Blades -- A home repair mystery -- ceiling fans

It was a dark and muggy night. I was working late and got home to a home full of thick damp July night air. I switched on a ceiling fan, but it just stood there, as still and quiet as the soggy bleakness of the Midwest summer. "Hmmph. Another broken ceiling fan." You see, in this house there are only seven ceiling fans, and more than half of them have met an untimely death in the last year. I can't say for sure that this is a serial killing, and autopsies are hard to come by, but here's the facts about the ceiling fans: the master bedroom, the kitchen and the den have the three working ones; the gazebo, the entryway, and the other two bedrooms have the four that have failed this year. I'm no 60 cycle gumshoe, I prefer the safety and comfort of digital logic, but I did try rebooting the house, one circuit-breaker at a time and hunting down all the GFCI resets... no effect. A check of the neighborhood revealed hotness on the wall switches leading to the fans. Is my luck really that bad? What do these poor victims have in common, other than they are fans? I needed answers like I needed air movement. Could some sort of electrical tsunami simple wash upon my shores and vanish, laying waste to these hearty induction motors whilst sparing all my more delicate and expensive electronics? "Well, maybe I'm not so unlucky after all," I mumbled out loud. Could it be that a house would be wired with four ceiling fans, sort of scattered around the house, on a common circuit? Could it be that this circuit has suddenly failed in a way that didn't merely trip the breaker? Could it really be that one of these failed ceiling fans has a separate circuit for its attached lighting? A problem as sticky as the heavy motionless mass fogging up my glasses, a problem for the fine folks at ahr to help me out with. -LZ
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Well written.
Thank you.
I wish I had some idea of a diagnosis or cure to offer you.
You have earned it.
--
Jim McLaughlin

Reply address is deliberately munged.
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Is it possible that there is a second switch on each of the fans that controls speed? Perhaps a pull chain that goes off, low, medium, high? And that someone turned them off? Are the wall switches simple on-off toggles or are they speed controls?
Lou Zher wrote:

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Lou Zher wrote:

Nice post.
Hotness on the switches leading to the fans? Dimmer switches? First thing I would check is the speed setting (3 way pull chain) on the fan's motor. If you have anything other than a standard toggle switch on the wall the fan needs to always be on hi-speed. Some fans are not compatible with dimmer switches no matter what setting they are on. Last house I had the previous owner had installed dimmers on all of the fans causing the motors to hum (not good for motors). Changed to regular on/off switches and the motors ran fine with no humming.
If the above is not the case check the voltage at a few outlets throughout the house. Motors are designed to run at a specific voltage and behave badly when they don't get what they want. Transformers on the pole do go bad and electric lights will work fine but motors and electronics can suffer damage. Anything else in the house behaving poorly like a microwave? Tough to tell without taking the cover off of the electrical panel but were/are all the bad fans on the same leg of the electrical service?
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Lou Zher wrote:
<snipped> I did try rebooting the house, one

Questions:
1. When you say "hotness" I presume you're trying to sound like you're "one of the boys" and are using that term to mean VOLTAGE. If not, and you really meant that the wall switches are all thermally HOT, then pull the main breaker move everyone out of the place and get a pro there fast!
2. What did you measure that "hotness" with? If it was a digital multimeter, you may have been fooled by capacitive coupling allowing just enough nanoamps through to give you a meter reading, without any real current capability beyond that. If you're a digital guy you oughta know, digital stuff can run on microamps, fans take AMPS. You may have an open connection on the 120 volt (black) wire somewhere ahead of those switches and the meter is fooling you by reading a 'phantom' voltage.
3. What did you measure that "hotness" with respect to. If it was ground, and not the neutral return, you may have an open neutral connection somewhere.
Best to use a light bulb to see if you've really got power available between the output terminal of one of those fan switches and the neutral (white) wire going up to the fan.
4. Did you ever learn what paragraph breaks are?
HTH,
Jeff

--
Jeffry Wisnia
(W1BSV + Brass Rat \'57 EE)
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Jeff Wisnia wrote:

[...]
No, it could have been the relative quality of his housemate who was helping with the project.
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Yes, I measured w/ a DVM, but I can tell the diff between a floater and a solid 120. I measured against a nearby wall outlet's return 'cause the wall switch is hot-side only. You nailed it. I have an open return which is why three of the four don't work. Something I couldn't tell until I got upon a ladder, dropped the canopy and spun off the nuts. The fourth fan, the one with the light fixture, is fried. TFTH -LZ

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wrote:

What is the nature of these fans? Are they cheap, Wal-Mart ceiling fans or better quality fans that you might expect to last? Are all of the fans from the same manufacturer? Were the fans professionally installed, or put in by someone with little electrical experience?
Have you encountered any other electrical abnormalities in the house? Light bulbs that blow far too frequently? Lights that dim or brighten when appliances start or stop? Are the wall swiches cheap and cheesey? Has lightning recently hit the house?
Then, there is the ultimate in low-tech ceiling fan questions: Did somebody pull the chain to turn the fan off, rather than using the wall switch?
Sy
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