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Dimmer Switch On Ceiling Fan = Fire Hazard

By In Dimmer Switch On October 26, 2010


I love dimmer switches; I use them to control a lot of lights in my home. Installing a dimmer switch is a common enough DIY project, but like any other DIY project, I often find them installed improperly.  I recently wrote about overloaded dimmer switches, but the most common problem I find is a dimmer switch connected to a ceiling fan.

Standard dimmer switches should never be used to control the fan motor on a ceiling fan because the dimmer could damage the fan motor, or overheat and start a fire.  To know whether a dimmer switch is intended for use with a fan, just remove the switch cover; there is typically fine print right on the front of the switch saying whether or not it can be used with a ceiling fan.

The photo below left comes from a fan speed controller – this is what needs to be used on a ceiling fan.  The photo below right comes from a standard dimmer switch, which should not be used to control the motor on a ceiling fan.

Fan Speed Controller Front Incandescent Dimmer

A safe repair can be as simple as replacing the dimmer switch with a standard toggle switch, but you also lose the ability to dim the light.

If the wiring for a ceiling fan is already in place in your home (ie – you have separate wires for the fan control and the light control), it should be fairly easy for a qualified person to wire up separate controls for the fan and the light, which will include the ability to dim the light.

Universal Ceiling Fan RemoteIf the ceiling fan was a retro install, there probably won’t be proper wiring in the wall for separate fan and light controls; not to worry though.  You can actually purchase a device that will do this – it consists of a wireless remote and a receiver that gets wired directly in to the fan.  These devices work very well, and as far as I know, they can be used with any ceiling fan.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        


About the Author

Reuben

Reuben is a second generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben has worked for Structure Tech since it was purchased by Neil in 1997, and is now co-owner of the company. Reuben’s favorite customers are the ones who have a lot of questions; he grew up thinking he was going to be a school teacher because he enjoyed teaching others so much. In a sense, that’s a lot of what home inspections are about, so Reuben truly does what he loves. Reuben has an A.A. degree in liberal arts and has attended most of the Building Inspection Technology classes at North Hennepin Community College. Reuben and his wife are the proud parents of two young childen, Cy Alexander and Lucy Nicole, and have a German Shepherd named Stanley. With two young children Reuben doesn’t have much free time, but he still tries to play disc golf as often as possible during the summer. Reuben lives in Maple Grove, MN. Professional Qualifications / Memberships: *ASHI Certified Inspector *President, ASHI Heartland Chapter *Member, Minnesota Society of Housing Inspectors (MSHI) *Licensed Minneapolis Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Saint Paul Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Maplewood Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Hopkins Truth-in-Housing Evaluator *Licensed Robbinsdale Point of Sale Evaluator *Affiliate Member, Southern Twin Cities Association of Realtors

6 Comments

  • Robert 12 MONTHS AGO

    HI, I have a little problem here. The bulb blew on my ceiling fan fixture and while changing it the base of the bulb came away while I was unscrewing it. Stupid me did this with the manual light switch still on and there was a spark for a brief moment. After getting the base out of the socket and replacing the bulb, I found the remote control for the fan/dimmer wouldn't control the light anymore (it still controls the fan though). Also, the bulb I put in kept growing brighter for a bit and after about 10-15 minutes the bulb blew again (and again the base of the bulb came away from the glass bulb). After replacing the bulb a second time it too blew within 5-10 minutes. How do I replace the dimmer in the fan? Or is the fan totally screwed now. I just put a lower wattage spiral bulb in there and it seems to be ok (not blowing) but the remote dimmer is still not controlling the light. The red light on the remote still goes on when I press the button for it though. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks ~Rob.

    • Reuben Saltzman 12 MONTHS AGO

      @Robert - The short answer is to open up the fan, remove the existing control module for the dimmer, and install a new one. For more specific instructions, you'd need to contact the manufacturer.

  • Dave 1 YEAR AGO

    I just installed a dimmer on our ceiling fan and light fixture. If we don't use the fan and the dimmed lights At the same time, it shouldn't be a problem, right?

    • Reuben Saltzman 1 YEAR AGO

      Dave - the dimmer switch shouldn't be used to control motors at all.

  • Wyatt 2 YEARS AGO

    Wait, can I get a clarification of where the hazard lies? I've got some lighted ceiling fans in my house connected to a 2-control plate. One toggle switch controls the lighting, and a separate toggle switch controls the fan. The fan speed itself is controlled through a pull chain. The two toggle switches share a common wire. I replaced just the light toggle switch with a dimmer and left the fan toggle alone.

  • Jonah 3 YEARS AGO

    Yes, dimmer + ceiling fan = FIRE HAZARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!