove the old light.
  • This step may involve cutting drywall to create a hole the size of your new box.  This can be done by using a sheetrock saw.  [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #2]  Please note that the sheetrock saw is sharp on the tip to puncture the drywall and serrated on the edge to cut through the drywall.  DO NOT continue to saw through the drywall after you have cut your finger on the sheetrock saw.  At least, not until you have bandaged yourself up.  Blood is hard to get off of the ceiling, so this is a very important step to follow. [INJURY #1]

  • Use the screws enclosed with the ceiling fan box to securely attach the box to the ceiling joist. 
    • Realize about halfway through that the pilot holes you drilled weren't deep enough. 
    • Strip the screws with your electric drill as you realize this.
    • Spend 5 minutes manually unscrewing them with a pair of pliers, then drill the pilot holes deeper. 
    • Scrounge for more screws long enough to do the job, and use these in place of the ones you stripped.
    • As you realize halfway through screwing in these new screws that your drill's battery is dying, plug in the cordless drill's battery to recharge. 
    • Swap out with the spare battery, only to find that it is completely dead.  Curse loudly in your best impression of a sailor.
      • Start to curse silently when you realize your toddler has been learning some new vocabulary from your overuse of certain expletives.
    • Finish screwing the screws into the joist manually using a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to give you extra torque leverage.  Don't strain any muscles in your arm trying to force the screws if you can help it. [INJURY #1.5]

Take a break and have a beer+ – your ceiling box is installed.  You're about 1/8th of the way to having a new ceiling fan in place!

Step 4: Install the ceiling plate into the fan box. 

  • This involves more pilot holes.  This time, make sure to drill them deep enough into the joist the first time around.  You may have to wait for your drill battery to charge.  Have a beer in the meantime.+

Step 5: Assemble the fan for standard mounting.

  • Insert the downrod through the canopy and canopy trim ring.  Feed the wires from the fan through the downrod.

    • Figure out off of the parts list which items are the canopy and canopy trim ring.  Don't confuse with the low profile washer plate, which looks like it should fit but actually doesn't.
    • Spend 10 minutes trying to get super-flexible wires through a 2 foot long downrod.  End up tying a flexible measuring tape to the wires, threading the tape through the downrod, and then pulling the wires through.
  • Screw the downrod into the fan body.  Tighten until it doesn't screw in anymore.

Step 6: (Optional) Determine that the 2 foot long downrod is too long for your ceiling.

  • Hold the ceiling fan body up to the ceiling plate and realize that anyone over 6 feet is going to have to duck whenever they walk through the room.
  • Attempt to unscrew the downrod from the fan body, only to find out that, according to the instructions, "the adapter has a special coating on the threads.  Once assembled, do not remove the downrod".
  • Curse over the importance of reading ALL the instructions BEFORE following the steps.  (See Step 1, above).
  • Use a pipe wrench to unscrew the downrod, fervently hoping that the hardware store won't notice the scratches on the threads and will allow you to do a swap for a shorter downrod. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #3]

Note: If you performed Step 6, repeat Step 5 with the new, shorter downrod.  Pray that you didn't ruin the special coating on the threads and that your ceiling fan won't come crashing down on your wife or child when they least expect it.

Step 7: Hang the ceiling fan from the ceiling and connect up to the wiring.

  • Since you're dealing with electrical wiring, make sure the circuit breaker powering the wires you'll be hooking the fan up to are turned off.  Optionally, turn off other circuit breakers in your attempt to find the right one, resetting your computer, DVR, and/or clocks in the process.
  • Clip the wires to the appropriate lengths and strip off enough insulation to be able to join the wires together with a wire nut.  Be aware that the wiring in the house is a pretty heavy gauge wire, which means it will be VERY SHARP on the ends after you clip it.  Be careful not to let the sharp pointy tips of these wires stab you while you're working with them or you might have to stop to get another band-aid.  [INJURY #2]
  • Once all the wire nuts are in place and properly secured (you did use electrical tape to make sure those wire nuts won't come loose, didn't you?), hang the downrod from the ceiling plate and do all the stuff you need to do to get the canopy and trim ring looking nice.  Yay, we're over halfway there!

Step 8: Install the ceiling fan blades.

