Smarter Living: Energy

More elegant than air conditioners, ceiling fans are finding their way back into rooms as a cost-effective way to cool. Heating and cooling are responsible for 40 percent of all residential energy consumption. The breeze from a ceiling fan will make you feel cooler--by as much as 10 degrees--and you can comfortably raise the thermostat on your air conditioner. Reduce the amount of energy it takes to a keep your home comfortable by installing a few fans--they'll cool you in the summer and help circulate warm air in the winter.

Putting up a ceiling fan may not be a breeze, but it's something you can do yourself and is no more than an afternoon's work. If you intend to install one on your own, read "Home Wiring," and be sure you understand how to proceed safely.

Selecting the right fan

Fan blades come in different lengths, and the best length depends on room size. Blades too small won't get your room very cool; too large and you'll feel as if you're living in a wind tunnel. Before you buy, determine the square footage of the room it will hang in to ensure that you select a model with blades of the appropriate length.

Room Size Blade Length
Up to 75 sq. ft. 29 . 36"

76 . 144 sq. ft. 36 . 42"

144 . 225 sq. ft. 44"

225 . 400 sq. ft. 50 . 54"

Pick a fan with a downrod appropriate to your ceiling height. The blades should be eight to nine feet above the floor for peak airflow (and no lower than seven feet above the floor).

When purchasing, keep in mind that models rated by the EPA's Energy Star program are about 50 percent more energy efficient than conventional units (see for listings). Also, pick one that can run in reverse to circulate warm air during the winter, which will allow you to lower your thermostat and save on heating.

Installation advice

Different fans have different features, so be sure to review the documents that come with your fan before installation.

If at any point you find you are uncertain about what you are doing, review the documents and steps. If you are still unsure, call an electrician.

1. Turn off the circuit breaker

As with any home wiring task, to keep from electrocuting yourself this is the first step you must take. To be sure you've thrown the right switch, leave on the ceiling light where the fan will go until the circuit breaker shuts it off. Make sure that everyone in your house knows that they should leave the power off--you can write "DO NOT TURN ON" on tape and stick it to the circuit breaker.

2. Remove the light fixture

Take off the shade and unscrew the fixture from the junction box, the metal box in your ceiling that houses wires for the lamp.Lower the fixture to disconnect the wires, snipping them free with wire cutters (leave yourself plenty of wire to work with while installing the fan).

Remove the junction box and replace it with a fan junction box (which may screw into your ceiling joists), available from the hardware store. It's easiest if you can access the joists from an attic, but if not you can insert an extendable fan junction box through the hole in your ceiling.

A two-bulb ceiling lamp will have two pairs of black and white wires, each pair of which should be taped together with masking tape.One of the black-and-white pairs can be used for the fan lamp, but if you didn't buy a lighting kit, seal their ends with wire nuts and push them into the junction box.

3. Attach the fan mount

Your kit should come with a sturdy mount to be screwed to the fan junction box. Make sure it's attached securely since this support (and the screws) will bear the entire weight of the fan (up to 50 pounds). Special mounts for angled ceilings are available.

4. Connect the fan motor

Review the manufacturer's instructions on the color-coding of wires and the installation process. Your fan should have a black and a white wire as well is a green ground wire. Using wire nuts (see box), connect the black wire in the fan to the black wire hanging from the junction box; then do the same with the white wires. You may need to strip an inch of the plastic coating from the wires to properly twist them together prior to inserting them in the wire nuts. The ground wire should be connected to the metal junction box.

At this point, you may need to connect wires for a light in the fan or for a remote control. Consult the manufacturer's instructions for proper installation.

5. Connect the wall controller (optional)

First, review the manufacturer's instructions on wire color-coding and the installation process. Your wall controller will also have black and white wires and a green ground wire. Unscrew the faceplate of the light switch that will control your fan, and remove the switch from the junction box. Detach the wires from the switch and, using wire nuts, connect the black wires to each other and the white wires to each other, then connect the controller's ground wire to the junction box. Insert the wires in the junction box and screw in the light switch and faceplate.

6. Attach the blades

It helps to have a friend available who can pass you screws and blades and spot you on the ladder during this step. To avoid leaving smudges on the blades, make sure your hands are clean as you secure them with screws.

Once the blades are attached, you are ready to turn the circuit breaker back on and test your fan. If it wobbles, check to make sure the fan mount is securely attached to the junction box and that the blades are tightly fastened. If that doesn't fix the problem, purchase fan balance clips from your hardware store and place one on the center of a fan blade, adjusting and testing according to your fan's manual instructions.

Learn More

Home Improvement: Home Wiring

last revised 11/15/2011

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