I find few things as frustrating as an appliance that only works sometimes. I’m sure you are equally perplexed and annoyed if your fan won’t work consistently or only works on some settings.
There are many reasons for why your fan might not be working, and you do need to address them as soon as possible because a fan that won’t work correctly is a problem, or it can indicate a deeper issue.
Dust, constant running, wiring and switch issues, or lack of lubrication can cause overheating. Humming indicates the ball bearings, direction switch, dimmer switch, wiring, improper maintenance, capacitor, or receiver. Otherwise, look at the wattage limiter, wall switch, overloading, or house supply.
Does the Fan Feel Hot?
If your fan feels hot (abnormally hot), then the most likely reason that it’s not working is that it has overheated.
To confirm this is the issue, you can turn the fan off at the remote, wall switch, or breaker (if none of the speeds are working and you only have a pull chain, you won’t know what’s off and what’s on).
Leave the fan off for a few hours (until it feels completely cool), and then turn it back on again. If it starts and works fine, you have an overheating fan problem.
There are many reasons why a ceiling fan can overheat. I have a whole article dedicated to these reasons, so I won’t go into detail here. Instead, let’s just look at what they are, how to test if this is the issue, and how to fix them.
Dust gets everywhere, and you may not think it can have such a significant impact, but it can with your fan.
It can interfere with the blade’s aerodynamics and airflow, making the fan motor work harder, which in itself can lead to overheating.
In addition, dust can build up on the motor housing, forming an insulating layer on the appliance. Since insulation prevents heat loss, you can see how this might be problematic.
Fans do get hot, but when that heat cannot disperse, the fan can overheat and stop working correctly.
Fans are placed above the reach of arms and heads (depending on your height), which can make keeping them dust-free easier said than done.
Thankfully there are a few cleaning tools, like the Estilo Ceiling Fan Duster (amazon link) or the Swiffer Ceiling Fan Duster (amazon link), which will allow you to dust the fan without a ladder.
But that’s to prevent this from happening in the future. For now, if you can see large quantities of dust on the fan, you will need to clean it off.
At this stage, it might involve some soap and water as dust can get quite sticky over time. Just be careful not to press too hard on the blades or use too much water. This can cause bending and warping.
You may also need to open up the motor housing to clean the inside.
If you can’t remember the last time you turned your fan off, you may just have diagnosed the problem with your ceiling fan. These fans are not intended to run permanently.
Your fan can run for around 8-hour periods safely. However, beyond this, your fan will start overheating, the risk of fire increases, and several other problems can also result.
Turning the fan off when you leave the room will make little difference to your comfort. You only benefit from the wind chill created by a fan while in the room.
So, you can avoid damaging your fan by overworking it while saving on the energy that would otherwise have been wasted.
The wiring of your fan may be the cause of overheating. The wiring in a fan transfers electricity, and when you have a faulty connection in the wiring, that energy escapes and heats the motor.
Wires can loosen from their connections over time, so you need to take a look.
Turn off the breaker for the fan and open the wiring box. Tighten the connections and test your fan. If something was wrong with the wiring, the overheating should stop as the electricity will again be fed correctly through the fan instead of escaping the cables as heat.
If you are concerned about the state of the wiring (there are places that look frayed, squashed, exposed, etc.), I recommend calling a professional as that can be dangerous and some states prohibit you from working on your own wiring.
Dimmer switches can be a nice addition to the lighting of a room. However, most of these dimmer switches are designed for regular light fixtures, and not all will work with the light on your ceiling fan.
The light attached to the fan is sometimes routed through the fan’s motor. When the dimmer is turned to the highest setting, the voltage allowed to pass into the motor is too high. This overloads it and causes overheating.
If you have any information on the model of the dimmer switch, then you can try researching the device to check if it is compatible with regular (incandescent) lights or ceiling fan fixtures.
Lubrication is essential for the blades to move smoothly. If your fan is overheating, it might indicate insufficient oil levels, meaning the motor must work much harder to move the blades.
However, not all fans need you to re-oil the bearings. So, this potential cause can be quickly eliminated by checking your fan’s motor (first turn off the breaker).
Older model fans that require you to lubricate the motor will have a clearly marked opening in the housing, and you can probably see this without taking the fan down.
You can add oil to the motor until the hole begins to back up, then gently rotate the blades (both ways) to distribute it. If your fan returns to normal functioning, you need to add this to your maintenance list.
Are There Sounds Coming from Ceiling Fan?
Humming noises when the ceiling fan is not turning properly can indicate a problem related to the power supply.
The humming occurs when the power is supplied to the fan, but something prevents it from spinning, so the power is not being used as it should.
Stuck Ball Bearings
Ball bearings are little, donut-shaped pieces of metal that help the fan rotate smoothly. If they are stuck, the blades’ rotation is impaired, which could prevent the fan from moving properly at different speed settings or at all.
This will produce a humming sound as the energy being fed into the fan motor isn’t able to turn into movement and builds up.
You can try refilling the oil in the bearings if that is possible. Otherwise, you may need to replace the ball bearings. Doing this is complicated, and I recommend it be professionally done.
Stuck Direction Switch
Most fans have a directional switch, allowing you to change between winter and summer mode.
The direction of the fan is important for getting the most out of its function. If your fan cannot switch directions, it cannot work to the best advantage alone or with your home’s HVAC and air system.
The directional switch can become blocked by dirt. This switch should be located on the side of the motor housing. If this looks clogged or dirty, you should turn off the breaker and carefully clean around the switch.
A dimmer switch can cause overheating, but it can also make the fan hum due to the electricity being channeled into the fan.
