Replacing ceiling fan - wiring problem!


Old 08-07-04, 09:15 PM
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Replacing ceiling fan - wiring problem!

I've removed an old ceiling fan from my den's vaulted ceiling and didn't pay much attention to the old wiring pattern. I have an existing dual switch on the wall, one for the fan operation, one for the light operation. My replacement fan has the standard white, black and blue (for the light kit).

I crawled back into the attic to hook up the wires and got very confused. There are three wires coming into the electrical box in the attic where the old fan was hooked up: white, brown and a unshielded copper ground. I traced the wires back to the wall switch which is a dual switch. There is a brown wire providing 120v to the dual switch. From the dual switch, there is a white coming off the top switch and brown coming off the bottom switch. These are the white and brown going up to the attic along with the unshielded copper.

When you flip both switches to 'on', the white is hot with 120v and the brown is hot with 120v. I have to assume the old wiring pattern was white from the wall going to black on the fan (hot), brown from the wall going to blue on the fan (hot for the fan lights) and the unshielded copper being hooked to the white on the fan?

Someone help me out with my thinking. Shouldn't I have 3 wires (white, black and brown) plus unshield copper coming from the wall into the attic?


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Old 08-07-04, 11:43 PM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
We need more information.

You described the wiring in the switch box that was connected to the switch. But are there other wires in the switch box not connected to the switch?

Please further describe the "dual switch". Is this a special fan control switch? If so, does it have a manufacturer name and model number on it? Or is this two separate switches in the same double-gang box? Or is this a duplex switch, two switches one over the other in a single-gang box?

Please specify the manufacture and model of the fan you removed, and of the fan you are installing. Did the old fan have any kind of control box under the bell housing up at the ceiling?

You should never, ever connect a bare wire to a white wire.

It seems likely to me that the previous fan was illegally and unsafely connected. We see this kind of stupidity too often. Somebody wanted separate switches for the fan and light, but only had one set of wires. I would strongly advise against repeating this mistake. There are a number of options, including buying a smart switch (such as the Hunter 27186), or running a new wire from the switch to the ceiling? Is this wiring in cable or conduit?
Old 08-08-04, 04:08 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
I believe that the existing is incorrectly wired. It sounds like someone is using the ground wire (the bare copper wire) as the return. This is very dangerous and violates code.

If this is the case, then you need to either rewire from the switch to the ceiling box, or use a remote controlled fan. Your other option is to use the pull chain switch for the fan operation, but that may not be possible since this is a vaulted ceiling.
Old 08-08-04, 08:11 PM
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Hey guys, thanks for the prompt reply.

For clarification, the 'dual switch' at the wall is a duplex switch with two switches, one over the other in a single gang box. In this gang box, there is a brown wire that feeds power to the left side of the switch. On the right side, the upper switch has a white wire going into the attic. The lower switch has a brown wire going into the attic. The only other wire running into the attic with the white and brown is a unshielded copper wire. Both the white and brown have 120v when the switches are activated. Again, my concern is that I can't find a return wire.

The old fan was an old Hunter brand. The replacement fan is a Hampton Bay.

There was no special switch(es) installed. I don't have a problem getting into the attic to pull new wires if needed. This house is 24 years old and it appears that the wiring was all original. This is what confuses me that a contractor would have wired it like this?

You mentioned an option is to use the pull chain for the fan operation. But don't I still need a return wire (I assume the return wire would be white) to make the circuit? Basically, I've got two hot wires and an unshielded copper ground in the attic.

Please advise.

Old 08-08-04, 08:13 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Yes, whoever installed the ceiling fan did so incorrectly, and dangerously.

You need to replace the wire from the switches to the ceiling box. You need 14-3 or 12-3 (depending on the size of the existing wire).

Last edited by John Nelson; 08-08-04 at 08:24 PM.
Old 08-09-04, 07:12 AM
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Starting to figure it out.....

Thanks again for the reply.

I got to thinking that if this was all done at the original installation from when the home was built, they probably wouldn't have used a dual switch in the single gang box. Just a thought.

But what makes sense to me now is that the three wires going from the switch box to the attic (white, brown and unshielded ground) were probably originally white (common), brown (hot) and ground and they would have used a pull chain to work the lights. Someone must have got creative and decided to add a light switch and changed the wires around.

Would it be ok to merely replaced the dual switch with a single switch to alleviate having to pull new wires? If I did that, I could tie the white back in to the others in the switch box and basically put the installation like it originally was. I could then use a pull chain or someone mentioned a 'smart switch'(?) or something of that nature.

Please advise. Thanks.

Last edited by rcknrbn; 08-09-04 at 11:35 AM.
Old 08-09-04, 12:50 PM
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Mystery solved (?)

I went back to the single gang box and took note of all wires in it. I found that the unshield copper (ground) had been tied into the white group of wires that were wire nutted.

So, without a doubt, the prior owner (or installer) had used the existing wires to make separate fan and light switches.

I removed the existing dual switch and replaced it with a single pole switch. I've tied the white back with the other white wires. Ran the brown (hot) into the single pole switch and tied this into the brown running up the wall and into the attic. I reattached the unshielded grounds.

Everything works fine now except you have to use the pull cords but I can live with that. I may try to find one of these 'smart switches'.


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