How to Install a New Ceiling Fan
If there’s no existing electrical wiring overhead and you have access to the attic, this DIY guide is for you!
Ceiling fans are a great addition to any room! Equal parts practical and stylish, they completely change the feel of household rooms. While ceiling fans are often seen in new construction or renovations, many older homes – like the one we live in – don’t have many ceiling fans. In fact, many older homes don’t have much overhead lighting either.
If you want to install a new ceiling fan (or light fixture) in a room without any existing overhead lighting or electrical wiring, it’s actually pretty straightforward as long as you have access to the attic above the room. The whole project can be broken into two main steps: (1) installing the ceiling fan brace, and (2) running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan. Each step will take around 3-4 hours to complete, meaning the whole project will take around 6-8 hours. So be sure to budget an entire day for this project.
Rest assured, you’ll quickly wonder how you ever had rooms in your house without ceiling fans/overhead lighting! Here’s a before-and-after showing the ceiling of one bedroom in our house that didn’t have any overhead lighting (pretty plain and boring), and the same room with a new ceiling fan installed:
So if you’re in this same situation, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to install a ceiling fan in a room with no existing overhead lighting or electrical wiring!
Note: if the room has an existing overhead light fixture and you want to replace it with a ceiling fan, that’s a much simpler project. Check out my guide for that here: How to Replace a Light Fixture with a 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
1. Ceiling fan
I’m a big fan of Hunter Fan Company ceiling fans. They always have options that are modern (but not too modern), attractive, and operate quietly. Plus, the pull-chains have either a light bulb or a fan on them so you know which chain controls which function!
I’ve installed the larger 52-inch ceiling fan (with brushed nickel finish) in larger rooms in our house, and the following 46-inch ceiling fan (in matte silver) in smaller rooms in our house:
2. Ceiling fan brace and outlet box
Ceiling fans tend to weigh a decent amount, so they’re mounted to joists above the ceiling using a bar-shaped brace. The brace gets screwed into the ceiling joists, and the ceiling fan then attaches to and hangs from the brace.
This particular ceiling fan brace is an excellent choice for several reasons. First, it can support ceiling fans up to 70 pounds (and light fixtures up to 150 pounds) – so it’s strong and sturdy. Second, it includes an electrical outlet box, and this box can be slid around and positioned anywhere on the bar – this is a very handy feature. Third, it includes all necessary mounting hardware.
Note: you want to get a brace that says it is for new construction. This is the industry term for saying that you have access to the attic above the room where the ceiling fan will be installed. New construction braces can only be installed if the attic is accessible. Ceiling fan braces that say remodel construction are for installation without access to the attic.
3. 14/2 NM-B cable (Romex)
Since there’s no existing electrical wiring overhead, we’ll need to run new wiring from a light switch to the ceiling fan. This means you’ll need NM-B cable (nonmetallic-sheathed), but everyone calls it by its brand name – Romex.
There are several important things to know about Romex. First, the 14 number in 14/2 refers to the Gauge (thickness) of the electrical wire, which determines the amount of electric current the wire can safely carry. The smaller the gauge, the thicker the wire and the more current the wire can carry (yes, gauge and thickness are inversely proportional). Most electrical wiring in a house is 14-Gauge, and you can tell 14-Gauge Romex because it is white in color (12-Gauge Romex, in contrast, is yellow in color). For this project, I rewired an existing light switch to control the ceiling fan, so I opened up the light switch to identify the color of the Romex inside the light switch outlet box.
Second, the 2 in 14/2 refers to how many electrical wires are in the Romex in addition to the ground wire. So 14/2 Romex will have three wires in total – a black (live/hot) wire, a white (neutral) wire, and a bare (ground) wire. You can use 14/2 Romex if you plan on controlling your ceiling fan from a single light switch. If you have a dual switch – where the fan and light can be controlled independently – then you’ll need 14/3 Romex, which will contain an additional red (also for live/hot) wire. Note that “smart” light switches exist now that can be installed on 14/2 wiring but still control the fan and light of a ceiling fan independently. So even if you initially go with 14/2 Romex and a single light switch, you can always upgrade the light switch later on without having to run new 14/3 Romex!
Finally, Romex comes in certain lengths: 25 feet, 50 feet, 100 feet, etc. So you need to have a rough idea of how much Romex you need. I went to the attic and mapped out: (1) where I thought the ceiling fan would go, (2) where the light switch was that I would be using to control the ceiling fan, and (3) how far down from the attic the light switch was. For my case 25 feet was sufficient, but remember that it’s always better to go with a longer mount of Romex and cut it down to size than it is to wish you had bought more Romex in the first place!
