How to Wire Ceiling Fans and Switches

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

Wiring Diagrams and Wire Connections for Ceiling Fans: Connecting the black wire, red wire, blue wire and the white wires.

Ceiling Fan Wiring Connections

Electrical Question: I am wiring a ceiling fan and it looks like the red wire at the switch was being used to power the lights and the black for the fan, so why not connect the wires together at the ceiling box rather than run two hot wires off the same wall switch?

  • I am relocating an existing ceiling fan from a lower portion of a vaulted ceiling to a higher point on the ceiling. When I removed the old fan I found four wires coming out of the box. I have installed quite a few ceiling fans the past couple of years and all of them even with light kits were set up for three wire boxes.
  • I then inspected the fan wall switch which is a standard on and off switch, no other switches, and dimmers. The main circuit cable to the switch is a 3-wire, black, white, ground.
  • What I found was the “hot” or feed wire attached to the bottom terminal of the wall switch (normal so far), the “hot” black wire to the fan was attached to the top terminal (again normal), but then I found a red wire also attached to the same top lug of the switch. It was inserted into the push-in terminal while the black wire was attached to the screw terminal.
  • When the switch was turned on power was sent to both the red and black wires going to the fan. It looks like the red wire was being used to power the lights and the black for the fan. Why just not wire nut them at the ceiling box rather than run two hot wires off the same wall switch? I don’t understand the logic behind this.
  • Note that the “old” fan is about 15 years old and there are no factory installed wire connectors for the light. All the wires had to be connected together. With a new fan I don’t think the red wire is required so I should be able to extend the existing 4-wire cable up to the new fan location using a 3-wire cable instead.
  • I probably should remove the red wire that is currently attached to the wall switch. Is my thinking correct on this?

This electrical wiring question came from: Steve, from Sunlakes, Arizona.

Additional Comments: Just discovered the site and have signed up for your Electrical How-To Manual.

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

Wiring Ceiling Fans and Wall Switches

Ceiling Fan Wiring Diagram #1

Application: Wiring a Ceiling Fan and Switches.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate – Best performed by a licensed electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools, a fiberglass or non-aluminum ladder and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with tools and access to the ceiling fan location.
Precaution: Identify the ceiling fan circuit, turn it OFF and  Tag it with a Note before working with the electrical wiring.

Wiring Connections for a Ceiling Fan and Switches

  • Power Starts at the Wall Switch
  • When installing the wiring for a ceiling fan from a wall switch box where the circuit power originates, it is common to install a 3-wire cable from the wall switch box up to the ceiling fan. This 3-wire cable will provide the following switch functions:
    • The Black wire is for a separate switch for the ceiling fan motor. This black wire typically connects to the black wire of the ceiling fan.
      • Optional: This switch could be a variable speed control switch.
    • The Red wire is for a separate switch for the light of the ceiling fan. The red wire from the wall switch typically connects to the Blue wire of the ceiling fan, which is for the light fixture.
      • Optional: The light switch could be a dimmer switch if the dimmer switch and the type of light bulbs are compatible and have dimming capabilities.
    • The White neutral wires are spliced together.
    • The ground wires are spliced together.
    • NOTE: The circuit power source is a separate cable which has a black wire (power), white wire (neutral), and the ground wire which is either bare copper or a green wire. Please refer to the Ceiling Fan Wiring Diagrams for additional clarification.
  • Optional Wiring Configurations for One Switch
  • If there will be only one switch that will be used at the wall then as this question states, there are two options:
    • Connect the Black and Red wires together at the switch box.
    • Connect the Black and Red wire together at the ceiling fan box.
  • My choice is to connect the Red and Black wires together at the wall switch therefore if separate switches would ever be installed then the changes with the wiring may be done at the wall switch and not require disassembling the ceiling fan to change the wiring up at the ceiling fan box.

Example: Switch Wiring for a Ceiling Fan Light

remote control ceiling fans 15

Wiring Diagrams for Ceiling Fans

  • How to Install and Wire 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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