How to Replace a Light Fixture with a Ceiling Fan
A surprisingly simple DIY project!
Replacing a light fixture with a ceiling fan is a great way to add form and function to any room. Best of all, it’s really easy since you can just reuse the existing electrical wiring. If you’ve ever replaced a light switch, this project is not much harder.
Here’s a before-and-after showing the old (plain and boring) light fixture, and the new (modern and attractive) ceiling fan:
So if you’re in this same situation, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to install a ceiling fan where a light fixture exists!
Note: if you need to install a ceiling fan in a room without any existing overhead lighting or electrical wiring, that’s a more involved project. Check out my guide for that here: How to Install a New Ceiling Fan.
Need to know how to choose the right ceiling fan for your room? Read my guide on How to Choose a Ceiling Fan: Size, Airflow, and Lighting.
Materials and Tools
I’m a big fan of Hunter Fan Company ceiling fans. They always have options that are modern (but not too modern), and the pull-chains have either a light bulb or a fan on them so you know which chain controls which function!
The 46-inch Hunter ceiling fan (in matte silver) is shown in these pictures. I’ve also installed and highly recommend this 52-inch Hunter ceiling fan:
2. Screwdriver or power drill
Just about the only real tool you’ll need for this project is a good screwdriver or power drill!
We’ll be cutting power to the room that has the light fixture, so it’s a great idea to have a flashlight around. This way you can more easily and clearly see what the electrical wiring looks like in the ceiling when the light goes off!
I’m a big fan of Makita tools ever since building a playground for my children, so I had a couple of Makita flashlights around. But even a simple flashlight will come in handy.
While this is optional, it’s really nice to know that no current is running through wires. I personally think some sort of voltmeter/multimeter is an absolute necessity when working with electricity.
5. Wire stripper
Your new ceiling fan will likely come with longer electrical wiring than needed (they provide extra long wiring just in case). If so, you’ll want to cut the wires down to an appropriate length, then strip the ends so you can connect the ceiling fan wiring to the existing electrical wiring.
6. (Optional) Electrical outlet box (rated for ceiling fans)
Light fixtures and ceiling fans tend to weigh a decent amount, so they’re mounted to a ceiling joist using an appropriate electrical outlet box. It’s possible the existing outlet box is strong enough to support a ceiling fan (simply tug on it to determine how sturdy it is). If it seems pretty secure, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll need to replace it with a stronger outlet box like this one.
Step 1: Turn the existing light fixture on
In the next step we will turn off power to the light fixture at the main electrical panel. To ensure that power has actually been cut to the light, it’s helpful to first turn on the light. That way, when you cut power to the light by flipping one of the circuit breakers, you’ll see the light go off and can be confident that there is no power running to the light anymore.
Here is the light fixture that will be replaced with a ceiling fan:
Step 2: Go to the electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker that controls power to the light fixture
For safety, you need to cut power to the light fixture before replacing it with a ceiling fan. This can be done at the main electrical panel. Simply flip the circuit breaker that controls the light fixture to “off”.
Fortunately, a previous project necessitated the very laborious job of identifying and labeling which circuit breakers control the different parts of our house. If your electrical panel isn’t labeled, it’s just a matter of trial-and-error. Flip a circuit breaker off and see if the light that was on in Step 1 turned off. If not, flip that breaker back on and flip a different one off. Wash, rinse, and repeat until you find the right breaker.
When you return to the light fixture, make sure that the light is turned off:
Step 3: Take apart the light fixture until the electrical wiring is exposed
You’ll need to completely remove the light fixture from the ceiling until the electrical wiring is exposed (you will be reusing this wiring for the new ceiling fan). This isn’t difficult, but I wanted to include a few pictures along the way so that you can see what the inside of a light fixture looks like.
The light fixture I was replacing had a translucent glass dome/globe. After taking the glass dome off, this is what the light fixture looked like:
You might be surprised to see the silver reflective foil and insulation inside a light fixture, but it’s actually pretty common. A byproduct of light bulbs – especially older incandescent light bulbs – is that they generate a lot of heat, and heat trapped inside the glass dome of a light fixture would have nowhere to go. So a seemingly harmless light bulb could actually melt the electrical wiring insulation or catch the ceiling on fire. To prevent and guard against this, reflective foil (silver in color/appearance) is used to reflect heat away from the ceiling (it also reflects light away from the ceiling, making the light fixture brighter). Insulation is also used to help keep any excess heat from melting the electrical wire’s insulation.
