Ceiling fan repair -- bad capacitor

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A friend of mine was asked to repair a Harbor Breeze ceiling fan. He was told that the pull chain for the fan switch had pulled out and was missing. When he opened it up, it was true that the chain for the fan switch had pulled out. It's a 3-way 4-wire fan switch and he bought a replacement switch but hasn't put it in yet.
But, when he opened up the ceiling fan he found that the capacitor had burned and melted. Here are 3 photos (in .jpg and URL link form) of the damaged capacitor:
http://i45.tinypic.com/j9o5g5.jpg
http://i47.tinypic.com/102jry9.jpg
http://i50.tinypic.com/kdk7l2.jpg
http://tinypic.com/r/j9o5g5/6
http://tinypic.com/r/102jry9/6
http://tinypic.com/r/kdk7l2/6
It turns out that finding Harbor Breeze support or parts through the manufacturer is apparently a virtual impossibility. The Harbor Breeze ceiling fans are sold at Lowes, and Lowes has some parts such as switches, but Lowes does not sell capacitors.
We found at least two online third party sources that sell ceiling fan capacitors, and my friend just ordered the replacement capacitor. It should arrive next week.
I didn't even know that ceiling fans had a capacitor in them, and I don't know what the capacitor does. We just saw the burnt and melted part and figured out through some Internet searching that it is a capacitor.
My question are:
1) Given the burnt and melted condition of the capacitor as shown in the photos, is it possible (or likely) that the ceiling fan motor itself is also bad?;
and,
2) What does the capacitor do; and do capacitors sometimes just burn and melt like this one did without that being caused by something else such as a bad motor?
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P.S. The photos were taken with a high megapixel camera, so zooming in on each photo for a close up view is possible if that would be helpful.
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Capacitors are a weak link in any electronic device. They're sensitive to heat, age, voltage surges and are easy to manufacture in large quantities with poor quality which means they work for a while and then fail. The capacitors in the pictures appear to be the ones used for the fan speed selection. It's certainly not uncommon for capacitors to fail and to heat up, melt plastic and turn black before they do.
Tomsic
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Tomsic wrote:

Thanks. That's good to know.
In the second photo of the three which shows the back of the capacitor, in the center of the area where the plastic is melted there is a silver area that is some kind of melted metal -- lead, solder, or whatever.
Hopefully, replacing it with the new capacitor will fix the problem.
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Tom,

Possible yes, likely no.

Without going into theory these are "motor run" capacitors and maybe a "motor start" capacitor. They help to shift the phase of the magnetic field. You get more torque to spin the motor.
and do capacitors sometimes just burn and

Yes, capacitors fail with age. They are a common point of failure.
Dave M.
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On 7/20/2012 1:03 AM, TomR wrote:

That is a fairly common cause of fan failures. I have had it happen more than once. The failure shouldn't cause any other damage to the fan. Replace it and the fan should be as good as new.
My problem the last time I replaced one was that they are hard to find locally. It used to be that most hardware stores carried them, but they don't any more.
Bill
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responding to http://www.homeownershub.com/maintenance/ceiling-fan-repair-bad-capacitor-705530-.htm DA wrote: TomR wrote:

Don't waste your time trying to find a Harbor Breeze capacitor (or any other replacement part for that matter). Harbor Breeze as well as its cousin Hampton Bay (sold at HD) are just brands owned by marketing companies that themselves appear to be nothing more than fronts for a conglomerate of Chinese manufacturers. It's quite possible that both are in the end manufactured in the same place, just the US fronts are different. The whole setup is not geared towards repair of any kind, just replacement of the entire unit if still under warranty or, they hope, purchasing a new one if the warranty had expired.

I think the motor is fine. The melting of the capacitor is suggestive of over-current condition or a manufacturing defect which quite possibly was there from the beginning. In either case, the motor's windings are capable of withstanding higher currents and the motor's metal body parts are capable of losing excess heat much better than a resin-encapsulated capacitor. So, the capacitor is likely to go first.

There's always a reason but it may be a transient one and may be hard to pinpoint, especially if it's the first occurrence which may end up being the only one. It could have been something that was obstructing the blades during a start at one time or perhaps some dust made its way into bearings and made the start harder. Best course of action right now is to just replace the capacitor (a $15 item) and see if the problem persist.
Look for 4.5/6/6 capacitor on the Net, there should be some on offer. A quick search on Amazon yielded this: (Amazon.com product link shortened) which is a 4.5/5/6 mkF, not an exact replacement but should work. Also, your original one is 350V for the 4.5 mkF capacitor (there are three individual capacitors in there) and that seems to be a bit hard to find. I think your best bet would be to either stick with 250V for all three (it's a 120V device anyway) or perhaps get three individual ones of proper value and connect them as indicated on the original capacitor (grey is common for all three and the rest are color coded).
Since you have the fan down and accessible, be sure to use the opportunity to check and oil the bearings.
------------------------------------- /\_/\ ((@v@)) NIGHT ():::() OWL VV-VV
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DA wrote:

Thanks. That's all good and helpful information.
I just ordered the replacement capacitor from this company:
http://crs-industries.com/Capacitors/c12/p17/4.5+6+6uf -(5-wires)/product_info.html?osCsid=jvld385rn0tupp5hlhe76k9qo0 .
As you mentioned, they didn't have one that said 350 VAC, but since it is a 110 VAC circuit the 250 VAC replacement part made sense to me too so I just ordered it.
There were only 3 online ceiling fan capacitor companies that I had found so far. One didn't appear to have this size capacitor. Another (which had the part) requires a $25 minimum order plus a $10 minimum shipping charge. The company above that I ordered from was the least expensive and has a direct online ordering system that worked. The part was $13.50 plus $4.96 for UPS shipping for a total of $18.46.
From what you and others wrote, I have a feeling that this will fix the problem. I assume that it will take about a week to get the part and then I'll post back how it worked out.
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On 7/20/2012 11:12 AM, TomR wrote:

http://crs-industries.com/Capacitors/c12/p17/4.5+6+6uf -(5-wires)/product_info.html?osCsid=jvld385rn0tupp5hlhe76k9qo0 .
The 250VAC capacitor should be ok, but remember that 120 volts is the RMS value; the peak could be as high as 177 volts. There are a lot of ebay stores that sell parts for fans. I just ordered an new remote control unit from one of them.
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On 7/20/2012 10:01 AM, Art Todesco wrote:

The voltage across the capacitor and the voltage across the motor winding are out of phase. Adding the voltages can be much higher than 120V. Just in case the new cap fails....
There is also a big difference between "start" and "run" capacitors. "Run" caps are much higher quality.
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http://crs-industries.com/Capacitors/c12/p17/4.5+6+6uf -(5-wires)/product_info.html?osCsid=jvld385rn0tupp5hlhe76k9qo0 .
Just an update that we still waiting for the part to arrive, but it is being tracked via the USPS website.
I'll post back when it arrives and is installed and report the final outcome.
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TomR wrote:

Thanks for everyone's help with this. Here's the final outcome.
I ordered the capacitor online for about $13.50 plus $5 shipping. The person I was helping with this project put it in yesterday. He also replaced the old pull chain switch that the chain had pulled out of and was bad.
The capacitor worked like a charm and the fan motor now works perfectly.
Regarding the switch -- at first he thought he did something wrong with the switch because the lights didn't work. The he figured out that all of the bulbs were burnt out -- duh. He thinks that maybe the bulbs got damaged will moving the fan back and forth from his shop etc. He replaced the bulbs and all is well.
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Thanks for the follow up report. I'm pleased it all worked out.
Ceiling fans are very rough on bulbs -- they may need "rough service" bulbs.
Christopher A. Young Learn more about Jesus www.lds.org .
Thanks for everyone's help with this. Here's the final outcome.
I ordered the capacitor online for about $13.50 plus $5 shipping. The person I was helping with this project put it in yesterday. He also replaced the old pull chain switch that the chain had pulled out of and was bad.
The capacitor worked like a charm and the fan motor now works perfectly.
Regarding the switch -- at first he thought he did something wrong with the switch because the lights didn't work. The he figured out that all of the bulbs were burnt out -- duh. He thinks that maybe the bulbs got damaged will moving the fan back and forth from his shop etc. He replaced the bulbs and all is well.
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On Fri, 17 Aug 2012 12:15:41 -0400, "Stormin Mormon"

If the blades are properly balanced, they're not too hard on bulbs. In four years, the only ceiling fan bulbs I've lost were the ones on the back porch, in a fan that's never used. Three of the four went.
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snipped-for-privacy@att.bizzzzzzzzzzzz wrote:

When I used 100W bulbs in my ceiling fan which has a globe, I was going through them practically monthly. When I switched to 60W, I got more normal bulb-lifetimes.
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Forgot to mention, that the outside fan was one of six in the house with lights. None of the other lights has failed in that four years.

What was the rating on the fixture?
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snipped-for-privacy@att.bizzzzzzzzzzzz wrote:

The rating of the part that held the bulb was/is quite high (I don't recall the number, but it is greater than 100W). However, it surely did not take the globe into account. Evidently, it was the heat in the globe that was giving the bulbs a short lifespan. I am sticking with the 60w bulbs for reasons of safety. I inherited the lamp as a home-buyer, so I don't know what it said "on the box" of the fan.

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On 8/17/2012 4:36 PM, Bill wrote:

My fan uses max. 60 watt bulbs and there is (now was) a 190 watt limiter. When 1st installed, the lights were connected to a wall switch and not to the dimmer/wireless remote control. I put in 3 60 watt equiv CFLs. They would blink out in anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour, due to the wattage limiter. So, I put in 3 60 incandescent lamps and reconnected the lights to the wireless remote. Worked good, but because the fan is very high, it would be nice to have larger lamps. Finally, the remote control receiver bit the dust, so I replaced it with one that was CFL friendly, i.e. only on and off. I also put in 100 watt equiv CFL as they are now available with the mini candelabra base. They blinked like crazy ... due to the wattage limiter. So, I said, no problem, I'll remove it ... ah, were is it? ... it's not in the light kit. After bringing down the fan from 20 some feet up, we found it in the motor housing. Bypassed it. We now seem to have sufficient light with the 100 watt equiv CFLs. I do need to adjust the glass bowl as it is just touching the lamps. So, when you 1st turn the fan on, you can hear a slight glass to glass noise, but it's hardly noticeable ... but I still want to fix it right.
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Art Todesco wrote:

Technically that probably the right thing to do (since loose bulbs are a fire-hazard). At least you got an interesting story out of it!
Bill Whig
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wrote:

Heat doesn't affect bulb life unless the basing cement on the bulb fails or the glass melts. Shock and vibration or higher than rated voltage kills bulbs prematurely though.
Tomsic
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