4. Wire stripper
We’ll be working a lot with electrical wires in this project – cutting them down to an appropriate length and then stripping the ends so we can connect electrical wiring together. A good wire stripper will make this project so much easier!
A voltmeter/multimeter is an absolute necessity when working with electricity. Even after you cut power at the main electrical panel in your house, it’s important to definitively know that current is not running through wires.
6. Stud finder
We’ll need to position the ceiling fan brace in between two ceiling joists – a stud finder is the best way to find where those joists are!
7. Power drill
We’ll need to make a hole in the ceiling drywall using a power drill. There’s also a lot of screws involved in this project, and a power drill will save a lot of time (compared to a manual screwdriver)! I’m a big fan of Makita tools ever since building a playground for my children, so I’ve got Makita everything.
8. Spade bits
A large spade bit will make drilling an initial hole in the ceiling drywall easy.
9. Drywall saw
We need to make a large, 4-inch (in diameter) circular hole in the ceiling drywall that’s the size of the ceiling fan electrical outlet box. After making an initial hole using a spade bit, you’ll need to switch to a drywall saw to finish making the hole.
We’ll be cutting power to the room where the new ceiling fan will be installed, so it’s a great idea to have a flashlight (or two) around. Break out the high-powered work lights if you’ve got them, or grab a couple of standard flashlights.
10. Step ladder
A lot of the work for this project will be taking place up on the ceiling of a room. A good step ladder is absolutely required!
11. Tarp/mattress protector
Making holes in drywall is very messy – placing a tarp or plastic mattress protector on the ground before making the hole will save a lot of clean-up time at the end of the project!
12. (Optional) 12-inch drill bits
A 12 inch long drill bit will make spotting the drill bit in the attic much easier! Also, if there’s any insulation or flooring/sheathing in the attic, this will help you drill up far enough through it all so that you can spot the location of the ceiling fan in the attic without having to take off a lot of insulation or sheathing.
13. (Optional) Laser level
I use a laser level to help mark where the ceiling fan brace will go on the ceiling. It’s also useful in determining the direction of the ceiling joists (do they run left-to-right along the width of the room, or up-and-down along the length of the room?).
14. (Optional) Tripod for laser level
Good laser levels can be screwed onto tripods, so you can use the laser level without having to hold it. A tripod for the laser level is particularly useful for this project since you have to aim the laser level up at the ceiling.
15. (Optional) Electrical fish tape
Running electrical wires through walls requires a wire/guide – in this case a wire/guide that runs down from the attic to the the light switch that will control the ceiling fan. This wire/guide will be used to pull up new Romex to the attic.
Free options exist, like straightened out coat hangers. Commercial options – like this electrical fish tape – will get the job done too.
Part 1: Installing the Ceiling Fan Brace
As I mentioned before, installing a new ceiling fan can be broken down into two main phases: (1) installing the ceiling fan brace, and (2) running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan. Here’s everything you need to do to install the ceiling fan brace. And remember, budget about 3-4 hours to complete this phase of the project.
Step 1: Mark the ceiling with an approximate location of where the ceiling fan will go
Use a tape measure to find the center of the room (or portion of the room) where the ceiling fan will be installed. Then drop a small object (a coin, for instance) on the floor to temporarily mark this centered location.
Next, using a step ladder and pencil, do your best to translate this centered location on the floor to the ceiling. A laser level and tripod will make this effortless, as all you have to do is position the laser level on the floor, then point it up at the ceiling:
This is the approximate location of where the ceiling fan will be installed.
Step 2: Adjust the location of where the ceiling fan will go so that it is roughly halfway between two ceiling joists
We marked an approximate location of where the ceiling fan will go in Step 1. However, we don’t know how close this location is to any ceiling joists. Remember – the ceiling fan gets secured to a ceiling fan brace, and this brace needs to be screwed into two ceiling joists. What we are doing in this step is making sure the marked location in Step 1 isn’t too close to a joist. If it is too close to a joist, simply move the location of the ceiling fan over a few inches (ideally you want to be about halfway in between two joists).
The ceiling joists are either going to run from left-to-right along the width of the room, or up-and-down along the length of the room. The below CAD diagrams show these two scenarios (ceiling joists are in red):
We need to know where the ceiling joists are because the ceiling fan brace (yellow in the below picture) gets screwed into two adjacent ceiling joists (blue in the below picture). Moreover, the electrical outlet box (green in the below picture) that’s on the brace has to fit in between the two joists as well, and it’s four inches in diameter. So you want to make sure the location you mark on the ceiling isn’t too close to a joist (and ideally is about halfway in between two joists).
