Before I start, I'll note that I'm about 50/50 on calling in an
electrician over this. I don't want to waste money and this seems
like a very simple electrical install, but I also don't want to either
kill myself or my new ceiling fan.
Anyway, I just bought a ceiling fan to replace another one that had
mysteriously died just after a somewhat shady electrician had come in
and done some work. We called him back, he tested the wiring and said
we had power, so yeah, the fan was just dead. It *was* old, and a
cheap piece of junk. So we bought a new one.
I decided I was going to hang it myself. I took the old one down and
then used a neon tester to test the wires. I have only one black and
one white wire; nothing else. I assume the junction box itself is
grounded, my neon tester lights up when i touch black wire to junction
Problem is it *also* lights up if I connect white wire to junction
box, which doesn't seem right and isn't what other sites have said
should happen. Seems this wire is live, or the junction box is.
Wondering if this killed my old ceiling fan.
Am I off track here? Should I call in an electrician or am I just not
testing right? Everywhere I've read says black to ground should light
my tester, white to ground should not.
Thanks for any help...
What you have read is correct. Something is clearly wrong with the wires at
that box. There is probably nothing wrong with the old fan as well. I would
call in a new electrician and show the ceiling outlet to him and show him
whatever the other "electrician" touched
IF (note emphasis) the junction box IS grounded, and when you say
"connect white wire to junction box" you are really trying to tell us
that you are connecting one side of the neon tester to the white wire
and the other side of the neon tester to the junction box, then it's
odds on that the white wire is disconnected somewhere along the way from
that fan junction box to your breaker panel and the neon bulb is
lighting because of capacitive coupling of the voltage on the black wire
to the "floating" white wire which can deliver the few microamps needed
to make the bulb light.
From your writings I'm not sure you know enough about what you are
doing to find the fault, but with the breaker for that circuit off, open
up the switch box for the switch controlling power to that fan and see
if you can spot where the white wire coming down from the fan's junction
box connects, and whether maybe that connection sprung loose from a
poorly installed wirenut or something.
If you don't spot anything there, I'd suggest you call in a competant
electrician and have him find out what the first "shady" guy screwed up.
Maybe if you are lucky you can have the new electrician reconnect your
old fan, see it run fine, and return the new fan to the place you bought
it for credit.
There is no switch that this circuit is connected to. It's a straight
What I *will* check is the connections in the junction box itself, I
guess. Both the white and black wires are connected to other white
and black wires in the box. I guess that connection may have come
loose. All of this is some pretty old wiring, though; I don't know
how it could have come disconnected, and at least by eye it looks like
it's still got a solid connection.
Well, luckily I wanted to replace the old fan anyway; this just gave
me an excuse. It was one of those ugly $50 fans, it was too small for
the room and it's probably 25 years old. So I'll keep the new fan
I guess I'll see if I can't figure out where/if the white wire is
disconnected. And maybe I'll buy a voltmeter. Let's say I test the
black wire to the box and the white wire to the box, and the latter is
extremely low voltage - just enough to light up my neon. Could that
be ok? You can tell I know very little about electrical stuff - I
know to turn off a circuit while working on it, I know how to follow
instructions that say "connect the white wire to the white wire", but
beyond that, I'm probably pretty lost.
I probably should have been clearer about what my earlier electrician
did (I was in a hurry while writing) - he actually didn't touch this
circuit before the fan died, which is what's weird about it. He was
up in the ceiling in another room, and it was right after that that
the fan died, but I verified by testing the breakers that he was on a
whole other circuit. So I don't know what he could have done that
would have affected this, but I thought it was a little suspicious.
He *did* originally move that ceiling fan from another room into the
living room, but that was like a year ago and it worked fine all
through the previous summer. So he *has* touched that circuit in the
past, but he thought it must have been coincidence that the fan died
right after he was at my house the last time, and I was inclined to
agree after testing which circuits he was actually working on. But
now I'm not so sure.
Bottom line question I guess is, if I buy a voltmeter and it turns out
the white wire voltage is there but extremely low, should I go ahead
and connect the fan? Or should I call in a new electrician regardless
of anything? I have enough skills to turn breakers on and off and to
test exposed wires, but no way am I going to be able to go digging
around my house myself trying to figure out where a bunch of stray
voltage is coming from.
I wouldn't advise spending money on a meter just yet.
If you purchase a solid state digital voltmeter it's input impedance
will be very high and if in fact the problem IS an open white (neutral)
lead combined with capacitive coupling from the black (hot) wire that
caused the neon tester to light when connected between the white wire
and the junction box, then that digital voltmeter will also indicate
that there's a voltage there, albeit without much capacity to deliver
more than a few microamps of current. So, you won't have learned much
more than you've found out already.
What I DIDN'T read in your posts is whether you actually TRIED wiring up
the new fan to the black and white wires and it didn't work, or if you
were just checking things out before installing it.
Try this; Rather than having to schlepp the fan up a ladder, just
connect a table lamp's cord across the black and white wires in that
junction box. You can do that relatively safely by attaching the white
and black wires to the screw terminals on a duplex receptical (with the
breaker for that circuit off, of course), plugging the lamp's cord into
that receptical and then turning on the breaker.
If you can light the table lamp that way, chances are very good that the
new fan will work OK when wired in. It the table lamp doesn't light with
that connection, then it's back to being a good bet that the white wire
in that junction box doesn't have a solid electrical connection all the
way back to the breaker panel's neutral bar, and you or someone else is
going to have to find out why that is, and fix whatever's bad.
Checking before the install - I was worried about actually overloading
the motor and/or shocking myself or my wife while turning it on. I
didn't know what killed my old fan, so I didn't want to risk murdering
another one by the same cause...
I will definitely try this. Hadn't thought of it before. I've even
got a spare receptacle lying around that I hadn't installed yet that I
can use. Thanks!
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