Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Dimmer Switch On Ceiling Fan = Fire Hazard

I love dimmer switches; I use them to control almost every light in my house.Installing a dimmer switch is a common enough DIY project, but like any other DIY project, I often find them installed improperly.  The most common problem I find is when dimmer switches are connected to a ceiling fan.

Standard dimmer switches should never be used on ceiling fans because they could damage the fan motor or they could overheat and start a fire.  To know whether a dimmer switch is intended for use with a fan, all you usually have to do is 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, and this should not be used on a ceiling fan.

Fan Speed Controller Front Incandescent Dimmer

When I find a dimmer switch that is designed for incandescent fixtures connected to a ceiling fan, I always recommend repair.  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

        

Comment balloon 61 commentsReuben Saltzman • October 26 2010 06:23AM

Comments

Thanks for the heads Up article, Reuben.

We sure all pay attention...

Cheers

Nor Yeretsian

Posted by Nor Yeretsian, Envoy Capitol Realty Inc., Brokerage Toronto (Envoy Capitol Realty Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Great article Reuben!  I see this a couple of times a week!  People simply don't realize.  Good to bring this up!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben - Great post!  I bet this solves the mysetry of why my sister's ceiling fan abruptly stopped working - I'm glad she didn't have a fire!

Posted by Judy Klem, Home Staging, Senior Move Management, Fairfield/New Haven counties (Transition Stage LLC) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, this is an interesting topic with the dimmer switch on a ceiling fan. I always wonder why the IMPORTANT information is in FINE PRINT.

Posted by Gary Woltal, Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth (Keller Williams Realty) almost 8 years ago

Reuben,

This is very interesting. I never thought about this, but it is very good to know.

Brian

 

 

Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, this is just another reason husbands should let the pros do the electrical jobs!!  :) 

Posted by Sara Kraemer (United Real Estate Lexington) almost 8 years ago

Reuben,

Honestly I would have never know to check something like that. Its why a good inspector is priceless.

-Brent

Posted by Brent & Deb Wells, Prosper TX (LivingWell Properties) almost 8 years ago

I just had this on my last inspection. Most ceiling fans have or come with a control designed for that unit.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

I didn't know about the difference in dimmer switches.  Thanks for a valuable tip!

Posted by Brian Schulman, Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552 (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA) almost 8 years ago

Hi, Reuben.   A question for you, please:

Now that incandescent lights are history -

 

The Last Light Bulb Factory in America closed in September -  what about Dimmer Switches for the New CFL Lights?  

 

Posted by Fred Griffin, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Very timely. I recently had a ceiling fan installed that included its own dimmer. Are there any problems with those that come with the fan, or just those added separately?

Posted by Bernadine Hunter, SFR, ACRE, "Finding Solution to Your Real Estate Needs" (Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realty) almost 8 years ago

Reuben - this is good information... I wasn't aware of this... our dimmers were set up by licensed electricians with special "two wire" dimmers... (one for the light, one for the fan)... but I didn't realize that a regular dimmer, unsed for a fan, could be a fire hazard.

Posted by Alan May, Helping you find your way home. (Coldwell Banker Residential) almost 8 years ago

Nor - thanks for reading.

Jay- thanks, I see this quite often too.  A ridiculously loud ceiling fan connected to a dimmer switch made me think of this.

Judy - I bet you're right!

Gary - wouldn't it be nice if the switch had a big warning?

Brian- thanks, I figured this was something that most 'handymen' don't know about.

Sara - what about the wives?  ;)

Brent - thanks, glad to share something new.

James - at least the better ones do.  The cheapo fans usually don't come with anything.

Brian- glad to help.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Excellent information.  Thanks for sharing.  The celing fan we have in our family room is on a remote with the dimmer included.  Never knew that there are special dimmer switches for fans.

Posted by Pam Simpson, GRI, Broker-Assoc. (Bob Leigh & Assoc., LLC) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben, I never knew this. Now you'll have me opening mine up to see if the switches are for ceiling fans or regular light fixtures, lol.

Posted by Jackie Connelly-Fornuff, "Moving at The Speed of YOU!" (Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Babylon NY) almost 8 years ago

Fred - that's an excellent question, to which I don't have any great answers.  I've purchased 'dim-able' CFLs and was sorely disappointed.  I think they're garbage.  They're supposed to be able to connect to any standard incandescent dimmer switch, but the difference between the highest setting and the lowest setting was almost imperceptible.  If there's a dim-able CFL out there worth buying, I haven't found it yet. 

Bernadine - as long as the dimmer came with the fan, I'm sure it's fine.  If you buy a dimmer that's designed for a ceiling fan, no problem.

Alan - thanks.  It sounds like they did a good job of planning ahead when they wired your house.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Pam - if you have a remote, it's almost a sure thing that it's properly installed.

