How to Install a Three-Wire Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans come in a wide variety of styles, colors and models.

Find the Supply Wires

Ceiling fans add style and comfort while saving energy.Ceiling fans add style and comfort while saving energy.
Some have lights attached that work independent of the fan motor. Wiring these models is not all that complicated and most people with a basic knowledge of electrical wiring can accomplish it in a short period of time. Follow these basic steps to wire your fan / light combination to a pair of switches to make them operate independently of each other or to a single switch to make them both operate at the same time.
Determine where the supply wires are.

Turn the power off at the circuit breaker panel. Remove the switch plate and switch from the box. See the illustration that accompanies these four steps.

Examine the wires in the box for one of two configurations. A single pair of wires that attach to the two terminals on the switch. No other wires are in the box. In this configuration, the supply wires are located in the ceiling box. You just need to determine which one is the hot supply wire. In the second configuration, four wires come into the box. One black wire attaches to the switch. A second, probably black wire, also attached to the switch, leaves the box with a white wire which is attached to the last wire, also probably white. In this case, the supply wires are probably in the switch box. Bare or green wires may also be in the box, but are not used in this step.

Remove the wire nut from the two white wires twisted together and capped by a wire nut. Remove this wire nut, but do not untwist the wires. Remove the black or colored wires from the switch. Do not allow any of the bare wires to touch each other.

Turn the power on and use a neon tester to find the "HOT" wire. Touch one probe to a black wire and one to a white wire or a bare ground wire or the metal box. If the lamp lights, the black wire is Hot. Turn the power off again and mark this wire as "Hot" so you remember. The white wire that comes in with it is the supply neutral.

Independent Fan / Light Operation

Wiring for independent operation.

Run two wires plus ground sheathed cable from the ceiling box to the switch box. The existing wires will be used for the fan, and the new wires will be used for the light.

Connect the hot supply wire to both switches. Do this by using two six-inch pieces of black wire, stripped at both ends and connected to the Hot supply wire. Strip the black hot supply wire and twist the end with the ends of the two six-inch pieces. Cap with a wire nut. Attach the other ends of the six-inch wires to the switches, one to each switch. It does not matter which of the two terminals you use.

Connect the two switches to the two black wires that run back to the ceiling box. Again, it does not matter which terminals you use on the switches.

Connect the two black wires attached to the switches to the ceiling fan's colored wires, one to each wire. Cap with wire nuts. Connect the white ceiling fan wire to the white neutral wire in the ceiling box. If this wire runs back to the switch box, then make sure that connection is made in the switch box as well. See the accompanying illustration. The white wire in the sheathed cable run in Step 1 is not used and should be capped with a wire nut on both ends.

There should be green or bare ground wires. All should be connected together and capped with wire nuts.

Mount the ceiling fan to the ceiling box per the fan manufacturer's instructions and complete any assembly steps. Place the switches in the switch box and secure with screws. Install the switch plate. Turn on the power and test the new ceiling fan. The fan and lights should now operate independently of each other.

Fan / Light on Same Switch

Wiring the fan and light to the same switch.

Connect both of the two colored wires from the fan to the black wire that runs to the switch. Twist them together and cap with a wire nut.

Connect the white wire from the fan to the white neutral wire. Twist them together and cap with a wire nut.

Make any final connections for ground. Ground wires are bare or green and should all be connected together by twisting the ends and capping with wire nuts.

Connect the wires to the switch. First connect the hot supply wire to either switch terminal. It doesn't matter which one. Then connect the wire that runs back to the ceiling box and to the two colored fan wires.

Reconnect the white neutral wires in the switch box, if any, and cap with wire nuts. Connect any ground wires that are not connected. Close up the switch box. Mount the ceiling fan to the ceiling box per the fan manufacturer's instructions and complete any assembly steps. Turn the power on and test the new fan.

Things You Will Need

  • Neon Voltage Tester
  • Two wire plus ground 14 AWG sheathed cable
  • Wire strippers
  • Long nose pliers
  • Side cutting pliers
  • Wire nuts

Tip

  • Some areas of the country don't allow the use of sheathed cable in new construction, but require conduit. In these cases, there may be different colored wires used. Many electricians will use one or two specific colors for switches, often yellow, tan or brown. Any color is allowed by code, except white or green. Black, red and blue are most often used for hot supply wires in these areas. If the area you live in does not allow sheathed cable, that is OK. You can still run a wire or two from the box to the switch. Use a fish tape (available at home centers) and pull the wires through the conduit. Three-way and four-way switches look similar to regular switches, but allow a light or fan to be turned on and off from different locations. If you want independent operation, you'll need to run an additional wire or wires between switch boxes. Check to see if there is an unused white wire to use, recode it to blue or red and use it as the traveler wire, the one connected to the black terminals on the switch.

Warning

  • Working on home wiring exposes you to potentially dangerous electrical voltages and currents. Always turn the power off and test to be sure the power is off before doing any electrical work. This procedure is straightforward for most beginners. However, if you are unsure or nervous about working with electrical wiring, or can't determine what wires are used for what purpose, hire a qualified electrician to do the work. Only use tools designed for working with electrical wiring. Standard light fixture boxes are not designed for the loads a ceiling fan imparts on the box. Make sure your box is a fan box and not a light fixture box. Follow all manufacturers instructions for assembling and mounting the fan to the ceiling box.

About the Author

Michael Logan is a writer, editor and web page designer. His professional background includes electrical, computer and test engineering, real estate investment, network engineering and management, programming and remodeling company owner. Logan has been writing professionally since he was first published in "Test & Measurement World" in 1989.