Friday, September 3, 2010

Installing a ceiling fan


Yes, it's September, which means the summer heat is almost over. But it ain't over yet. Where I live it's still hot and humid. The utility companies are offering an incentive ($75 in Toronto) to get people signed up for Peaksaver, a device that "cycles down" central air conditioning during peak electricity demand periods (in other words, the hottest days). The Ontario Power Authority says it'll likely mean house temperatures 1-2 degrees warmer on those days.

While this program has the obvious benefit of toning down central air use, there are some more simple, low-tech solutions. Keeping your air conditioning set just a few degrees below the outside air temperature, instead of at an arbitrary "room temperature" is a big one. The AC will still suck humidity out, which makes the biggest difference on a summer day.

But many people, like myself, don't need AC at all. When it's really hot, I've been known to sleep in my basement, which is naturally cool and comfortable all summer long.

In my bedroom, I have a ceiling fan.

Ceiling fans are great. They move a lot of air. That circulation keeps you cool in summer and helps distribute heat in winter, so they can actually save you money--something an air conditioner will never do.

Installing a ceiling fan

*Note: Electricity is dangerous. If you're not sure of your skills or are nervous, hire a professional. That said, installing a ceiling fan is usually about as difficult as installing a light fixture. That is, not very challenging*

  1. Turn on the existing light fixture. Then go to the electrical panel and flip the appropriate breaker. If the light is off when you come back, then you got the right one.
  2. Unpack the new ceiling fan and read the instructions. Read all of them. Then read them again. If they disagree with anything here, trust the instructions. If you have doubts, seek professional help.
  3. Remove the old light fixture. As you detach wires, screw the marrettes back on so you don't have potentially live wires dangling from your box. Also, the odds are good that the marrettes used by the electrician who wired your house will be better than the ones supplied with the fan. Good marrettes make live so much easier.
  4. Inspect the electrical box in the ceiling. Is it securely screwed into the ceiling joists? If not, stop and consider whether you want to properly mount the box or just give up and get a floor fan. Is the box grounded? In Canada, you'll see white, black and sometimes red wires that carry the current. There should also be a green or bare copper wire screwed onto the box (usually at the back). If it's not there, call an electrician because you may have a much bigger job on your hands. If the box is not grounded, do not proceed with your fan installation.
  5. Assuming everything is hunky-dory, the next thing to do is to follow the installation instructions. These can be simple or complicated, depending on the model you bought. Some have taken me less than 10 minutes, some have left me cursing after half an hour. Today, the fans often have a wire loop that you can attach to a hook or bar that you mount to the box. This is good, because it means you don't have to hold the heavy motor while you work. Follow the instructions and you'll likely do fine.
  6. When connecting the wires, start with the ground (green or bare copper). As long as the box is grounded, it doesn't really matter where on the box you attach this wire. But it does have to be securely attached to the box. There's usually a screw at the back of the box for this. I do the ground first because it's usually the most awkward to attach. You can also attach a wire to the box and then attach it to the fan's ground wire with a marrette.
  7. If your house is wired correctly, then the other wires are usually simple colour-matching. The white wire from the fan attaches to the white wire in the box, and the black to the black. It's just the way the old fixture was hooked up.
  8. Follow any instructions for attaching the blades, covers, shades, etc. Make sure the blades are the right way up and that you screw the bracket on the correct side. It's surprisingly easy to get this wrong. There's a picture on the front of the package. Look at it. It'll help.
  9. Once everything is secure and you've moved any tools or ladders out of the way, go and turn the power back on. Then turn the unit on. Try the light first, so you know if there's power (and do put a bulb in before trying this).
  10. Ceiling fans usually have a pull-chain to control speed, with three speeds plus off. I suggest pulling the chain three times to get it into the slowest speed, then turning the fan on. If all is well, then try higher speeds.
  11. Especially at higher speeds, your fan might wobble. If it does, make sure you installed the blades securely and correctly. Next, look for any weights the kit might have come with for balancing the blades. Adjusting the weight is a slow but (frequently) necessary process. I won't repeat the steps here, because it's already explained pretty well here.
For information on Energy Star ceiling fans and tips on using your fan, check out the Office of Energy Efficiency website.

The most important piece of info there is this: Set the fan to push air down in summer to cool you, and pull it up in winter to disperse heat more evenly. And turn off the fan and light when you leave the room.

Photos in this post come courtesy of David Hayes.

1 comment:

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