It is possible to have a dimmer on your fan light. First, as mentioned earlier, you need a compatible switch for this to work with a ceiling fan light. Second, you need the light fixture and the fan control to be on different switches.
If they are on the same switch, the dimmer will dim both the lights and the motor. If the dimmer switch controls the power for the fan motor as well, this will result in sufficient power to rotate the blades at some times and too little at other times.
You need to replace the dimmer switch with a dual or regular switch. Or you need to re-wire the wall switch to have the light and speed control separate.
Loose Wiring Connections
A fan controls speeds by adjusting the amount of power it gives to the motor to turn the blades.
If you have a loose connection in the wiring, the fan can hum as it has power that is being supplied through the wires.
However, the imperfect connection of the wiring means electricity cannot properly flow, resulting in a weak or intermittent supply that prevents the fan from rotating correctly.
You will need to turn off the fan and the breaker and open the housing cover to access the wiring. Next, tighten the connection and close up the housing, then see if the fan rotates properly.
If you are unsure about dealing with the fan electrics, you can hire a professional to perform the task.
Lack of Maintenance
An older or dirty fan can hum as a sign that the function of the fan is compromised, and this might get to the point that the blades will no longer turn.
If the fan is dirty, you will need to dust the blades, and you can open the fan housing and carefully vacuum or wipe out the dirt.
The humming can also signify that the ceiling fan is at the end of its lifespan. Typically, a ceiling fan will last about 10 years. If your fan is older than that, you might want to look into purchasing a newer model.
The capacitor is the component that allows the motor to overcome inertia and turn the blades. If this is malfunctioning, you will hear humming as electricity is being supplied to the motor, but this isn’t being transferred into kinetic energy in the capacitor for rotation.
You can test the capacitor by dismantling the fan housing to get to the component and then connecting a multimeter to the capacitor. If it isn’t working, you will need to replace the part.
For ceiling fans with a remote controller, there is a receiver in the motor housing to relay the remote signals and electricity to the fan.
If the receiver is faulty or malfunctioning, your remote may not work correctly. The signals may be received intermittently, or the fan may be stuck on one setting.
Testing this depends on whether you have an AC or DC ceiling fan. If you have a DC fan, this can be a little more tricky since they tend to be exclusively remote-controlled.
If you have an AC fan, you will likely have another way of controlling the fan beside the remote. If the wall switch or chain switch is working, then the receiver is likely the issue.
It is an easy task to replace the receiver (and remote); you just need to open the motor housing, disconnect the old receiver, and connect the new receiver.
No Heat and No Sound
Faulty Wattage Limiter
A wattage limiter is used to reduce the amount of electricity that ceiling fan lights use to save energy. These were made mandatory in 2005, but only for a while as other energy conservation methods were preferred.
Some older models may still use this device, or it is used for electrical use compliance. Unfortunately, these devices are notorious for failing. When the wattage limiter fails, it can overly restrict the wattage to the ceiling fan. Or, if the limiter was faulty from the beginning, it might be set to a limit lower than 190 W.
If you suspect the problem is the wattage limiter, you can remove it to test the fan’s function. It’s a small black or grey box connected to some red or blue wires (sometimes both) in the wiring box.
If the fan works without the limiter, you will need to replace the device if you need it to adhere to energy use regulations. Otherwise, you can just leave it out of the circuit. You can consult with a professional if you are unsure or concerned.
Wall-Switch Wiring Issues
The fan itself may not be the problem; it can be the wall switch that is affecting the function.
Even if the wiring was initially secure, with electricity passing through the wires, they heat and cool. This results in expansion and contraction that can loosen the connections and impact how well the switch communicates with the fan.
You can easily open the switch plate (after turning off the power) and wire box and check if any wires look loose, which you can then tighten.
The switch can also fail due to old or damaged wiring. This can result in you turning the switch on, but there isn’t continuity to the electricity, it cannot pass through the switch, and the fan won’t turn on.
Opening the wall switch will allow you to connect a continuity tester, like the Sperry CT6101 Continuity Tester (amazon link) or the AstroAI Digital Multimeter (amazon link).
Attach the probes to the screws that the black wires were connected to and see if the tester lights up. If it isn’t conducting, you will need to replace the switch.
Ceiling fans use a small amount of energy to run, which means they don’t require a dedicated circuit.
There are several factors that impact the energy usage of the fan. The size of the fan and the type of motor it uses influence how much energy the appliance pulls. Most use a similar amount to light fixtures, and AC fans use slightly more energy than their DC counterparts.
Another influence is the speed at which the fan spins; the faster it moves, the more energy it uses. If your circuit is tripping when you attempt to up the fan’s speed, it may be overloaded and unable to supply enough power for rotation.
A good indicator of an overloaded circuit is if other appliances in that circuit show signs of low power. Are the lights flickering? Does the microwave sound drop when the ceiling fan is turned on?
You can try disconnecting some of the appliances on the circuit and running the fan again. Alternatively, you can call in an electrician to test the circuit.
House Supply Issues
Your fan may not be working because of an issue with the house wiring. If you have trouble with your home’s electrical system, it will more than likely manifest in the safety features.
In other words, your circuit breaker will trip, or your fuse will blow. These are designed to cut-off electricity to a circuit that is unsafe. It can be due to overloading on the circuit, damaged wires, or old/damaged outlets on the circuit.
You will need to check your breaker or fuse box. You can restore the circuit breaker and replace a blown fuse, but unless you address the root of the problem, then it will keep short-circuiting.
You should call a professional to ensure that the job is done safely and according to code and allow the electrician to sign off on the work for inspection and insurance purposes.