Ceiling Fan Retrofit
November 16, 2010
Installing a ceiling fan is a fairly simple project and I’ve put up a number of them over the years, but I’d been procrastinating on this particular one for our dining room turned den until this past weekend. When we designed and built the house (2004-2006) the plans called for this 12′ X 13′ formal dining area.
We used this room as a den for the first several years in the house while I was working on the dry-stack stonework on the chimney and then once the living room was complete and the furniture moved in there, this room sat empty. We weren’t sure what to do with it. In the end, we decided that a smaller, more intimate seating area would be nice and so we bought some furniture in September, painted it a complementary color and have been using it ever since.
But, the room needed something and I found this great looking ceiling fan at Home Depot. When I did the wiring plan for this room, I put in 4 can lights in the corners on one switch and an empty wiring box in the center of the room tied to another switch. I was thinking about some kind of ornate light perhaps, but not really a fan, and certainly not a 68″ fan with real carved wood blades that weighed about forty or fifty pounds.
I knew I was going to have to change out the box, and add supports to carry the weight, but dreaded what I assumed going into the sheet rock ceiling, so I procrastinated. My folks visited this past weekend and I always enjoy working on projects with dad, so looking around for something for us to do as we talked, we decided to put up the fan.
The first step was to remove the plastic cover and get at the existing plastic wiring box which was screwed to a light metal brace between the engineered I-joists. I removed the two screws and the box would rotate in place freely, but could not be pulled down through the hole in the sheet rock because it had some mounting ears and a flange. It would have to be cut up in place and removed in pieces.
I decided that that a dremel tool with a cut off abrasive wheel would work well, allowing me to make small, controlled cuts with minimal dust and risk of damage to the surrounding ceiling areas.
After a few mins of cutting, I had removed the flange around most of the box and was able to tilt it and remove it from the ceiling, leaving the hole and a view of the flimsy mounting strut that was secured to the joists with just a U – shaped nail used to secure wiring runs. It was going to have to be removed to make way for something more substantial.
I used a length of 2 X 4 as a punch, and struck it with a 4 lb hammer, easily dislodging the strut with a single blow. Dad and I discussed ideas for building an expanding brace and I quickly sketched out some ideas using 3/4″ diameter threaded rod, angle iron, and some 1″ square steel tubing I had in the shop. I was itching for an excuse to make use of the band saw and mig welder out in the shop, but dad suggested that Home Depot probably had a mounting kit. I capitulated and we make a quick run to the store. Sure enough – $12 netted us a kit rated for 150lb fixtures or 70lb fans.
The new brace on the left is clearly more substantial than the flimsy piece of kit it was replacing. As the joists are engineered I-Joists, I couldn’t install it just as it came out of the box since it was designed to work with conventional joists. I sawed 1.5″ off the black triangular pieces which then let the assembly sit on top of the flanges on the bottom of the I-joists and when the square bar is turned with a wrench, it expands via an internal screw jack, and presses sharpened barbs into the web of the joists, securely anchoring it in place.
As a word of caution, if you over tighten this, you will begin to bow the joists outward, and this will stress the screws or nails holding up the sheet rock ceiling and will create several “nail pops” or circular blisters in the surface. After the support was in place, there was a bracket that slipped over it, and two bolts anchored the new, 2 & 1/4″ deep electrical box in place. Then, it was easy to bolt up the fan mount, hang the fan motor and begin wiring everything up.
I wired the grounds first, and then connected the white neutrals, and finally the hot black connections. Sometimes, when ceilings are spray painted, the wires get a coat of paint, and here you can see that the black wire was actually painted white. After securing the connections with wire nuts, I taped everything securely with electrical tape to ensure nothing would come loose when I tucked all the wires up into the box.
The finished installation looked pretty good and the wooden blades add warmth to the room. It is a bit large for the room, but I think it makes a bold statement and I really like it. I enjoyed working on the project, and while it should have been something that can be easily completed in an hour, we managed to stretch it out over the course of the afternoon with the help of lunch, the trip to the store and a few coffee breaks.