Installing a New Ceiling Fan

By on 14 May, 2011 in DIY, Heather Coleman with 0 Comments

Photo by Heather Coleman

I don’t have to tell you that the last few weeks have been incredibly hot. My AC has been running constantly on full blast. I swore that my electric and gas bills would not reach the same heights that they did last year, so I have been trying to keep the thermostat at 78. The front part of the house is breezy and fairly cool at 78, but the bedrooms don’t have the same sort of air circulation and they can get stuffy. Our bedroom and my younger son’s both have ceiling fans that help considerably, but because Liam just moved into the back bedroom, he does not. The fixture in there is a relic—a ceiling fan from the 1960’s that tries to throw itself off the ceiling when you flip the switch. No amount of balancing has been able to fix it so it just stays off. When the temps hit the 90s this week, he was waking up drenched in sweat. I ended up giving up and turning down the thermostat so that we could avoid repeat showers every morning.

During a recent Costco trip I went to the home improvement section to look at kitchen faucets and instead ended up coming home with a simple, inexpensive white ceiling fan for Liam’s room. Normally I don’t buy inexpensive ceiling fans—they are often noisy and can be hard to balance. But Costco has an amazing guarantee. All of their products can be returned at any time for any reason (there are a few stipulations on electronics). In other words, if you install it and don’t like it, take it down, bring it back and they have no issue taking it back. I tossed it into the cart and brought it home along with the rest of the groceries.

In my house I am definitely the DIY’er. Most of the home improvement projects are my projects. My husband may help a little, but I usually do the bulk of the work. The exception is anything electrical. When it comes to electricity I get nervous. We live in an old house, and the former owner believed in MacGyvering things together, so you never know what you will find! My husband knows that whenever I bring home anything related to wiring, he has a new project added to his to-do list, and so new light fixtures are met with audible groans and grumbling about not having enough to do.

Truth be told, he doesn’t really like dealing with the electrical stuff anymore than I do. Small projects can quickly turn into very big, very costly ones, and we often end up shaking our heads and wondering how the house hasn’t burnt down around us ten times over. At the same time we can’t bear to pay an electrician to do something as simple as install a light fixture, and so usually Mark will grumble his way through. We have only had to call in reinforcements a couple of times.

I took his expression of resignation as a challenge and decided to try installing the new fan on my own. While he was at work, I started taking down the old fan. That actually went pretty well. I flipped off the breaker and then the switch, just in case. I took the cap off of the base, and then decided to take the blades off to make it easier to handle. I unbolted the fan from the ceiling and got a good look at what I was working with. Not good.

Photo by Heather Coleman

Some of our house has new wiring, and some of it has older, cloth-wrapped wiring from the 1940’s. Thankfully it is all on breakers, but the cloth-wrapped is still a little scary to deal with. It can be brittle and sometimes the cloth insulation is disintegrating. When I got the old fan down, I saw cloth-wrapped wiring. I also realized that they had grounded the old fan not to something metal but instead had wrapped the ground wire into the wiring. But the final strike was that the color on the cloth wrapping had worn away, and I couldn’t tell black from white. At that point I decided that I was in over my head and texted Mark to let him know that he had a project waiting when he got home.

He was a good sport about it, and although he had several other things that needed to be done that afternoon, he put them aside and came in to help. His extra height allowed him to see further into the box, and he figured out which wire was white and which was black. We hit another small snag when we realized that the box was not a standard size and the spread of the hanger was wider than the one that we took down. Fortunately the new one fit with a little finagling. The rest of the process was relatively easy—we moved through the steps in the instructions and then held our breath when it was time to flip the breaker, hoping that his black/white guess was correct. Thankfully it was! So far the fan seems rock solid, and I am really pleased with it for the price.

Compared to some of our other adventures in electricity, this job went really smoothly. We have taken down fixtures only to find no box at all, or to find a box attached to nothing. Dealing with electrical or plumbing issues makes me yearn for a shiny new house built to adhere to building codes. Thankfully it is a feeling that passes!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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