troubleshooting your ceiling fan

Troubleshooting Your Ceiling Fan

Troubleshooting Your Ceiling Fan


Ceiling fans are as useful as they are elegant – they save money and help give that cool fresh spa feeling in summer and warm you up in winter.

Just one problem – when something goes wrong, fixing it can seem overwhelming and expensive. But never fear! We cover the most common problems and their solutions.


1. The lights and fan don’t work

This is typically an electrical fault.

At this point the lawyer standing over me watching me type is ordering me to write – Don’t mess about with live wires and circuits! Hire an electrician.

Right, assuming you’ve turned all the electrics off and you’ve trained as an electrician for 4 years, here’s what you do:

  1. It might just be a busted fuse. Check your circuit breaker.
  2. Find the electrical box by taking off the switch’s cover plate and screws.
  3. A non-contact voltage tester will show if their is current going to the switch.
  4. If the circuit breaker is working but there isn’t any current hitting the switch, you’ll really need an electrician to work out what’s going on.
  5. If there IS power, turn off the circuit breaker that connects to the fan.
  6. Touch your voltage tester to the screws to make sure they aren’t charged.
  7. Assuming they aren’t, detach the wires and use pliers to untwist them.
  8. Reconnect the wires.
  9. Turn it all on again. If it works your issue is the switch – get a replacement. If it doesn’t work, read on.
  10. The next option is the wires leading to the fan. Turn off the power to the fan again.
  11. Lower the fan from the ceiling. Check everything with your voltage tester before continuing.
  12. Ensure the wires from the fan are connected tightly to where they should go. Tighten anything that needs to be tightened. Replace everything. Turn the power back on.
  13. Hopefully it’ll be working now. If not, turn everything off again and remove the entire fan. Then turn it on, and use the voltage tester to see if there’s any current hitting the box. It there isn’t any, you’ve got a dead wire from the mains to the fan.
  14. If power IS going to the box, you’ve got a faulty fan unit. Repair or replace.


2. The Blades Rotate When Pushed

This shouldn’t happen – if it does you might have a problem with the motor.

Motors are expensive so unless your fan is under warranty it might make sense to just buy a brand new unit.

On the other hand, it could be the capacitor or the flywheel.

The Capacitor

The capacitor is a small black box inside the fan with wires leading to the chain. Examine it for signs of melting or tearing – that would indicate a simple replacement.

If the fan hums but the blade don’t turn then the motor is fine and it’s the capacitor that’s at fault.

Use a multimeter to check if the capacitor is doing its job. As seen here:

How To Test A Capacitor For An Electric Motor With A Multimeter

The Flywheel

Flywheels connect a ceiling fan’s blades to its motor. They reduce wobbling and therefore reduce noise. It’s fairly common for them to break. Here’s how to replace one:



3. A light isn’t working

ceiling fan busted light

Sometimes this is fixed simply by tightening the light bulb, but it can be a more demanding fix.

Try these steps:

  1. Test the light sockets one by one by trying different light bulbs.
  2. If it’s not that simple (unlucky you!) turn the power off at the circuit breaker, remove broken bulbs, and use a voltage tester to double check there’s no current going to the fan.
  3. Clean the sockets that aren’t working with an anti-corrosion brush, then use a soft cloth around the socket.
  4. Pry the tab up with a small flat-head screwdriver.
  5. Put in a new bulb, restore power, and cross your fingers.
  6. Still not working? Check the wiring. If the lights are on a different circuit to the fan make sure power is going to the lights.
  7. Remove the cover plate of the switch so you can access the electrical box. Test the current with your voltage meter. If power isn’t hitting the switch you’re really going to need an electrician because it’s a bigger problem than just the fan.
  8. If power IS hitting the switch, turn it off, unscrew the screws on the fan, and unscrew and reconnect the wires (that may have come loose). Give them a good twist.
  9. After restoring power again, if the fan comes on you’ve found the problem – your switch.
  10. If it’s not that, unscrew the light kit which you will find on the casing directly below the blades. Lower the lighting section and check all the wire connections. Tighten anything that seems loose.
  11. If that doesn’t fix things, separate the lighting section from the rest of the fan by disconnecting the wires that connect them. You’ll find two black wires that go into the pull chain. One of these goes into the lighting section – that’s the one you should disconnect.
  12. There’s a nut that keeps the lighting section attached to the chain – untighten it. You can now install a new switch.
  13. Use the same nut to tighten it in place, including the black wire, and put everything back together. If that doesn’t work, you’ve really go no choice but to hire an expert.


4. My fan is wobbly

This is both an easy fix and something you shouldn’t leave too long, lest you let the fan damage your ceiling.

