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Thread: ceiling fan and wiring questions

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member Todd Groendyke's Avatar
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    Default ceiling fan and wiring questions

    Hello:
    I recently purchased a 1950's house and I want to install a ceiling fan in the bedroom where there was a light fixture.

    The attached photos are the light fixture removed viewed from the bedroom with the wiring exposed and the fixture as viewed from the attic. I'm a novice with wiring, but it struck me as odd that there appears to be a white neutral bundled together with some hot wires (wiring bundle on the left).

    Question 1: Is there ever a reason to connect a neutral to a bundle of live wires, or was this a mistake by someone? Does this photo raise any other safety/red flags?

    Question 2: Does the existing support structure look sufficient to bear the weight of a ceiling fan. Its a metal rod attached by one screw at each end to the joists.

    Thank you so much for your time!!
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  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    The box is being used as a junction box, so yes, it is not uncommon to have multiple neutrals ( and hots) tied together there. Today, you'd find a wire nut or crimp on those wires...just twisting them together is not great, and that could be an issue. The only issue may be the box fill requirements...the size of the box must be sufficient for the number of cables coming in. Without knowing the actual volume of that box, can't say if it meets today's code. Last, not all boxes are rated to hold a ceiling fan. If it was not rated for that, you risk having it pull the whole thing loose and fall down on top of you.
    Jim DeBruycker
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    Electrician ActionDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Todd Groendyke View Post
    Question 1: Is there ever a reason to connect a neutral to a bundle of live wires, or was this a mistake by someone? Does this photo raise any other safety/red flags?
    It is not a mistake. It is not a neutral either. It is power down to a switch.

    Question 2: Does the existing support structure look sufficient to bear the weight of a ceiling fan. Its a metal rod attached by one screw at each end to the joists.
    You either need to install a fan rated box or support the fan independently from the box. A lot of ceiling fans come with provisions to screw the fan base into some wood framing.

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    DIY Junior Member Todd Groendyke's Avatar
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    It is not a mistake. It is not a neutral either. It is power down to a switch.
    Thanks for the response. So looking at the box from left to right, there is one bundle with 3 blacks and 1 white which was originally just wire nutted and not connected to the light fixture, followed by 1 black that was the power for the fixture, followed by a bundle with 3 white which were connected to the neutral of the fixture. If the white wire on the left is a power down to the switch, that would be 5 power wires and 3 neutral in the box... shouldn't the number of power and neutrals be equal in the box?

    Thanks again.

  5. #5
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    There ARE an equal number, namely 3, of hots and neutrals. The wires to and from the switch are independent. For want of a better description, they are a "feed and return" to the switch and light fixture.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Basically, you appear to have one hot circuit coming in that then daisy chains to somewhere else. THen, you have a cable that runs to the switch - hot to the switch, and when on, back again. Since the cable has a white and black in it, one of the leads goes down to the switch, and the other comes back up from it. It's not a bad idea to identify that one with some red tape (the normal convention for a 'switched' hot lead.
    Jim DeBruycker
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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    DIY Member teamo's Avatar
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    That box and support is not sufficient for the fan. The good news is that you have access above and there is plenty of slack in the cables to feed them into the new box. It can also be done from below with an adjustable fan support brace but since you have access above you can center the box in the hole properly and tighten down the arms into the joists. If you are unsure of the wiring then mark each wire with a label or tape so that you don't mess up the order.

  8. #8
    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by teamo View Post
    That box and support is not sufficient for the fan. The good news is that you have access above and there is plenty of slack in the cables to feed them into the new box. It can also be done from below with an adjustable fan support brace but since you have access above you can center the box in the hole properly and tighten down the arms into the joists. If you are unsure of the wiring then mark each wire with a label or tape so that you don't mess up the order.
    The other good news is that you have cable at all. I often am working with emt from the '40's, which makes making a change a pain. And the insulation is rubber with cloth, which when set over a ceiling light fixture, with all its heat, can be assumed to be utterly brittle.

