How to Wire a Ceiling Fan in an Older Home

By - Summary:

I am installing a ceiling fan in an old home where there are three wires in the box, how should I connect the wires? How to Connect the Wires Ceiling Fan in an Older Home: The Process for Identifying Wires for a Ceiling Fan.

Connecting Old Electrical Wires to a Ceiling Fan

Electrical Question: I am installing a ceiling fan in an old home where there are three wires in the box, how should I connect the wires?

  • I live in a very old house, about 100 years old, and I am trying to replace a light fixture with a ceiling fan. I’ve followed the necessary steps by getting the mounting bracket in place, installing the light box, pulling through the wires, and now I stop to tell you that three different wires are coming together at this juncture and this throws me off since I have no idea where these wires are leading to.
  • I proceed with the wiring as following the instructions of the ceiling fan; connect everything together and flipped the switch, and then a buzzing sound came from the light switch.
  • I turned off the power to the room and now the ceiling lights in four rooms, all upstairs, do not work, but the outlets work fine. I’ve put the wires back to their original messed up configuration and still nothing works.

This old home electric wiring question came from: Chuck, in Brownville, Maine.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Chuck.

Wiring a Ceiling Fan in an Older Home

  • Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced.
  • Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester or Continuity Tester.
  • Estimated Time: Depends on experience and level of problem solving skills and ability to identify older home knob and tube electrical wiring.
  • Precaution: Testing live wires is dangerous and should be done by an experienced individual only. Testing using a continuity tester should only be made after the circuit has been identified and turned OFF and Tagged.

How to Connect the Wires Ceiling Fan in an Older Home

Example: The Process for Identifying Wires for a Ceiling Fan

  • Identify the Wires
    It is very helpful to identify the existing wiring connections before taking any electrical connections or electrical wire splices apart. Wrap strips of colored electrical tape around each wire to match the wiring of the existing light fixture.

    • Using a Voltage Tester
      The electrical wiring is best revealed when using a voltage tester to identify the neutral and the hot wire and how the switch has been wired to control the light fixture.
  • Circuits without a Ground Wire
    Because most older homes with all original wiring do not have a ground wire, it may be helpful to have a length of wire to use for testing the wires which can be used as a ground wire where one end of the wire is attached to a water facet or copper water pipe. Identifying the wiring of the wall switch will be helpful as well, and the operation of the switch wires may be identified up at the ceiling fan as well.
  • Upgrading Old Electrical Wiring
    Old original electrical wiring in older homes should be replaced or upgraded whenever possible to improve the safety and reliability of the home electrical system. In the mean time, care must be taken when working with electrical wiring in an older home because the electrical wiring is typically a cloth type insulation and may not have a visible color to help identify the wires.

What to do with a Spare Wire

There are several reasons why there may be a spare wire, including the following:

  • Old wiring methods and routing of the switch wiring.
  • Added or altered electrical wiring which was not installed correctly.
  • A wire may have slipped out of the new junction box during installation.

More about 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
    Light Switch Wiring
    Light Switch Wiring
  • Wiring a Light Switch – Diagram 1

  • Fully explained pictures and wiring diagrams about wiring light switches describing the most common switches starting with photo diagram 1.

Additional Resources

Using Electrical Testers

  • Understanding Electrical Testers

  • When working on home electrical wiring using voltage testers can play an important part in electrical safety. Electrical testers enable you to identify electrical circuits and help prevent the possibility of accidental electrical shock.
    Types of Electrical Testers


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