With the glass dome off, next remove the light bulb and the reflective foil/insulation. The light fixture will now look like this (I’ve highlighted the electrical wiring with a pink arrow and the two mounting screws that secure the light fixture to the ceiling with blue arrows):
Finally, unhook the electrical wiring (pink arrow) and unscrew the two mounting screws (blue arrows). Be sure to keep the mounting screws – you’ll likely need them later on!
The removed light fixture with exposed electrical wiring should now look like this:
Step 4: Confirm a proper electrical outlet box is in place (rated for ceiling fans)
Light fixtures – and especially ceiling fans – tend to have some weight to them, so you can’t just screw them into the ceiling drywall. If you do, it will eventually fall down and potentially hurt someone. Instead, you need an electrical outlet box to be screwed into a ceiling joist, and then you can mount the light fixture or ceiling fan to the outlet box.
When I removed the light fixture, a suitable electrical outlet box was already in place (shown by the blue arrow in the below picture). You can tug on the outlet box to gauge how sturdy it is and determine if it can comfortably hold the weight of a ceiling fan.
You can always replace the existing electrical outlet box with a stronger option. This one below can hold 50 lbs:
Step 5: Mount the ceiling fan bracket to the outlet box
The new ceiling fan will have a ceiling fan bracket (black bracket in the picture below) – this is what the ceiling fan will hang down from. Note that here I am reusing the mounting screws for the electrical outlet box that were unscrewed in Step 3.
In the picture below, I completely screwed in one mounting screw (the right-hand screw) and partially screwed in the other (the left-hand screw) so you can better see how the ceiling fan bracket attaches to the outlet box:
With both screws in, the ceiling fan bracket should look like this:
Step 6: Place the ceiling fan downrod ball in the ceiling fan bracket
With a secure ceiling fan bracket (and after assembling the ceiling fan), you can now place the ceiling fan in the ceiling fan bracket. Ceiling fans have downrods that determine how far down off the ceiling they hang. At the end of the downrod is a ball (black object indicated by the pink arrow in the picture below). Simply slide/drop the ball into the slot in the ceiling fan bracket:
Step 7: Connect the existing electrical wiring to the ceiling fan wiring
The ceiling fan I installed was controlled by a single light switch. Connecting the electrical wiring is pretty straightforward (and directions will be included in the ceiling fan assembly instructions). For a single light switch you simply connect the white wire from the ceiling to the white wire from the ceiling fan, the black wire from the ceiling to the black and blue wires from the ceiling fan, and the bare wire from the ceiling to the green/yellow wire from the ceiling fan.
Trim wires to manageable lengths and strip the ends using a wire stripper, and twist all electrical wiring together using wire connectors (orange objects in the below picture):
A Note on Electrical Wiring Colors:
Electrical wiring is color-coded, and if you’ve ever done any electrical work (at least in the U.S.) then you’re probably familiar with the following color-coded convention:
- Black: the black wire is the “live” or “hot” wire
- White: the white wire is the neutral wire
- Bare: the bare (uncolored) wire is the ground wire
- This wire can sometimes be green too
Step 8: Attach the ceiling fan canopy to the ceiling fan bracket
The ceiling fan canopy hides the hole in the wall that houses the ceiling fan bracket and all of the electrical wiring. Raise the canopy up so it is flush with the ceiling, then screw it into the ceiling fan bracket (two screws, one on each side):
Here is what the new ceiling fan looks like:
Step 9: Go back to the electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker that controls power to the ceiling fan
Time to turn power back on! Return to the main electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker that controls the ceiling fan (previously the light fixture) to “on”:
Test the new ceiling fan a few times by both using the pull-chains to turn the light and fan on/off and by using the light switch to turn the light and fan on/off.
Congratulations, and enjoy your new ceiling fan!
Did this guide help you to replace your light fixture with a ceiling fan? Have any other questions regarding ceiling fans? Let me know in the comments below!
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