    You MUST delete that box and put in a proper fan rated box. If you are VERY lucky the insulation on the conductors will cooperate. Have someone down in the room help you feed them thru the pop outs into the attic, and then back into the new box.
    '
    If the cables fall to bits, don't fret. Pull them back two feet and install new box(s) in the attic facing up, make the connections up there, and then run a short length of NM to the new fan box.

    Bon Chance.

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    Electrician ActionDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeownerinburb View Post
    You MUST delete that box and put in a proper fan rated box.
    No, he MUSN'T if he is able to support the fan idepedent of the box. Since the existing box is against a ceiling joist some long wood screws will get the job done.

  10. #10
    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ActionDave View Post
    No, he MUSN'T if he is able to support the fan idepedent of the box. Since the existing box is against a ceiling joist some long wood screws will get the job done.
    None of the inspectors I know would settle for wood screws.

    All the fans I have seen in the last eight years or so have essentially the same design of hanging yolk, that receives a ball from the drop rod. Some are ambidextrous and do without the rod but then the fan hangs from the same yolk. The inspector is going to demand (or all that I know) that the yolk be properly secured with lag bolts.

    The yolk must be secured on both sides, which it cannot do here and be centered on the existing box.

    I have a not dissimilar situation on a fan project my neighbor wants me to do. He has an exposed, very large beam, looks to be 4x8 or more, down the center of his living room, and it is way high up. Cool thing is the ceiling there is faux, there is some space between the top of the beam and the actual roof.

    Now there, I could bore a hole straight up thru, and lag the yolk to the beam, centered on the hole. But I don't want to have my electrical junctions up against the wood.

    Thinking of getting some steel plate made up the diameter of his fan's top bezel, so that I create a space that will not flam if some sparks get going.
    Last edited by Homeownerinburb; 07-22-2013 at 07:55 PM.

  11. #11
    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Your wires are insulated with some sort of plastic, not old rubber and cloth. If the insulation is showing no indication of brittleness and breaking away, you really should just replace the box.

    There is a box that has a large flange next to it, that you could just lag bolt to the ceiling joist there. The hole in the ceiling would probably not need to be opened hardly at all.

    Or there are boxes for "old work" that have a square, telescoping rod that runs perpendicular to the joists, and has barbs that sink into the wood, The box can be mounted anywhere along the rod.

    They are designed for your application except that it is assumed that you have no attic access. Seeing as you do have attic access, one of those would be unbelievably easy to install. And the wires could all go back in nice and easy.

    Get the deepest one you can find. It is never bad to have more room in the box than you actually need.

    And there should be little opportunity to get confused by the wires. There is only one non-obvious item in there. The white wire connected to all the black wires is taking constant hot down to a switch, you will see that it is in the same piece of cable that the lone black wire is in.

    When you start to separate the wires:

    First, wrap that individual black with red tape.

    Then disassemble the black wires and the one white wire. Wrap the white wire with black tape.

    Then disassemble the white wires, pull it all out of the box.

    Assembly is the reverse of disassembly, as they say.

    That is, if you want to control the fan/light from the switch. You may want to fish down a three conductor wire in order to have a dimmer/speed control for the fan in the switch box.

    If so, ask for more guidance.
    Last edited by Homeownerinburb; 07-22-2013 at 09:07 PM.

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    DIY Senior Member bluebinky's Avatar
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    If the fan/fixture you use says something like "for use with 90 degree C wires only", then you will have to cut back the old wires and splice them in another box(es) away from the fan box. I never noticed a fan saying that, but a lot of light fixtures do...

  13. #13
    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluebinky View Post
    If the fan/fixture you use says something like "for use with 90 degree C wires only", then you will have to cut back the old wires and splice them in another box(es) away from the fan box. I never noticed a fan saying that, but a lot of light fixtures do...
    Yes, not likely, the wires in the box are pretty remote from any of the heat creating elements of the fan. Good to look for, though.

    Someday I'll read the blasted instructions.....

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