How to Repair a Pull Chain Switch on a Ceiling Fan or Light Fixture

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

How do I repair a problem with a ceiling fan pull chain switch? Problems with Wiring a Pull Chain Light Switch and How to Fix Them, How to Replace and Wire a Pull Chain Switch.

Pull Chain Switch on a Ceiling Fan

Electrical Question: How do I repair a problem with a ceiling fan pull chain switch?

  • My ceiling fan light chain just started having electrical current coming thru it when I touch it.
  • The fan chain doesn’t do it just the light.
  • When I turn off the wall switch it doesn’t shock me or if I turn the light off and turn the wall switch on there is no shock.
  • What do I need to do to fix this?

This electrical question came from: Millie, from Bartlesville, OK.

Related Question:

  • My son attempted to replace the pull chain switch on his ceiling fan.
    • Instead of cutting just the switch wires he cut all the wires that control only the light. Now there are four lights on the fan and each light has a black and yellow wire.
    • The new switch has two black wires. The two wires coming from the fan to the light are blue and white.
    • Now I have tried connection all the black wires together and all the yellow wires together and installing the switch and connecting the black to blue and yellow to white.
    • This did not work because the breaker tripped only when I pulled the chain and turned the light switch on.
    • Then out of curiosity I pulled the chain again and turned the light switch back on the lights worked.
    • But then I pulled the chain once more and it tripped the breaker again.
    • So I tried reversing the pull chain wires around and turning on the light switch again and the breaker blew again.

Please help me figure this out I don’t want to have to pay someone to come fix this as I am sure the answer is fairly simple.
This electrical wiring question came from Jon, in Macon, Missouri.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electric wiring questions about ceiling fans Millie and Jon.

Electric Repairs for a Pull Chain Switch

Application: Wiring a Ceiling Fan Pull Chain Switch.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate – Best if wired by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience and ability to work with tools.
Precaution: Identify the light circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring.
Materials: Make sure the replacement pull chain switch has the same as the original switch, and is fully compatible with the ceiling fan you have.

IMPORTANT: If electrical current is detected or a electric shock is experienced then the ceiling fan may have a pinched wire that is sending power to the frame of the fan enclosure, or the pull chain switch may be faulty and require replacing. The circuit power should be turned off and the fault conditions should be repaired first before restoring the power to the ceiling fan or light fixture.

How to Repair a Ceiling Fan Pull Chain Switch

  • Replacing a Pull Chain Switch on a Ceiling Fan
    • There are two pull chain switches on ceiling fans with a light fixture.
      • One pull chain switch is for the speed control of the ceiling fan motor.
      • The other pull chain switch is for the light fixture.
    • All pull chain switches are not the same, so it is best to follow these instructions:
      • Identify the electrical circuit to the ceiling fan and turn it off.
      • Carefully open the housing where the pull chain switches are located.
      • Dismount the faulty pull chain switch so you can see the wiring connections and either draw a wiring diagram or take a snap shot with a camera.
      • After the wiring has been noted then take the connections apart or if necessary cut the wires but leave short lengths of wire where they are connected to the pull chain switch.
      • Take the pull chain switch to your local hardware store and purchase the exact replacement. Hang on to the old switch just in case you need to examine it.
      • Wire up the new switch and mount it into the enclosure.
      • Restore the power and test the new pull chain switch
  • Problems with Wiring for a Pull Chain Light Switch and How to Fix Them

    • Wiring a On-Off Pull Chain Light Switch for a One Lamp Fixture

      • A Standard On-Off Pull Chain Switch Has Two Black Wires:
        • One black wire is for the power wire from the circuit.
        • The other black wire is for the power which leads to the light fixture.
    • Wiring a Pull Chain Light Switch that Controls Two or More Light Bulbs or Fixtures

      • A Pull Chain Switch That Controls Two or More Lights will have Three or More Wires:
        • One wire is for the power wire from the circuit.
        • Each additional wire will be used for one or more lights, depending on the number of lights of the fixture and the orientation of the fixture.
        • The wiring is generally configured so the first level of light produced by the first pull of the switch will operate one light bulb only, then with each additional pull of the switch one or more lights will come on, until finally all of the lights will be On just before the last pull of the switch right before the Off position.
        • The internal electrical contacts and components of this type of pull chain switch are not the same as a single On-Off switch which only has one pair of contacts.
        • Connect the wiring of the lights to the switch lead wires with the description above which explains the progression of the levels of light that are produced with each pull of the switch.
  • Why a Circuit Breaker May Trip When Wiring a Pull Chain Switch

    1. The Problem of a Direct Short Between the Circuit Power Wire and the Circuit Neutral Wire
      • Keep in mind that a pull chain switch does not switch the neutral wire of the power circuit.
      • If the circuit breaker trips off when the switch is tested, this is usually because there is a direct short between the power wire of the circuit and the neutral wire of the circuit.
      • If a circuit breaker trips Off because of this problem, remove any neutral wire connections to the pull chain switch and follow the instructions as described in the outlined processes above.
    2. The Problem of a Direct Short Between the Circuit Power Wire and the System Ground
      • Be sure not to pinch any wires when installing the cover plate.
      • A pinched wire can cause a direct short to the grounded frame of the fixture, and this can cause the circuit breaker to trip off.
      • If a circuit breaker trips Off due to a direct short to ground, disassemble the light fixture components until the pinched or shorted wire has been discovered, repair the wire by wrapping electrical tape around the pinched insulation, or it the wire has become badly damaged then replace the section of wire by splicing in a section of new wire of the same type and gauge.

Wiring Ceiling Fans

  • How to Install Ceiling Fans

    • Take the mystery out of ceiling fan wiring. Ceiling Fans are a great way to lower your energy bill and brighten up one of your favorite rooms.


  • How to Install Ceiling Fans and Wiring

    • Step-by-step pictures – Easy wiring diagrams and installation guide – Light and fan switch variations.
    • Ceiling Fan Wiring Diagrams

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