Wiring a ceiling fan with wall switch (electrical question)

Ok, I have a problem and know very little about electrical work.

I installed a new ceiling fan in our room. The old fan that we removed had three wires, (two black one white). The new fan has a black, a white, one that is black/white, and a green (ground). In our ceiling wiring we have black, white, and red (there is no green or bare ground wire). The house is about 50 years old.

On the old fan, the wall switch controlled the light but the fan always worked whether the switch was on or off.

The new fan instructions had us connect the black to black, white to white, and the black/white fan wire was supposed to connect to a “Wall Switch Wire For Separate Control of Light Fixture” (it didn’t list a color), so we connected the black/white to the red ceiling wire since that was all that was left. When we did that, though, and I flipped the power back on, there was a spark both on the circuit breaker and in the new ceiling fan and it didn’t work.

Then we rewired it as if there was no wall switch (put the black/white fan wire connected with the both the black from the fan and the ceiling and just capped the red wire). When we did that, the fan and light work, but only with the pull cords. The light switch doesn’t do anything. So the red must be for the light switch, right? Why won’t it work when we connect the red but it worked with the old fan? Any ideas?

As much as I hate saying this, I suggest that you get help with this one. I suspect that your wiring could be figured out in a few minutes by shutting off power and testing with an ohmmeter, but it sounds like you already created a dead short and may have damaged your house’s wiring, and you still don’t know anything. Please, hire an electrician, or at the very least get help from someone familiar with residential electrical who can check things out for themselves.

I won’t phone in a fix for this one.

Though **cornflakes is probably right, I am curious. Are all three of the ceiling wires are coming out of one bundle, or are there seperate bundles (groups of wires surrounded by insulation)? Also, are you sure that there is just one switch that controlled that light. It sounds to me like there may be more than one.

There is definitely only one switch. As I said (if you could find it in the jumble I wrote), the previous fan/light worked fine. Unfortunately, I forget to look at how the wires were connected when I removed the old fan before installing the new one. The only difference in the fans, though, is that the old one did not have a ground wire and that the new fixture takes four light bulbs instead of one (could that be the problem?).

They don’t seem to be coming out from the same bundle, but it is hard to tell because of the way the outlet box is in there. I would post a picture, but my digital camera is broken.

Also, please note that I said it works fine when I connect it as if there is no wall switch, but of course I want the wall switch to work with the light but not turn off the fan as the old fan/light fixture did. I’ll call an electrician if I have to, but it just didn’t seem like it would be all that complicated.

It’s not complicated; it’s just that there is a risk of fire or electrocution. I guess that one could make an analogy that driving a car isn’t complicated but driving safely requires some level of training. Admittedly, I’m the sort that likes to see things for myself, but I think that this job will require some poking around with a meter in order to figure out what’s behind the walls and ceiling, to verify that hot is indeed hot and neutral is at ground, etc., etc…

For what it’s worth, I believe that the National Electrical Code in the 1950s only required grounding for kitchen circuits, which explains why you don’t have a ground wire. I’d guess that your home was either wired with two wire Romex (two wires in a cloth outer cover) or with BX (two wires in an armored jacket.) In any case, each of those three wires has only one other end.

No, it’s likely not all that complicated, and many folks would have probably told you how to wire it EXCEPT for the mention of the sparks. Now that you have already blown the breaker once, and had sparks in the fixture, all bets are off for e-mail advice.

And actually, the advice given would have been to wire it just the way that you originally did. Since the fan and light work fine connected to the non-switched wire, my best guess would be that your red wire has a short at the fixture, that your initial connections were bad, or something along those lines. But this is just a guess. Not being there to see what may have caused the breaker to blow or to inspect the wires, I’d agree that if you are not sure, get help. If you can positively identify the cause of the sparks and eliminate it, then you have a shot.

You didn’t say what wires are in evidence in the box that houses the switch. It sounds to me like the red wire probably goes back to the breaker box. As luck would have it, the red wire and the hot wire to the switch are probably on different phases. When you connected the fan to both wires, you may have ‘bumped’ phases, which created the pyrotechnics.

I agree with the others, however. Without looking at the wiring and doing some testing, I can’t recommend a fix.