  • This has to be the easiest step of the whole process.  Just install blade grommets if your fan has grommets.  Attach the blade to the blade iron using blade assembly screws.  Remove blade mounting screws and rubber bumpers from the motor, and mount blade to the motor using the blade mounting screws.  See?  Simple as pie.  (Actually a lot more intuitive than the directions make this step out to be.)

Step 9: Install the light fixture assembly (if required).

  • Install the "upper switch housing" to the fan body.
    • Figure out which remaining part is the "upper switch housing".
    • Feel your heart leap when you realize the "upper switch housing" is not in the pile of parts and pieces you took out of the box.  Scramble through the trash in the box until you sigh with relief when you find the "upper switch housing" buried underneath a mound of styrofoam pieces in the box.
    • Spend 10 minutes cursing as you try to install the upper switch housing onto the fan body.  Exclaim loudly (even though nobody is present at the time) that "They didn't make these damn screws long enough to install this piece of &@#$@#."
    • Realize you've spent the last 10 minutes trying to install the upper switch housing upside down.  Thank the heavens above that nobody was around to witness you doing this.
    • Flip the upper switch housing over and install in 30 seconds.
  • Plug the light kit into the proper plug.
  • Install the "lower switch housing" into the "upper switch housing".  Grumble to yourself as you belatedly realize that by the very nature of its name, an "upper switch housing" implies there is a "lower switch housing", and you could have saved about 10 minutes if you had tried to fit the two together before trying to install the upper portion upside down.

Step 10: Install the light bulbs, pull-chains, and glass bowl.

  • Open your pack of lightbulbs only to realize that while the boxes containing the ceiling fans in the store all seemed to indicate that the fan took regular light bulbs, you happened to grab the ONE BOX of a slightly different model that takes B10 candelabra bulbs.
    • Curse quietly as you search through your junk drawers and light bulbs and realize you have no B10 candelabra bulbs.
    • Decide to finish installing the rest of the fan before running out to the hardware store again, on the off chance that you need to pick up something else along with candelabra bulbs (this may be the smartest thing you've done yet this day).
  • Install the glass bowl, cover plate and finial.
  • Remove the glass bowl, cover plate and finial, install the pull chains, and then reinstall the glass bowl, cover plate, and finial with the pull chains threaded through the finial.
  • Realize that the pull chains are going to be about a foot shy of being reachable by anyone under 7 feet tall.  Put down pull-chain extenders on the list to buy along with B10 candelabra bulbs. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #4]

Step 11:
Bask in the glow of a job well done.

  • You should, by this time, have a ceiling fan that operates.  You could spend some time making sure the blades  and fan body don't wobble, touch up any remaining holes in the drywall near the fan, clean up the mess you've probably made, and then show off the ceiling fan to friends and family.  Or you could settle back on the couch with a beer and smile at the fact that you made it through the installation without having to take a trip to the emergency room.  Even if the emergency room IS closer to your house than that #$@#%@ hardware store.

Total Trips to the Hardware Store: 4
Total Injuries: 2 and a half
Total time spent during installation: About 2.5 hours
Total time spent (including trips to the hardware store): About 8 hours
Total curse words said (out loud): About a billion
Total curse words said (internally): About twice that

Amount of time you'll spend before again deluding yourself into thinking that a ceiling fan installation somewhere else in the house is "a piece of cake – I'll put that up in an hour or two": About 1 year.

+DISCLAIMER: I actually did not drink during the installation of my ceiling fan and am not seriously recommending you do so, either.  But you'll probably wish you had, by the end.

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  1. studio524 says:

    OMG- You're funny.
    Having been part of several installations for a variety of light fixtures, I can tell you that this has to be one of the most frustrating jobs. I hope all of your boo-boos are healed and that the fan is securely mounted so it will not come down [trust me, Hon. that's a bitch].


  2. Hieronymus says:

    Jeez, sounds almost as bad as most of my home hardware projects. Only 4 trips to the hardware store? You'll have to work harder!Excellent story, though. And that's why I had my brother-in-law "help" me when I did my daughter's fan. As he is an alarm installer, he neither hurt himself nor needed trips to the store. And I handed him stuff when he asked, which is about my maximum level of expertise!


  3. Budd says:

    I hate trying to hold the heavy parts of the fan up while you attach the weight bearing parts. You forgot to mention to buy a ladder. do not try this with a chair.