Jackie - just remember to grab your reading glasses, it's very fine print on those things :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Ruben, this is a very goo tip. The last ceiling fan I bought came with a remote. All I had to do was make sure it was wired correctly at the switch. Thanks.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 8 years ago

Hire an electrician, hopefully they'll know what they are doing but now I know what to look for.

Posted by Corinne Guest, Luxury Home Buyer Specialist (Barrington Realty Company) almost 8 years ago

Michael - it makes a lot of sense for manufacturers to include dimmer switches with the fans.  This way it's a lot harder to screw it up.

Corinne - if it's an electrician doing the work, you're right, you should be safe.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

It pays for DIYs to read the instruction when making installations of repairs. When buying a house it pays as well to use an inspector that has a nose for details like this.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) almost 8 years ago

Great post Reuben. I always check these when I find them, generally in older homes. Thanks for getting the warning out there. 

Posted by Chuck Forman (Forman Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Thanks for the interesting article - have not come across a problem yet, but now I know what to look for!

Posted by K.C. McLaughlin, Realtor, e-PRO, Homes for Sale - Cary, Raleigh NC (RE/MAX United) almost 8 years ago

Great information, I personally had the Electrician use a fan/light control switch which dimmers only the light and has 3 speeds x the fan

Posted by Veronica Swan (ERA Belsito and Associates) almost 8 years ago

Glenn - it's amazing how many defects I find that could be avoided if people would just read the instructions.

Chuck - it's good to hear other people are looking for this.

K.C. - I bet you'll find one in the next month or less.

Veronica - that's the way to do it right.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

I was going to do that today, thanks for the warning!

Posted by Loren Castillo (eXp Realty) almost 8 years ago

Never thought about that!  And you are sooo right....  Hmmmm...

Posted by Chris Alston, Silicon Valley, California (Chris Alston (Keller Williams Realty, Silicon Valley, California)) almost 8 years ago

That is a great tip. Not something I have ever looked at. I should take a look at my own now just to be sure.

Posted by Nicholas Goraczkowski, Your Mortgage Resource - (720) 83-RATES almost 8 years ago

 Great information Reuben, I would have never thought about that. We are big dimmer user, nothing like subtle light to make a home feel warm and cozy. Thanks for the information, I'll be on the look for this.

Posted by Janine Boulay-Seibert, NC & GA Real Estate Broker (Remax Town & Country) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, Great information is right!  I wouldn't have known there was a difference either.

Posted by Susan Brown (Keller Williams NE, Kingwood Texas (Humble & Atascocita too)) almost 8 years ago

THis is really interesting ifo. Now I will pull the plates off the ones in my house to investigate.

Posted by Lizette Fitzpatrick, Lizette Realty, Lexington KY MLS - Kentucky Homes (Lizette Realty - Richmond KY) almost 8 years ago

Its the tasty little morsels of great tips that keep my love affair with AR going.  This is just the type of thing that most of us outside of the electrical or inspection industries would never know about (but should).  Thanks so much for sharing and educating us!

Posted by Peter Clay - NoCo Home Team, Sell Smart, Buy Wise & Live Well in Nrthn Colorado (Fort Collins Realtor @ C3 Real Estate Solutions) almost 8 years ago

Loren - good timing.  I wrote this just for you ;)

Chris - you better remove your cover plates and check out your dimmers.

Nicholas - let me know if you find any problems.

Janine - I'm a big dimmer user too.  I think the only lights in my house that don't have dimmers are the closet lights... and I've considered them there too.

Susan - I'm glad I could share something new.

Lizette - be sure to report back with any problems.

Danielle - thank you so much!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Reuben,  Very good information blog.  I will have to go home and check now....  I am going to start tracking your posting!

Posted by Stephanie Stringer, Mortgage Loan Originator (First Choice Loan Services NMLS#210764) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, this is an excellent post on an often overlooked issue----an easy one to forget to check

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Stephanie - thanks, please do :)

Charles - I've gotten to the point where I'm always suspicious of these controls; I find a ton that are wrong.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, it is not surprising given how many of the fans are installed by homeowners

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

What a great post! Something to look out for in homes for sure. I am sure that there are far too many DIYers that take on electrical that perhaps should do a little extra studying first!

Posted by Hilary Young, Team Assistant - The Nines Team in Lodi (The Nines Team Realty) almost 8 years ago

Great article! this is a pretty common problem with ceiling fans... a lot of home owners install the fans by themselves and don't really know what they are doing

Posted by Sarah almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben, I had never heard that before, thanks. Definately something I will remember.  Scary that someone doing something as simple as a ceiling fan could cause a fire.

Posted by Nancy Lohman almost 8 years ago

Hilary - and if you don't want to study, at least read the instructions.

Sarah - I've found the same thing.

Nancy - while a fire is unlikely, it's certainly a possibility.  What's more likely is that you'll ruin the motor on the ceiling fan.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Thanks, I just moved into a house with this situation.  Good to know! Thanks and keep it up!

