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Ceiling Fan Red Wire | What Is It For?

Electrical work has the potential to be confusing. I encountered my fair share of questions when wiring my grandmother’s basement with my uncle! Ceiling fans and their wiring are no exception. 

This article will provide a detailed and clear description of everything you need to know about the red wire in your ceiling fan. This will include what it is and its variances, how it differs from the other wires in the ceiling fan and the house wires, and why the red wire might be a desired part of your new ceiling fan. 

A red wire coming from a ceiling fan is connected only to the light. A ceiling fan with a red wire can have its light and motor turned on or off independently by different switches. Ceiling fans may or may not have this red wire, and the wire can be connected or capped off (if no extra live house wire).

Red Wire Typically for Fan Light Control

Red wires from ceiling fans are second hot wires. They are “hot” (conducting electricity) when the switch is on and “off” (not conducting electricity) when the switch is off. 

The second live (red) wire coming from a ceiling fan is used to control only the light. It allows for the light to be turned on or off via a switch, and one that is separate from the fan’s switch. 

Ceiling fan with different wires connected to it with a text saying "the second live red wire controls the light"

Do All Ceiling Fans Come With a Red Wire

Not all ceiling fans come with a red wire.

Some ceiling fans may not have a light fixture and, therefore, don’t need a second live wire.

Additionally, a ceiling fan with a light fixture but no red wire means that the fan and the light are controlled by one switch. They are on or off at the same time unless the ceiling fan has pull cords that interact with the light and light, providing separation at this stage in the wiring.

Why Is a Separate Wire Necessary/Helpful? 

The second live wire is not necessary. The fan and lights can function without it. However, it is a really helpful addition to the ceiling fan’s wiring, although it is not without its drawbacks.

In the end, whether or not it’s helpful may simply depend on the user’s personal preference. But let’s look at the pros and cons, so you can see for yourself.

Pros of a separate red wire:

  • Convenient when two or more light switches are right next to each other.
  • Independent control of lights and fan allows for the ceiling fan as a whole to be adaptable to different needs.
  • If the pull chain breaks, you can still operate the light and fan independently.
  • Allows for different types of switches to be used, e.g., a dimmer for the lights and a speed controller for the fan. 

Cons of a separate red wire:

  • Can be inconvenient if the two switches are located far away from each other. 
  • May not be useful if only one light switch is available/reaches the ceiling fan fixture.
  • Can complicate troubleshooting for fan issues, like

Is It Different From the Black Live Wire?

Both the red and black wires are hot wires that conduct electricity and can be turned on or off, either at a wall switch or the breaker box. So, the difference is not in function.

Red and black wires with a black ceiling fan

But that doesn’t mean that they are exactly the same. The red wire will never be used for the fan motor.

Wiring is difficult and gets confusing. To make everything easier and safer, colors are designated to specific wires in the house. White will always be neutral, ground wires will be green or bare copper, and live wires will be black.

This means that the corresponding wires on appliances will match these colors.

For ceiling fans, the main purpose or function is to turn the fan blades, so the fan motor is assigned the well-known black live wire, and ceiling fans will always come with a black wire, while a red wire is “optional”.

Additional live wires are given alternative colors to make them easily distinguishable from the normal trio.

Red Wire From Ceiling but Not From Fan

A red wire coming from the ceiling is connected to a switch in the wall. No red wire coming from the fan could mean one of two things. 

First, there is no second live wire on the fan and you will have to connect the lights and fan motor together. The red wire coming from the ceiling can be capped off.

Second, no red wire from the ceiling fan could mean the wire is just a different color. Sometimes, the second live wire on the ceiling fan is blue. The blue wire has the same role as the red wire and is merely a different color. You will connect the blue and red wires together.


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