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November 23, 2011 6:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I turn off a ceiling fan that has been running for months, short of calling an electrician?

My mother has a ceiling fan (no light) in her living room that has been running since the summer. If you pull the chain to turn it off, nothing happens. I took apart the bottom piece to see if I could pull the switch from the inside, but the switch mechanism seems to be inaccessible. I can see where the chain is broken between the external casing and the switch.

It's getting cold, and she would really like the fan to not be on full speed. Her plan is to get an electrician to come replace the fan once she has the money, but I'd like to see if I can help in the meantime. Is there something that I'm not thinking of? Some trick to get the fan just to be off until it can be replaced? We have tried cutting the power, but the fan turns right back on once the power is restored. Can I just turn off the power, open it up, and cut wires until it doesn't come back on? Help!
posted by tryniti to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
For lack of any electrical solutions, could you cut the power, then remove the blades, and restore power. The motor would still run, at at least it would be freezing out the maternal unit.
posted by timsteil at 6:17 AM on November 23, 2011

Can I just turn off the power, open it up, and cut wires until it doesn't come back on?

Yes, pretty much, but you don't have to cut, and you should be careful with the new ends.

Turn off the power at the junction box, circuit breaker, whatever you call it. Open the lid. There will places where two wires are twisted together and capped off with a bright colored plastic wire nut. Buy a couple more wire nuts or a roll of electrical tape. Twist the existing wire nut off (like unthreading a lid) and pull the wires apart. Fold the bare wire part back on each one, and cap each single end with a wire nut or a wrap of electrical tape. Ideally when you step back from this, none of the wires are smashed up against each other, but they're capped now so it doesn't really matter. Still with the lid off so you can watch, turn the circuit back on. Stays off? Good. No sparks or smells funny? Good. Put the lid back on. Replace the fan at your leisure.

disclaimer - I am not an electrician, merely a homeowner.
posted by aimedwander at 6:19 AM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cutting random wires inside an appliance and then reconnecting the power isn't really a good way to solve this.

Probably the most straightforward thing you can do without calling an electrician is this:

1. Shut off power.

2. Remove the fan completely from the ceiling. It's probably mounted on a bracket. You'll almost certainly find that you're left with two (or maybe three) wires extending from a hole in the ceiling.

3. Bend the exposed end of each wire back on itself, then use electrical tape to thoroughly wrap the exposed wire so as to prevent any accidental contact. Don't attempt to stuff the wires back up through the hole - just leave them protruding.

4. Switch the power back on.

5. Avoid swinging metal objects around near the ceiling.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Jeez - you wasted power on this thing for months? It's simple enough to stop it turning but you want to stop throwing away energy. Just cut the power and open up either the switch or the fan and cut and tape off the current carrying wire.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:24 AM on November 23, 2011

Here's a better idea - cut power to the thing via the breaker box, and flip the little switch on the side to reverse it. That way, it's spinning the other way and pushing the hot air back down to the floor. Lower heating bills!

If you just want to kill it, yeah, the above recommendations work.
posted by notsnot at 6:29 AM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

When capping the wires, it is important to make sure the connection is secure. Wire nuts should be physically secure- you should be able to yank on them pretty strongly and they will remain on. If you've done it right, you should not be able to see the metal conductor of the wire. Then tape them with electrical tape. Belt and suspenders.

Make sure you buy the right size wire nut, there are different sizes. The wire gauge in the ceiling will probably be 16 or 14. There should be a nut of the right size to cap off a bare wire of that size, maybe ask the person at the store to help you with the right size.

On preview: notsnot has the safer/easier answer: switch directions to pull the air up toward the ceiling, where it will then cascade down the walls and not feel as breezy. This is what you want a ceiling fan to do in the heating season.
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, if you decide to disconnect, be careful. You are dealing with 110v AC power, that stuff kills if you make a mistake. The rule is to make absolutely sure the power is off, and then also work as if it is on- never touch the conductors, never, never touch two metal things at once.
posted by gjc at 6:37 AM on November 23, 2011

You don't need to do any of those things--you just said the string's broken. The fan's wired to be always on, and you control it by the pull-string. You just need to replace that, just like you would on a lamp or any other device operated by a pull-string switch. Go to your hardware store and get a replacement switch and swap it out. It's actually really easy (here's just one site).
posted by resurrexit at 6:44 AM on November 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

"I took apart the bottom piece to see if I could pull the switch from the inside, but the switch mechanism seems to be inaccessible."

Then you haven't taken it apart enough. Keep messing with it!
posted by resurrexit at 6:45 AM on November 23, 2011

le morte de bea arthur has it right. Kill the power at the breaker and pull the fan down. If it hangs down from the ceiling by a length of tubing or cable, then you should be able to get at the wires by pulling any decorative cowling up around the ceiling. That's probably where they wired it in. Just disconnect wires there and be sure to wrap them well before turning the power back on.
posted by ghostiger at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2011

I like the idea of cutting the power and removing the fan blades. Less chance for you to die or set something on fire.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2011

Look for a little switch on the side that lets you choose forward or reverse spin; nudge it to stick in the very middle; that worked for my no-off-switch ceiling fan.
posted by stuph at 12:34 PM on November 23, 2011

If you just remove the fan blades without shutting anything off then the motor will be spinning away up there, wasting power and wearing itself out. It will probably be spinning much faster than it was intended to as well, which will certainly wear it out faster and may even put it in danger of overheating and starting a fire. I would not do this.

Any of the several solutions to shutting the fan off for good sound workable. Personally I'd lean toward trying to repair the fan by replacing the switch, but if you don't feel like you're up to that then one of the solutions involving wire nuts/electrical tape (wire nuts are better, tape is more likely to degrade if left up there for a long time, which could be dangerous) would be pretty simple to accomplish.
posted by Scientist at 1:39 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

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