Posted by Curt Baumgarth, CDPE Realtor Serving the Valley of the Sun. 480 26 (Century 21 All Stars) almost 8 years ago

Great information Reuben.  I did not know this.  Thanks.

Aaron

Posted by Aaron Silverman, Improving Real Estate Experience through Education (SuccessfulRental.com, Bluewater Property Management, LLC and Lowcountry Turnkey Properties, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Good point.  So, why don't they tell you that at Home Depot or Lowe's when you are checking out?  

I've seen a lot of ceiling fans that are controlled by a chain, which doesn't work so well if you have high ceilings.  Too often it's difficult to differentiate between the chain for the light, chain for the fan, and how to get it at the speed you want.

Posted by Mary Jo Quay (Remax Results) almost 8 years ago

Curt - good timing!  It's a simple enough fix.

Aaron - thanks for reading.

Mary Jo - ha!  That would be a lot of reading of fine print for the cashiers :)  I have one ceiling fan at my house that I don't have a remote for, and I still can never remember which pull chain is for the light and which is for the fan.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Thank you for the clear information about what to look for, so many times dimmers are one of those DIY improvements.

Posted by Steve Baklaich, Treating Buyers & Sellers to Full Service Always. (RE/MAX Results St Cloud Mn real estate) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, thanks for your post about dimmer switches on a ceiling fan...the "right" and "wrong" photos are very helpful. I'm going to re-blog this! :)

Leilani

Posted by Bob & Leilani Souza, Greater Sacramento Area Homes, Land & Investments (Souza Realty 916.408.5500) almost 8 years ago

Very good information Rueben. 

Posted by Troy Pappas, Virginia Beach Home Inspector (Safe House Property Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Great post once again.  I've recently started linking some of your blogs in my reports, including this one. Very well written & informative.  I recently linked your "Extended kitchen sink soap dispenser" blog & the client thought that was a fabulous idea and thanked me for sharing the info.

Posted by Joshua Frederick, Home Inspector in Defiance & all of Northwest Ohio (Home Inspector for ASPEC Residential Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Steve - I agree, just about all dimmers are DIY, and usually it's not a problem.

Leilani - thanks for the re-blog.

Troy - thanks.

Joshua - thanks, and thanks for the links!  I've written a number of blogs, including this one, for that exact same reason; instead of writing a long explanation of why something is wrong in my inspection report, I include a link to one of my blogs or someone else's blog with a detailed explanation.  It makes for a shorter inspection report and it saves time.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben

Nice article.  Probably something a lot of people don't consider but they should. 

It was great to meet you last week at the networking event.

Donna

Posted by Donna Quanrud, Donna Quanrud Southwest Metro Homes (Coldwell Banker Burnet) almost 8 years ago

Donna - thanks, and it was good meeting you at the network event.  Thanks for coming, and I hope to see you back again!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Great information.  I have seen this many times but never actually had an inspection on a property with a dimmer switch issue.  The story in the Washington Post (posted by Fred Griffin, post #10) is a sad one to me.  I hate to see all of our manufacturing go overseas like it is so often.  I still think there are applications where incandescent lighting is far superior to the CFL's, and therefore worth a few cents a year to keep running them.

Posted by Derrick Guevremont, Rochester MN Homes for Sale (Counselor Realty of Rochester) almost 8 years ago

Derrick - I agree, I don't plan to make a full switch to CFLs until they're dimmable.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Isn't it amazing how many people think they can do electrical work adequately?????

Posted by 1 ~Judi & Don Barrett & Chassy Eastep - Integrity, BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK (Integrity Real Estate Services 118 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745) almost 8 years ago

You know, Reuben, at this time of year where we live I think they cost more to operate in an unheated garage.  Especially if only on for short periods of time as is often the case in an unheated garage here.

Posted by Derrick Guevremont, Rochester MN Homes for Sale (Counselor Realty of Rochester) almost 8 years ago

Judi - I know I've done my own share of scary electrical stuff :)

Derrick & Sara - dimmer switches or ceiling fans?  I haven't heard that before.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Sorry about the last comment without clarifying, Reuben.  I was still talking about incandescent light bulbs as opposed to CFL's.

Posted by Derrick Guevremont, Rochester MN Homes for Sale (Counselor Realty of Rochester) almost 8 years ago

Derrick - and those CFLs take a long time to brighten up when in garages when it's cold!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago
Reuben as so many others have pointed out this is a valuable tip. While inspectors should catch it, it doesn’t hurt for agents to double check that the inspector checked it.
Posted by David Gibson CNE, 719-304-4684 ~ Colorado Springs Relocation, Relocation, Luxury & Lifestyle residential (Colorado Real Estate Advisers LLC ) over 6 years ago

Is not this incredible who believe they are able to perform electric function properly?????

Posted by Kevin Nguyen over 3 years ago

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