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We have a tiny 1920's bungalow that's changed shape over the years, and we'd like to add a high efficiency ceiling fan to our living room in to replace an existing (lightweight) chandelier. The ceiling in this room was vaulted by a previous owner, who apparently built a soffit directly on top of the sloped drywall presumably for the sole purpose of wiring and hanging said chandelier. The small metal electrical box is definitely not the fan-supporting variety, and I'd ultimately like to know if we can safely add one without major structural and drywall work.

The soffit with hanging electrical box, mid-inspection.

The entire ceiling was vaulted to match the roof line, with the drywall presumably fastened directly to roof joists. (We can't confirm this without taking off the roof, but it seems like a sound assumption.) I liberated the little electrical box and stuck a cheap USB snake camera into the soffit, which is how I learned that it was built on top of (lowered from) the larger drywall section. More critically, it seems that the soffit is built off of 2x4's that were affixed (screwed/nailed?) to the ceiling as a base for hanging the drywall with a patchwork of small plywood pieces, screws+nails, and miscellaneous small trim pieces. If there's a code for this, it's unlikely that it was followed.

I wasn't able to confirm how and exactly where the long 2x4's are affixed to the drywall, but I assume it's nailed and screwed into joists at reasonable intervals given that the soffit continues to stay in place and doesn't show any signs of stress or cracking in the four years we would have noticed.

The entire house is filled with inaccessible mysteries like this, and we're wondering in this case what we'd need to safely hang a 15lb (with mount) ceiling fan that draws 1.95-21.14 watts depending on its speed. Fan boxes can apparently be retrofitted to studs, but I'm not sure that non-structural 2x4's attached to drywall qualify as studs.

Box closeup.

Can we get away with opening the bottom-most (flat, horizontal) drywall around the electrical box and reinforcing the area with more 2x4 framing, only having to re-drywall one surface? Do we have to rip off and rebuild the entire soffit to do this properly?

  • 15 lbs. of fan?????? My laptop weighs more than that. Normally I'd say no problem, but I'm curious about this, "2x4's attached to drywall qualify as studs," comment. If the fan is going to be attached to a 2x4 that's screwed to drywall, then, no, that won't work. Why not attach the fan through the 2x4 and through the drywall and into the framing above? – Lee Sam Jun 7 '17 at 23:38
  • It's lightweight and really efficient (and thusly kind of expensive), hence some of my concern :) The fan itself is only meant to be mounted to a standard(ish) fan-friendly electrical box, so can I assume you mean attach the fan electrical box through the 2x4 and drywall into the framing above? That'd still involve taking out the dropped rectangular part of the soffit, no? – Matt Stein Jun 7 '17 at 23:44
  • No. It appears there are 2 - 2x4s just to the side of the opening. I think the electrical junction box can be fastened to these 2x4s. – Lee Sam Jun 8 '17 at 6:16
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That's actually what I would suggest, but be aware of the problems in opening it up. Assuming the drywall was done correctly, there's going to be corner bead. Hopefully they didn't nail it together, or you might have to replace a lot more beading that you're planning to.

You might not need more framing, though, It's probably a full box already. Just take the old box out and put a solid fan box with brace in.

  • Thanks Machavity! How might one determine whether it's a "full box" already as you say? – Matt Stein Jun 8 '17 at 0:01
  • You need two 2x4s to brace against. It looks (based on your newly edited picture) that it is indeed 2x4s. What you want is a box with a top brace that can attach to the 2x4s and support the fan weight properly – Machavity Jun 8 '17 at 1:11
  • I'm not sure how you intuited 2x4s from my closeup photo, unless you're suggesting that the visible layers of fiber board and plywood (directly on top of the cut drywall) imply 2x4 framing elsewhere in the interior of that dropout. Even if I'm communicating poorly here, I imagine installing one of those boxes with top brace lengthwise, and that the extension arms would punch into drywall or plywood rather than the 2x4s it's designed for. From what I can see, the interior of that dropout section is just plywood and screws. – Matt Stein Jun 8 '17 at 1:20
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    Ah, looked at it wrong. Yeah, drop the bottom and see what holds up the sides, If they gave you a plywood box you'll have to add some 2x4s – Machavity Jun 8 '17 at 1:25
  • Okay, thanks for your patience and clarification! – Matt Stein Jun 8 '17 at 1:26

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