The first thing to investigate is whether the housing is loose where it meets the ceiling. If it’s loose, tighten it. Problem solved! (In some cases…)

Next you’ll want to check if the blades have become disfigured in some way. If one of them has warped, bent, or cracked, that’s probably the reason the fan is wobbling. One way to check is to measure the distance from each blade to the ceiling.

If one is bent you can try manually straightening it – use force but not excessive pressure.

If one is lighter than it should be, you can use duct tape to add some coins to the top. This is, as it sounds, an inelegant solution, but it can be quite effective in balancing the blades out again. It has the further benefit of giving you a ‘piggy bank’ of cash that the government won’t be able to steal from you. (I’m joking. Mostly.)

Finally, if all else fails, replacement blades aren’t all that expensive.


5. The fan is noisy (though it doesn’t wobble)

Maddening! But wait – if it’s a new fan just leave it for a couple of days. It often works itself out. No-one knows why. Similarly, if your fan is connected to a dimmer, that’s probably your issue right there (changing the speed not in the way the fan was designed can damage the motor).


Take a good look at the lightbulbs to make sure they’re in properly.

Find screws and tighten them. If that doesn’t work, you can open it up and tighten the inside screws too.

While you’re in there, look for any loose parts and tighten, tape, or tuck them into place.

Make sure the top of the fan doesn’t touch the ceiling when it’s running.

Examine the fan blades for cracks or chips. New blades might solve your noise problem.


6. The pull chain doesn’t work

Pull chains are useful, but most importantly they are cool and make you feel like a medieval prince. That’s why you bought the damn fan and it better start working or else.

The step that works most commonly is replacing the whole pull chain. This involves turning off the circuit breaker to the fan, going through the process of opening the fixtures, removing and replacing the pull chain.

A video is worth a thousand words:

Replacing a broken pull chain switch on a ceiling fan.


7. The speed settings are messed up, bro

The air flow you get from your fan is connected to the speed it turns at, so if something goes wrong with the speed settings you’re not going to get the efficiency and performance you want. And that just won’t do.

The two most likely causes are the capacitor and the motor bearings.

To fix the capacitor, see section 2 above.

To check the motor bearings, turn the fan on for a while, then turn it off. Feel the housing and if it’s hot the bearings are at fault and you need to replace the motor. As discussed before, you might as well get a whole new fan (unless it’s still under warranty).


8. My fan won’t reverse!

Two likely causes here – the remote and the switch.

The remote

On some devices it’s necessary to HOLD the reverse button down, not just press it. Give a good shove for a few seconds.

The switch

Replacing the reverse switch might be enough to get it working as intended. Contact the supplier of the fan and get a replacement part.


9. My fan turns on and off by itself

This is great if you are reading a Stephen King book and the fan being turned on gives you the fright of your life and the whole incident gets recorded and you put it on YouTube and it goes viral.

But mostly it’s just creepy and wrong, so you should try to fix it.

It’s probably the wiring. Be ready to change some. Or something wrong in your circuit breaker. Check for anything loose there.

It could be the frequency of the remote control – if a neighbor has a ceiling fan using the same frequency (more likely than you might think) they could be  unwittingly turning your fan on and off. Don’t be mad – most likely you’re doing the same to their fan, too!

Your manual should have directions for changing the remote’s frequency.

Frayed wiring anywhere in the fan or its connection to your home’s electricity supply could be causing the problem. Call your friendly local electrician if you’re not comfortable replacing those wires.


10. The fan works, barely

ceiling fan barely working

If the fan seems to be working fine but you’re disappointed with its performance, you might have put it in the wrong place. Did you read our guide to ceiling fans before installing it?

Or you might have one too small for your room.

The easiest to fix is if you’ve got the blades turning in the wrong direction. Remember, in summer you want to push the air UP and in winter DOWN. I explained it all in the guide. Man, that’s a great guide. Have you read the guide yet?


11. My fan remote doesn’t work


Check the batteries. Try new ones. Make sure the batteries are in the right way round.

80% of people are happy now, but there’s still 20% whose remotes are genuinely not working.

It could be the

Frequency settings

Someone (your spiteful child? your stalker? your drunken last night self?) might have reprogrammed the fan to work on a different frequency.

Dig out your manual and change it back.

Replacement remote

Remember all those curse words you shouted at the remote? Claiming it was a piece of excrement? Etcetera? Turns out, you were right. You’re going to need a new one. Fortunately they are cheap little things and it won’t break the bank.

You, however, are well within your rights to break the remote that failed you. Stomp on it till it shatters into a million pieces, and yell at it, ‘you had ONE JOB!’ Repeat until your soul is cleansed.