Crazy Fan Wiring, should I worry?


Old 04-28-05, 11:17 AM
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Crazy Fan Wiring, should I worry?

Hello there yall, this is my first post, so take it easy on me! I was in the process of installing a new fan last night and had to tap on the brakes when i took the old fan down. The old fan had a double switch (horizontal one that fits where single once was)... One swith ran the light and one ran the fan. Okay, so when I took the fan down, I was expecting to see 4 wires or at least two sets, right? Well, there were three... standard romax... white, black and bare. They had the bare hooked up hot to the light (blue) wire on the fan. Isn't this a major safety issue? Should I worry that the rest of the house is wired funny? What do I do? Put a single switch back in and restore the ground? Is this common? Anyone seen this before? Thanks in advance for your input...
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Old 04-28-05, 11:36 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Yes, this wiring is very wrong and very dangerous. Immediately correct it. Since they did this very strupid and dangerous thing you should worry about what else they did that was stupid, and look for it. I would start looking at thangs that have been added, such as fans, additional receptacles and other new wiring.
Old 04-28-05, 11:39 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 973
Always nice to find that the last person was incompetent... I haven't found ground wires used as hot, but I've found other stupid electrical work in my house.

You definately need to fix this. Any way you could run a 12-3 (or 14-3 if 15A) romex from the switch box to the fan box? If so, that would be ideal. You could go back to this same setup, but with SAFE wiring.

If not, and if the power goes to the fan box first, you can correct the wiring by connecting the fan to the always hot power, replace the double switch with a single, and connecting the lights to the switched hot. This way the fan is controlled just by the pull chains, but the light is powered by the switch. If the power goes to the switch first, you'll have to have the fan and switch both controlled by the switch.

I'd definately be concerned if there are more of these setups in your house. If you have more of these double switches, take off the cover and see if a bare wire is connected somewhere other than ground. DEFINATELY cut power first, since a bare wire in there may be hot.

This sounds like a modification done after the house was built. Most electricians would probably put a double box and two single switches in. Also, unless this houses electrical was NEVER inspected, I can't see this being original.

Good luck!
Old 04-29-05, 04:00 AM
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Thanks for the reply... I pulled the switch to see if I could tell if they had connected the ground as a switch lead. What I found was that the switch only had white and black wires hooked up and no evidence of the ground as hot. The grounds in the switch box appeared to be all tied together. However, the fact remains that there are only 3 wires (romax) coming out of the ceiling. I am guessing that it would not be possible to have a double switch on a fan with only three... right? Like I said, the blue wire from the fan was connected to the bare ground wire. I am not comfortable with trying to figure this out. THe switch is not labled on the back so I cannot tell what is what. I tried to test the leads and could not draw any conclusions... unless there is a junction in the attic where the ground was hooked up... my next step is to go up there and look... any ideas?
Old 04-29-05, 08:26 AM
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It sounds like the blue conductor in the fan is your neutral and they effectively used the bare grounding conductors as the neutral. That's still as bad as using the bare conductor as a hot because the neutral carries as much current as the hot conductor. It means the return current from the fan is travelling back through your grounding conductor and that's still wrong and dangerous.

If you want 2 switches to control the light and fan separately, you need a total of 4 wires:
  • 1 (switched) hot conductor for the fan
  • 1 (switched) hot conductor for the light
  • 1 neutral conductor used by both the fan and light
  • 1 grounding conductor used by both the fan and light
Old 04-29-05, 09:09 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
Unfortunately, the situation you found is very dangerous and all too common. I've even heard of an electrician doing this (not one I'd recommend).

You have a number of good options:
(1) Replace the cable between the ceiling box and the wall box with one that has one more wire.
(2) Buy a fan with a remote control.
(3) Buy a fan with a smart wall switch that can control two functions with only two wires.
(4) Buy a Hunter 27186 fan control which can do the same thing. It costs about $40.

Leaving it the way it is is not a good option.
Old 04-29-05, 09:39 AM
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I would not be opposed to any of those suggestions. Even a single switch and the old pull-the-string light method sounds better. I just cannot tell what is what in the wall box as it appears to be hooked up right, but then again the double switch in there is a little different than what I have seen and nothing is labelled. I guess that it could be possible that there is a splice in the attic. I wish I knew how to test what is what in the wall box. The bare ground wire is connected to three others at the switch, but it is not appearing to be that way comming thru the ceiling. If I were certain that the wire going to the fan was continuous, I would put a single switch in or a remote control. Can someone walk be through how to test the wires at the switch? I think I am in over my head. FOr now, at least I feel comfortable that the fan is down and the switch is taped off!!!
Old 04-29-05, 09:48 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
I've either misunderstood what you said, or you have misreported. If you have a duplex switch (two switches one above the other with horizontally moving levers), and if there is exactly one black wire and one white wire connected to the switch (no more!!), then both of the switches could not have been working.

Is there a grounding wire also connected to the switch? If so, exactly to what on the switch is it connected?
Old 04-29-05, 10:00 AM
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I will look and report back. From memory, there are three wires connected and it is a switch like you described. Again, from memory, there is a white and black connected on the left side and black wire (small part of insullation stripped in the middle) running from the right side to the other switch (common?)... there are three bare wires twisted together with a green wirenut. looks pretty normal... would the switch have some sort of jumper tab? This is exactly why I am asking you guys because I cannot figure out how it was working ("crazy fan wiring")... I will tell you that if I bumped the fan with the light on (before I took it down), the lights woudl flicker...
Old 04-29-05, 01:49 PM
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Solid State Control

If you ever get the existing wiring figured out, you might want to look into one of the solid state fan control packages available. These permit independent fan On-Off, fan speed, and light control over a two-wire power connection (plus ground). The one we have uses a remote control that also operates the TV, VCR, etc., but I think they also make them with wall switch like units which do the control functions. Ours is connected to a single ON-OFF wall switch that we use to turn both lights and fan off when we want to make sure they are not turned on accidentally like when the fan is being dusted or lightbulbs are being replaced.

I would be worried about other "improvements" made in your house. Chances are that the fan replaced a light fixture and the previous owner just made due with what was available rather than pull new wire.

My horror story about bad wiring would have to be the house where the wall got warm whenever the dryer was operated. I took the cover off the dryer outlet and it was hooked up to the breaker box about 5 feet away with 16 gauge lamp cord and no ground. This was an "improvement" made by a previous tenant who probably had the "well it works" attitude.
Old 04-30-05, 02:37 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: CA
Posts: 2,041
One of the posters made a comment that the blue wire might be the fan neutral. First, by code any color other than white or green is HOT, right? Specifically, in ceiling fans it is an almost universal convention that they use a blue wire as the hot wire to the light kit. There definitely should not be a bare wire connected to this.

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