  4. Lee Ann says:

    It looks very nice. I died laughing reading this. I am so sorry because I am sure it was frustrating at the time, but it was definitely a good read .lol.


  5. Eli's Dad says:

    Excellent detailed and humorous instructions. When I begin projects like this, my wife knows to grab my son and run to her mother's. It is definitly easier when a prior ceiling fan exists and there is generally a ceiling fan box in place–but not always. "Blood is hard to get off the ceiling"–good to know! Just curious, under step 10 Note sect–Is it less painful when a ceiling fan falls on your wife and child when they do expect it? Sorry, that sound was my bad joke alarm–it just went off.


  6. R.G. Ryan says:

    Dude…welcome to my world!!! Hilarious! Well, in a sad, pathetic sort of way. Hey…now that you're an expert…what are you doing this weekend??? πŸ™‚


    Great Post! Job well done! Ms.J went though all of those steps about 2 years ago at a friend's house. Got it all nice and pretty. Turned on the fan. Fan mounting something or other was warped. Fan wobbled…horribly. Turned fan off. Never fixed fan. House is now for sale.


  8. Steve Betz says:

    Dude, this is the best thing I've read in a long while. People must think I'm crazy sitting in my office by myself just laughing.
    You've proved to me again that supporting a service-based-economy is WELL worth the money spent!


  9. grrrace says:

    it looks great! i am never ever ever ever ever going to do that… or have steve do them… stupid home improvement projects make me crazy… (or as steve likes to point out: craziER) hehe.


  10. crankypants says:

    This is why…I had someone else do it for me.
    Home Despot, a few years ago, was offering "Do It HERself" workshops, one of which was…Installing A Ceiling Fan! w00t! so I call to make sure it's still on, grab my sister and go. We walk around the store like a couple of maroons going, where is the workshop? with employees looking at us like we had monkeys on our faces. Finally some unenthusiastic shlub does an impromptu lesson on HTIACF in the middle of the freakin fan aisle, just for us. I was so embarrassed annoyed and angry I couldn't even pay attention. I bought a fan and it sat in the box in my house getting moved back and forth from room to room for, I don't know…2 years? 3 years? Until a friend of mine came to visit and he gladly installed it without breaking a sweat. and one trip to the HW store (before the start of it all).
    After reading this by you—I am convinced many tears would have been shed, as many curse words uttered aloud, maybe things would have been thrown or possibly a house put up for sale, had I undertaken this endeavor on my own. Because that's pretty much how things went for me when i had to replace the hose on my washing machine.


  11. Ross says:

    You're absolutely right, Budd. I left out the whole part about having the right ladder for the job, complete with a tray to hold all your tools near the top. I can't tell you how many times I had to climb up and down my ladder to grab something. And don't ask about the dent in the floor where I dropped the mallet from 10 feet in the air.


  12. Ross says:

    I've got some other home improvement projects planned for this weekend…but they're of the kind that don't involve power tools, so I should be a bit more safe.


  13. HA! TIGged again!Some of us read this in my office yesterday and had a whole fleet of ROFLCOPTERS11


  14. crankypants says:

    w0000t! [tig]!!


  15. IG says:

    congratulations on TIG πŸ™‚


  16. Maggie says:

    hilarious story. now i know, to never pretend i could be a handy (wo)man. my story would probably result in electric shock. πŸ™‚


  17. Ross says:

    You guys are awesome. Thanks for the nomination and the kind words πŸ™‚


  18. greywolf says:

    I know exactly how you feel. The first ceiling fan I installed took about 2 hrs and much cursing. But take heart! I did another one about a year later and it only took about 1/2 – 3/4 of an hour and I could probably count the curses on only half a dozen hands. πŸ™‚


  19. Flutter Box says:

    ROFL glad you got it done though! kudos!


  20. hahahaha!!!! genius!!!


  21. Too funny! And probably how anyone in my family would put the fan up!! LOL


  22. Joni says:

    I suddenly understand why you liked my "how-to use tools" post so much better. Great stuff!


  23. ga_freckles says:

    You also forgot to mention the part when you turn on the power, try out the fan and realize it is way too wobbly on a down rod and there's nothing you can do to fix it since you stripped half the screws.


  24. crankypants says:

    hey did you know they linked up to here on this blog? you're famoose! πŸ™‚


  25. Ross says:

    Neato! Thanks for letting me know about this!


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