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.
Is it possible that there is a second switch on each of the fans that
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:
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?
Lou Zher wrote:
I did try rebooting the house, one
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
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?
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.
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
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