Fix your Ceiling Fan - A Troubleshooting Guide
Virtually every home has at least one ceiling fan. Ceiling fans are very useful for climate control, especially in hot areas. They can also be helpful for promoting general air circulation, which can improve the quality of your indoor air. Poor air circulation allows air to stagnate and encourages pollutants and irritants to gather on surfaces; running a ceiling fan helps keep the air fresh and clean. However, a ceiling fan can be problematic if it starts to make distracting noises or if it doesn't operate as expected. Here are some typical issues that a fan owner might encounter and how to diagnose and solve each one.
The Fan’s Blades Aren’t Turning
One of the most common reasons for a fan to not work is incorrect fan settings or a general loss of power in the building. Check the fan's pull chain, switches or knob to ensure the fan is set to the "on" position. If you have a ceiling fan with remote control, ensure the batteries are working. To rule out electrical problems related to the fan housing and wiring, check to see if the fan's lights turn on and off. Ensure that the power supply to the fan is functional before checking the fan's switch housing.
In most fans, you should be able to check for the presence of a white wire connected to the light kit and the fan's electronic systems. Also check for another wire, typically black, connecting to the fan motor. Be careful to make certain all electricity is off before manipulating potentially loose wires. Handle all rewiring at a time when no power is running to the fan, then restore the power to check for your results. If in doubt, consult a professional to ensure proper safety and problem resolution.
The Light On the Fixture is Not Working
The most common reason for a fan light problem is a loose or burnt out bulb within the fan itself. Although fans typically use long-lasting bulbs, even the best can be expected to burn out about once a year. If the light bulb is new or a replacement light bulb does not resolve the problem, the issue is likely related to loose wiring somewhere between the lighting and the power source. You will have to examine both to determine the issue.
Check for loose wires inside the canopy, ensuring that the canopy-to-power source wire (typically striped) is connected. A white wire inside the fan canopy should connect to a similar wire inside the switch housing; however, since the fan light and fan motor can sometimes be on separate circuits, this is not always the case. Also remember a problem with the light can be traced to a loose or disconnected pull chain, so check this first.
The Fan Works But It Wobbles or Shakes
Wobbling and shaking can both be caused by maintenance issues with the fan blades themselves. First things first, check the fan blades to ensure that they are free of dirt, dust or grime. The "invisible" edge of the fan blades facing the ceiling can conceal heavy deposits of dust that can cause a number of issues. After the blades are cleaned, carefully push one of the blades while the fan is off to ensure that it turns naturally. After being pushed, it should "coast" for a few seconds before gradually sliding to a halt.
If this is not the issue, you may need to see our guide on balance a ceiling fan. Unbalanced fan operation can be a result of a bent or warped blade that you'll be able to notice by watching the fan while it is on. If you notice a fan blade that's bent out of shape relative to the others, you can fix it by turning off the fan and carefully bending it back into shape. Because multiple blades can become warped relative to each other, you may have to bend several blades and their associated brackets. If this doesn't work, weight is the likely culprit.
Check the weighting of each blade by using a small item, like a coin, to weight each blade one at a time. This can help you discover which blade is weighted incorrectly. Once you find it, you can use a small item to change the weighting of the blade or purchase a replacement blade to ensure that the weight of each one is equal (or almost equal) to the others. A blade that is too light or too heavy will drag the others out of alignment and lead to damage over time, so it is often a good idea to replace these quickly.
The Fan Is Working But the Blades Are Turning Slowly
Once again, cleaning and general maintenance are usually called for here. Thoroughly clean the entire fan including the "hidden" edge facing the ceiling. In most older fans, this edge is not tilted to prevent the build up of dust, and several inches of dirt can accumulate here over time. Removing any built up dust can add significantly to the speed of your fan and can also help with unbalancing issues, since dust can be heavy enough to throw your fan blades out of balance relative to one another.
If the fan is wobbling, especially if it appears to be wobbling on just one side, it may need to be balanced; check the section on wobbling above. If neither of these issues seem to be the root of the problem, the fan bearings may be dirty.
The bearings are located inside the motor that rotates the fan. Before oiling your motor's bearings, you should consult your fan's user manual to ensure that your motor is designed for oiling. If it isn't, oiling can damage the motor or may void the warranty.
You Hear a Clicking, Knocking, Grinding When the Fan is Running
During operation, most unpleasant sounds that you hear from a fan are caused by a balance issue. Look over the section on wobbling or shaking fans for information on balancing.
If balancing your fan does not resolve the problem, there may be something in the operating path of the blades or something loose within the electrical workings or motor. Turn off the fan and remove the blades, then allow the fan to run.
If the problem persists, then the issue is within the motor itself. Taking the proper safety precautions, open the motor housing and rotate the motor manually with your hand. This will give you a chance to observe any items in the path of the motor when it is at work. Examine each item and alter or remove them as appropriate.
If there is nothing in the path of the motor but the noise hasn't abated, then the issue may be the motor's bearings. See the information on oiling under "Fan Runs, But Slowly."
You Hear a Humming Noise When the Fan is Running
All fan motors hum or vibrate while in use, but the humming is amplified by other parts of the fan such as the housing and the blades. If your fan is of the more pricey variety, it may have a rubber flywheel attaching the fan blades' brackets to the fan motor, which effectively isolates the motor noise from the rest of the fan until the flywheel itself breaks down. If this is the case, the single point of fault is the flywheel; simply replace it.
In less expensive fans, the most common point of fault is the washers used between each blade and the brackets. These washers are usually made either of rubber or paper, and they can degrade quickly when the fan is under consistent use. Replace the washers to create greater insulation between the motor and the blades.
Also look for factory installed insulation near the mounting bracket, which is typical in a wide variety of fan models. If the insulation has thinned out, consider replacing it as well.
You Hear an Electrical Buzzing Noise When the Fan is Running
Fans with imported motors are frequently associated with electrical buzzing due to a mismatch between the motor and the electrical workings of the speed controls. If your fan suffers from this design defect, the only way to completely eliminate the problem is to replace either the motor or the speed control. If you choose to do so, remember that you should never attach a dimmer switch of any kind to a fan motor.
Older fans of a domestic design suffer from the above problem much less frequently. They are more likely to make an electrical buzzing sound thanks to degraded insulation along the motor windings. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to replace the entire speed control in the motor; however, there's a more economical (but labor intensive) option if you choose to varnish the windings manually.
The Fan Isn’t Moving Enough Air
Any of the problems above can be the cause of improper airflow. If there is an airflow problem that was not present when the fan was new, you will probably find the solution by diagnosing and correcting each potential problem, one at a time.
There is also the possibility that the blades are warped, but not sufficiently warped to cause the fan to run off balance and make obvious noise. Slight warping might not be easy to spot, but it will reduce the potential air circulation of the fan.
Observe the blades carefully from the side and repair any warping or bending among the fan blades by reviewing the information under "The Fan Works But It Wobbles or Shakes." If there is no obvious problem with the fan, but its performance is still unsatisfactory, consider replacing it with a newer, more effective fan.
Article Written by +Colby Harris