A stud finder is the best way to find where the ceiling joists are. Run the stud finder on the ceiling, first along the width direction of the room (blue arrows in below picture), and then along the length direction of the room (yellow arrows in below picture). Again, a laser level will make this step easier:
Mark the locations of the closest two ceiling joists with a pencil. Now look at the locations of these two joists in relation to the approximate location from Step 1. If you are about halfway between two joists, you can move on to the next step. If you are too close to a joist (within four inches), move the location of the ceiling fan over a few inches (it’s best to be at least six inches away from a joist). Rest assured, no one will ever know that the ceiling fan is off-center by a few inches!
Note: in the next few steps we will be making a hole in the ceiling drywall, which is a very messy part of this project. You can save a lot of clean-up time by placing a tarp or plastic mattress protector on the ground now (before making the hole)!
Step 3: Make a small, preliminary hole in the ceiling drywall
Use a power drill to drill into the ceiling drywall at the location you marked in Step 2:
If you have one of the 12-inch brad point drill bits, use one to drill into the ceiling:
Drill up all the way, and leave the bit in the ceiling. Use some tape to secure the drill bit to the ceiling so it doesn’t fall out.
As you will see in the next step, the 12-inch bit will make spotting the drill bit in the attic much easier! Also, if there’s any insulation or flooring/sheathing in the attic, this will help you drill up far enough through it all so that you can spot the location of the ceiling fan in the attic without having to take off a lot of insulation or sheathing.
Step 4: Go to the attic and confirm that this location is adequately situated in between two ceiling joists
Before making a larger hole in the ceiling drywall, it’s always a good idea to check that this location is suitably positioned in between two ceiling joists. Here’s what things looked like when I went up to the attic, with the 12-inch drill bit (red arrow) clearly visible and roughly midway between two joists:
If for some reason this location is still too close to a joist, go back down and drill a better location in the ceiling drywall.
Step 5: Trace the circumference of the electrical outlet box onto the ceiling
The ceiling fan brace has a circular electrical outlet box. The hole that needs to be made in the ceiling has to be the size and shape of this outlet box. First, center the outlet box over the hole you just drilled into the ceiling. Then trace the circumference of the outlet box on the ceiling:
You can also use a drawing compass (set to the radius of the outlet box) if you have one.
Ultimately, you want to have tracing of the electrical outlet box that looks like this:
Step 6: Make a hole in the ceiling that’s the size of the electrical outlet box
Reminder: making holes in drywall is very messy! Place a tarp or plastic mattress protector on the ground – it will save you a lot of time cleaning up at the end of the project!
Now that the circumference of the electrical outlet box is traced on the ceiling, all that’s needed is to make a hole in the ceiling drywall this size. The outlet box is 4 inches in diameter, though, and it’s pretty tough to make a hole this large in one go. So, I split making the hole into two tasks: (1) an initial hole is made using a large spade bit, then (2) the rest of the hole is made using a drywall saw.
First, take the largest spade bit you have (the largest spade bit I had was 1-inch) and place it in the middle of the circle that’s traced on the ceiling:
Use a power drill to make an initial hole the size of the spade bit:
Now that there’s a large enough hole in the ceiling, you can use a drywall saw to finish making the rest of the hole. Slowly saw to the circumference of the tracing twice (close together) and rip off a small piece of the drywall. Then saw around the circumference of the tracing:
At the end of this step, there should be a 4-inch hole in the ceiling that looks something like this:
Note: don’t worry about smoothing the edges of the hole – it will not be visible after installing the ceiling fan canopy.
Step 7: Install the ceiling fan brace
Note: before you install the ceiling fan brace, make sure to remove one of the knockouts from the electrical outlet box! I have instructions on how to do that here: How to Remove a Knockout From an Electrical Outlet Box.
Head back up to the attic with the ceiling fan brace. Position the brace in between the two joists, then slide the electrical outlet box along the brace until it fits into the hole in the ceiling. Use the screws provided with the brace to screw it into the joists (red arrows):
After installing the ceiling fan brace, the only thing that will be visible is the electrical outlet box (this view is from the room below looking up at the ceiling):
Step 8: Mount the ceiling fan bracket to the electrical outlet box
The new ceiling fan will have a ceiling fan bracket (black bracket in the picture below). The bracket gets screwed into the outlet box, and the ceiling fan then hangs down from the bracket. The outlet box comes with two mounting screws (red arrows in the picture below) – use these to secure the bracket to the outlet box:
Take a moment to congratulate yourself – this completes the first part of installing a new ceiling fan! In the next part, we will be running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan.
Note: this is a good time to assemble the majority of the ceiling fan. That way you can hook up the ceiling fan after running new wiring to the electrical outlet box right away (without having to wait to assemble the ceiling fan).
