Ceiling fan wobble (I should have known better)
April 23, 2014 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I recently installed a small ceiling fan, replacing a flush mounted light in a bedroom. I did not upgrade the box, or add bracing. I should have, I know. The electrical box is side mounted to a joist, and seemed very stable. The fan has a bit of wobble. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but there is room for improvement. The house doesn’t currently have access to the attic, but I will be cutting a new access hole for an upcoming insulation project, so I’ll soon be able to get to the electrical box from above. Can I improve the wobble of the fan by adding in wooden brace(s) and somehow screwing the existing box to the brace? I am not interested in taking the whole fan down and replacing the box. I am only interested in solutions that do not require uninstalling and re-installing the fan. Thanks in advance
posted by walkinginsunshine to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Just to check: did you balance the fan when you installed it? Because if you didn't, that should be your first step--you may not have to do anything else.
posted by MeghanC at 9:55 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding MeghanC's advice.. Sometimes it's taping a nickle to the off-blade to balance it.
posted by k5.user at 10:01 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a dangerous situation; even if the box "seemed very stable" when you installed the fan, that sort of wobbling motion is exactly the kind of thing that can work the fasteners loose over time, resulting in a catastrophic failure (heavy fan and live wiring falling from the ceiling onto whoever or whatever is below) months or years down the road. So if you don't uninstall the fan, you are running a real risk that it will violently uninstall itself at a time of its own choosing, almost certainly while the room is occupied (because otherwise the fan wouldn't be running.)

The problem with trying to brace the box without taking the fan down is that the box contains electrical wiring (and maybe a fan control box, too) and it would be tough to drill through it without risking damage to those things. If the box has any sort of exterior mounting tabs you might be in better shape, but few do. I suppose you could mitigate the screw-loosening effects of the wobble (the box is at least attached to the joist with strong screws rather than nails, I hope?) by building a tight wood frame around the outside of the box, screwing it solidly into the existing framing on both sides of the bay and using construction adhesive to attach it to the metal box itself. I would also look for any spot you can get a piece of thin wire rope looped through two holes in the box, then affix that securely to framing as a safety measure in case the worst happens.

As far as addressing the wobble itself, fans are designed to wobble when unbalanced as a means of taking some of the strain off the framing and it's likely that bracing the box would make no difference in the wobble. You should follow the manufacturer's instructions for balancing the fan, as MeghanC suggests (it probably came with some weights.) But please do also deal with the mounting situation, from the sound of things there is a significant chance of it injuring or killing somebody or burning your house down.
posted by contraption at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't need access from above to add a brace. Look for a "ceiling fan brace for old work". It has a telescoping brace that unscrews to add a brace bar that you can attach a new box to. They work quite well.
posted by tumble at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're only interested in solutions that don't involve uninstalling the fan, I would cordon off the area directly below and six feet on all sides beneath it. Maybe you can use cones, I believe Governor Christie has some.

As Mr. contraption said so well, this is an extremely dangerous situation you've created, that only replacing the electrical box will resolve. Many boxes are made of flimsy plastic and attached with 2 nails that don't drive very far into to the stud or joist. Even a heavy light fixture could pull them out.

Not only could someone be seriously hurt, but you are most certainly in violation of the electrical code. I wonder if in the event of an accident, your insurance company would balk at paying for any liability you might incur. But the safety of your family and friends should be ample motivation for you to fix it.

As tumble mentioned, the telescoping braces are easy to install, don't require access from above, and work well. Don't leave it as it is.
posted by PaulBGoode at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

How old is your construction? Electrical boxes rated for ceiling fan installation came along at the end of the 1980's, and are required most places nowadays in electrical code, due to the potential for people to do what you did. The box will be labeled "Suitable for use with ceiling fan". If your box does not say this, take the fan down now.

You can install the fan to the joist using wood screws or sheet metal screws, and use a "ceiling medallion" to cover the hole.

If you actually have a fan outlet box, then make sure all the screws are tightened and use the blade balance kit that came with the fan to balance the fan.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2014

Actually, I retract my advice about adding half-assed bracing from above, PaulBGoode's idea of cordoning off the area under the fan is really the only safe option under the constraints you've specified.
posted by contraption at 3:21 PM on April 23, 2014

Thanks all for the advice! The electrical box is ceiling rated and secured with screws to the stud. I had forgotten about the weights - taping a nickel worked. No more wobble!
posted by walkinginsunshine at 5:13 PM on April 23, 2014

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