Not exactly. The black and red wires are normally 180[sup]o[/sup] out of phase (being opposite legs of a 240 V center-tapped “Edison” circuit from the pole transformer), and the two of them are used to create a 240 VAC circuit for electric dryes, stoves and some air conditioners, among other uses. The white wire is supposed to be the neutral center tap, which is bonded to Earth ground at the breaker box.

When you wired it up first did you try it before closing up the box? Did you use electrical tape around the wire caps? The only way this should happen is if you left a little metal showing on the wires and they connect or there is a short in the red. Since the previous fan worked that is probably not it. Couls you have abraded the wiring while doing your repair?

You have to be careful with old houses, particularly if they have had some do-it-yourself done on them before you got there. I once replaced a ceiling fan (an added a new wall switch with seperate controls for the fan and light) and had some real fun. I identified the circuit and turned it off at the breaker. While I was working on the thing my friend who owned the house turned on the light switch in the next room (seperate circuit), and the lights in my room turned on. This happened while the bare ends of the ceiling wires were sticking out next to my head. My guess is that when they added a new fixture or something they ended up connecting the neutral from it to the neutral on my circuit rather than its own. I refused to do any more work on the place unless all the power to the house was off.

No, the fan was mounted when I tried it. I didn’t try it before I closed it.

I did not use electrical tape around the caps. I did check very carefully that there was no exposed wire sticking out from the caps, in addition to separating the wires from each other when I tucked them into the mounting box with the caps on them.

It looks to me like the wire is in the exact same condition as when I started to remove the old fan, but obviously the events seem to indicate otherwise. :frowning: I really can’t think of anything I did that could have damaged the wiring, though.

You might try opening up the switch and checking what color wires are connected where on the switch. That info may be helpful for this.

I’ve got a completely interesting hijack that’d directly related to the OP. It’s been bugging the hell out of me, and I’ve just not gotten around to asking about it here.

I just moved into a new home. Ceiling fan had a broken flywheel, which ought to be here soon. Of course in the disassembly process, I had to undo the wiring.

Note: I’m not an electrician, but I know electricity and how wiring works and I rewired the kitchen in my last house. That’s why my question, below, is driving me nuts!

There’s a single, three strand Romex to the fan. One black (hot), one white (neutral), and one bare (ground). Makes sense – there was probably “just” a light here when the house was built, and the construction company was too cheap to run a different type of Romex.

Here’s the nutty part: the switch consists of a dimmer for the fan light and a “dimmer” for the fan speed. They both work independantly.

The ground really is a ground – they didn’t do anything fishy with the bare wire.

So anyone care to explain to me how the hell this works?

Surely you’re not telling me that a wire from one leg touched to a wire from another leg will not produce sparks?

Must be voodoo, cuz it don’t make sense to this old two-wire 'lectrician as you’ve described it. Is the white wire connected to the motor neutral, or to one of the leads? If you look at the dimmers, is there a white wire from one of them going to the light/fan? It’s possible that whomever hooked it up is using the ground as the return leg.

Voodoo’s the only explanation I can think of right now, too. The fan connection is thus: black wire from circuit to black wire on fan; white wire from circuit to white wire on fan; bare wire from circuit to ground screw (chassis) on fan. Nothing else.

Yeah, most fan/lights have two “black” wires – one for the light and one for the fan. Or for cheapies, one for both, and you have to fiddle with chains on the fan to make them work independantly. But mine has a single set of power leads as if for one device, and yet the wall switch controls them independantly.

There is a red wire connected on the top and a black one on the bottom, assuming you were talking about the wall switch.

Ok, it’s working now. I put the wires back to the original configuration and took special care that the wires weren’t touching each other or anything else. I’m still pretty sure the red wire wasn’t touching another wire, but maybe it was touching the metal outlet box before after I capped the wires and tucked them in?

You wouldn’t be whooshing poor old cheffie, would you? This seems patently impossible, as you’ve described it. If there is only one set of leads coming out of the fan, it’s electrically impossible to control the light and the fan speed separately.

Of course it will, but that’s not how he wired it, according to him. Granted, if an unintended short had occurred due to insulation failure or improper connection methods, there would certainly be sparks. And, on preview, I see the OP has replied, indicating something wasn’t right originally.

This could be done by having the switches send signals, either radio or along the wiring, to the fan, which then does the actual controling. No cite, but I imagine someone must make a fan like this.