A fan of ceiling fans

Do ceiling fans deserve their own blog post? They do. I absolutely LOVE them – they have made a huge difference in the comfort level of our house and possibly our power bill. (I got new insulation at the same time, so hard to tell)

ceiling fan
Ceiling fan on remote, angled ceiling

So, let’s say you want a ceiling fan – and because lamps are tiresome, you also want it to have a light. Good plan! I would never assume you are doing this yourself, or give you advice that would make you shake your fist at me if something went wrong, but here are some of the hoops electricians go through for these amazing things.

The first thing is making sure the box in your ceiling can hold the fan. Unfortunately, the way to do this is to pull down the old fixture – there isn’t really a short cut there. So here is the thing about those boxes. For building a new house, the code for ceiling fans is that the light box has to hold 70lbs. I’m pretty annoyed by this because lights and fans are getting lighter and lighter – however there are some super fancy fans that weigh a lot, so I get it. Codes on new houses are based on what people might do. Generally, you just need to make sure your box holds your fan. Most boxes hold 30 lbs, most fans are less. (most of the ones I hang anyway. YMMV)

If you don’t already have a box, well that’s a different kettle of bulbs. Depending on attic access, there is an undetermined amount of sheetrock cutting you need to do so you can drill for the wires. It’s much easier if there is some attic access, but still a bit of work. 

In most scenarios, people already have a light in their ceiling and they want to replace it with a fan light. The problem with that is that you only have a wire for a light – you actually need an additional wire for the fan. What most folks do is have the switch turn on both the fan and the light and use the pull chains. I’ve done this in my house with really high fans, and I hate it. 

The second possibility is have an electrician pull another wire, change your box to a 2-gang, and have 2 switches.  This is a little pricey, and depending on attic access, can mean some sheetrock cutting. (it’s not that pricey, but more than the next option)

The third possibility is a fan remote. Though this has been around for a bit, it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. The remote itself adds another $30-$150 to the cost of your fan. (the higher priced one would be for wifi so it works with your smart apps) However it will control both the fan and the light and you don’t have to get extra wires pulled. The thing about these is that they come in 2 parts – the remote you hang on the wall, and the other half you install in the canopy of the fan. It can be really interesting to fit it into the canopy – I do hope they start making those smaller. 

switch and fan remote
2-gang switch and fan remote

Now, I’m going to take a second to complain about fan remotes. First off, I would lose one in a heartbeat, so I always mount them to the wall. I mean, this is work around, but I really don’t need it to be a remote that some tipsy person can run off and hide. (I might mean me) They also make ‘remotes’ that replace your switch, so they are installed in your wall. I’m going to warn you about this, because you will not be happy if you get one. They hook up to your power, and also need batteries. This is an insane design – you have to turn off your power and take it out of the wall to change your batteries.  If they didn’t need batteries or didn’t hook up to your power, I’d recommend them absolutely, but both? No.

For the most part I absolutely recommend getting the remote and having it mounted on your wall next to the switch. The other great thing about them is that if you get the correct one, it’s also a dimmer and speed control. Amazing. That one is about $50. 

Hopefully this is interesting or helpful or both! If you are doing it yourself, you can see what you are up against, and if you are hiring an electrician you can be prepared for pitfalls and know what it is you want.

Electrical Ancestors

So I’ve been wanting to write an electrical blog post for a while now. I feel like the electricity in your house can be such a mystery, and since I love to geek about it, I could share some of my knowledge. But what do people really want to know about? Like, why does the electrician not give you an estimate over the phone – why not just tell you?

Well, unlike most, I have a general price list, but I also have this line item ‘additional wire pulling’ where I charge per hour. This seems like a sneaky way to add in money, but it’s actually a safety net to protect against my bizarre Electrical Ancestors.

The Electrical Ancestors are the wacky folks that wired your house, changed your house, got in and just mucked around with the wiring because they saw it on youtube – or if we are being honest sometimes the current owners (you or your spouse) are the Electrical Ancestors that played around with the wiring in some interesting way. Trying to understand the thought process of these ancestors is oftentimes Interesting, if not down right confounding.

A lot of you know already if you have this history to your house. You have already found some crazy baffling thing that makes no sense, or had some expert of one type or another look at parts of your house and say ‘WHYYYY?’  

And so, when you tell me your outlet doesn’t work, I can’t give you a price until I’ve unravelled the work the ancestors have done. Sometimes it’s my lowest price – a wire popped out! (and if I’m doing other work for you, that’s sometimes just free) Sometimes, especially with outlets that have never worked, there is some crazy wiring going on. 

GFCI Outlet
GFCI Outlet

Oh, and pro tip – if an outlet that isn’t working is on a GFCI circuit – check all the GFCI outlets and make sure they are reset. And check in your panel for a breaker with a reset button. Well, check your panel first to make sure a breaker isn’t tripped. Tripped breakers are not flipped all the way to off, they trip to the middle, so it’s not always obvious.

Also, sometimes you wonder if the mysteries your ancestors left behind were unsafe. Some things are obvious. If you see a lot of flying splices in your attic – that is not a great sign. If they are taped, then it’s probably not a safety hazard, but the fact that you have them means someone got into your wiring and took some shortcuts. It’s done quite a lot – weirdly, not because people are lazy, but because they didn’t have an electrical box on hand. I mean, it’s still lazy – but people will do some crazy things to avoid going to the store.

Some things are much more unsafe. Good things to watch for – outlets or switches that are hot to the touch. Actually just about everything electrical in your house should not be hot to the touch. Your panel should not make noise – or be hot to the touch. I’m throwing these things in because I’m not trying to scare you with the things the wacky ancestors have done. I certainly do not want you frightened to be in your own house. People are generally pretty savvy about what is NOT RIGHT, but if electricity is mysterious to you, then it’s easy to get paranoid. 

That’s it for my fun tips for the day. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. There are some things I won’t answer – along the lines of a professional giving advice to folks on how to do dangerous things in their house, but I can answer a lot of basic stuff.