Part 2: Running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan
As I mentioned before, installing a new ceiling fan can be broken down into two main phases: (1) installing the ceiling fan brace, and (2) running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan. We’ve just completed the first part of the project – now we can move on to the second phase. Here’s everything you need to do to run new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan. And remember, budget about 3-4 hours to complete this part of the project.
Step 1: Turn off electrical power to the room
For safety, you need to cut power to the room before running new electrical wiring for the ceiling fan. This can be done at the main electrical panel. Simply flip the circuit breaker that provides electricity to the room to “off”:
Use the voltmeter/multimeter to test outlets and ensure that electricity is no longer running to the room.
Step 2: In the attic, find the Romex running to the light switch
We need to run a new 14/2 Romex cable from the light switch in the room up to the attic and over to the ceiling fan electrical outlet box. So, head up to the attic and do your best to translate the location of the light switch in the room below to where it should be in the attic above. You’ll find a Romex cable (red arrow in the below picture) heading down to the light switch, like this:
Note: you might find additional wires heading down to the room (I also found an ethernet cable – blue arrow in the picture). Ignore these other wires. We just need to know how to access the light switch from the attic.
Step 3: Fish a wire/guide down from the attic to the light switch outlet box
Ultimately we will be in the attic above the room, and we will pull up the new 14/2 Romex that will power the ceiling fan to the attic. Before we can pull up the new Romex, though, we need a wire/guide that runs down from the attic to the the light switch.
I straightened out two wire coat hangers, taped them together, and used that as my wire/guide. There are also commercial options available – they’re called “fish tape”. I don’t think you really need to buy anything, though: straightened coat hangers work great.
Let me first show you what we are working toward in this step. We need to fish a wire/guide (blue arrow in below picture) down from the attic into the light switch outlet box:
Start in the attic with your wire/guide of choice (white arrow in the below picture), and repeatedly try to fish it down into the existing knockout of the light switch outlet box:
You might get lucky and get the wire/guide into the light switch outlet box on one of your first few attempts, or it might take you three hours. This is a tedious step of the project, but stick with it! Eventually you’ll get the wire/guide into the light switch outlet box. Make sure that the wire/guide has enough leeway such that you’ll be able to easily pull it back up from the room below. Also make sure that, once successfully fished, the wire/guide can’t accidentally fall down into the room below (otherwise you’ll have to repeat this step all over again!).
Once the the wire/guide is in the light switch outlet box, head down to the room below and pull it out of the light switch outlet box slightly:
Finally, attach the new Romex that will power the ceiling fan to the wire/guide (I used clear packaging tape):
Step 4: Pull the new Romex up to the attic
Head back up to the attic. Take the end of the wire/guide that’s here and gently pull up on it until the new Romex cable (white arrow in the below picture) is visible:
Once the new Romex is in the attic, run it over and into the ceiling fan electrical outlet box that you installed in the first part of this project:
Step 5: Wire the light switch to control the new ceiling fan
As I mentioned before, the rooms where I was installing the ceiling fans in had a light switch that controlled a nearby power outlet. I rewired this setup so that the power outlet would always be on (no longer controlled by the light switch), and instead used the light switch to control the new ceiling fan.
The main factor that determines how to handle electrical rewiring is where the power source enters the circuit. In this case, does power enter at the light switch or at the outlet? As luck would have it, I encountered both of these situations when installing ceiling fans in our house. So I wrote up detailed instructions for both scenarios – complete with diagrams and step-by-step explanations.
If the power source enters at the light switch, then follow these instructions: How to Rewire a Light Switch to Control a Ceiling Fan (Power Source Enters at the Light Switch). And if the power source enters at the outlet, follow these instructions: How to Rewire a Light Switch to Control a Ceiling Fan (Power Source Enters at the Outlet).
Note: only perform electrical work if you are comfortable and qualified to do so, otherwise consult an electrician. You’ve already done all the hard work of installing the ceiling fan brace and running new electrical wiring to the ceiling fan. An electrician can quickly come in and easily wire the ceiling fan for you!
Step 6: Place the ceiling fan downrod ball in the ceiling fan bracket
With an assembled 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 new Romex cable to the ceiling fan wiring
Connecting the electrical wiring to the ceiling fan 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):
Step 8: Attach the ceiling fan canopy to the ceiling fan bracket
The ceiling fan canopy hides all of the electrical wiring (and the hole in the ceiling drywall that we made earlier). 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 fans look like:
Step 9: Go back to the electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker that controls power to the ceiling fan to “on”
Time to turn the power back on! Return to the main electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker that controls the ceiling fan 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 install a new ceiling fan? Have any other questions regarding ceiling fans? Let me know in the comments below!
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