So, I move into my new house. The first hour, my mother-in-law decides to try out the ceiling fan. She turns the unit on at the lightswitch, then pulls the chain right out of the unit. The fan is now on at max whenever the unit is turned on.

I still have pull chains to turn on and off the light, and a chain to reverse the direction. Those two switches however do not stop the fan.

I may replace the pullchain in the future, but for the time being, is it possible to shut off the fan somehow without the chain? Would it be possible to, for example, bridge the switch connection, then flip the breaker a couple times to switch the fan off? Any other ideas?

  • Replacing a fan is usually fairly easy, and not too expensive. That might be as easy as replacing the switch.
    – Jason
    Aug 24 '12 at 19:03

Here is a good diagram that shows how a 3-speed switch works.

enter image description here

To control the fan speed without the switch, you'd have to apply current to the proper wires to get the speed you want. Since this is likely a mechanical device (not electronic), the only way to change the setting is to physically move the switch to another position.

A tiny bit of chain is visible

If even a small bit of the chain is left, you may be able to pull it using needle nose pliers. If the fan is connected directly to power (not controlled by a wall switch), you'll probably want to shut off the breaker to stop the fan while you do this (so you don't loose your head). Most fans have the same click pattern.

  • 1st Click = High.
  • 2nd Click = Med.
  • 3rd Click = Low.
  • 4th Click = Off.

So be careful to count your pulls, or you'll be making another trip to the breaker.

The chain is just GONE!

If the chain is completely gone, the easiest option would be to replace the entire fan.

If you like to tinker; and have a bit of knowledge about this stuff, you could take the fan apart and replace the switch. It's probably a good idea to have the old switch in-hand, when you make your trip to the hardware store for a replacement. Don't forget to label the wires when you remove the broken switch, you won't remember where they all went.

Note: Flipping the breaker on/off a couple times, will do nothing but turn the fan on/off a couple times. It is possible to control the speed of the fan by continuously flipping the breaker on/off, but your arm would get tired pretty quick.

  • 3
    ... and the breaker would wear out. :)
    – BMitch
    Aug 24 '12 at 19:39
  • 3
    The important detail is that this is likely a mechanical switch that is physically in the high speed position, not an electronic switch that can be reset. So cycling the power does nothing, you have to mechanically move it to another position. But since you're dealing with electricity, you shouldn't try adjusting a broken switch unless you know the proper safety steps.
    – BMitch
    Aug 24 '12 at 19:42
  • The chain is completely gone, so I may end up trying a replacement switch. Thanks for all the great tips.
    – dangowans
    Aug 25 '12 at 13:28

Short of replacing the switch or opening up the fan to disconnect the switch, there's not much you can do to reset it since it's a mechanical switch, not an electronic one. Get a replacement that's designed to handle your load, make sure you wire it up identically, and be sure to follow all the safety steps (shutoff the power, verify with a non-contact tester, don't leave any exposed junctions, etc). They're $5 at a hardware store, so no need to delay the repair to save money.



Pull chains break all the time. Whether it is easy to fix them depends on the unit, where it broke, and your skill.

To attempt to fix it, you will need to do the following:

  • Turn off the power.
  • Open the bottom of the fan unit. There is often a small bolt or nut in the center bottom or small screws holding the bottom cover on.
  • If there are any exposed wired or apparent electrical parts exposed, test with a non-contact tester to make sure they are not live (hot).
  • You will probably have to remove (lower) the light fixture section of the unit to get to the fan section.
  • See if you can find the broken end of the pull chain. If you do, you may be able to remove the remaining piece and replace it with a new chain or attach a new chain to the stub of the old.


  • There is a small barrel clip to connect ends of chain. be sure it will not interfere with the path going in and out of the housing.
  • You may also have access to the whole switch mechanism. There may be a replacement available if that seems damaged.

pull switch

  • Check to see if the switch for your brand is available from either a home center store or the manufacturer.
  • You may have to remove additional coverings to get to the switch or the stub of the chain. Obviously, this whole repair may be easier if you take the entire fan unit down.
  • Again, if you do this, check to make sure the power is off to the whole unit.
  • If none of this succeeds, you might consider a new fan as discussed in other answers. They are not hard to install (but to do it safely, it is a two person job). A bonus is many come with hand-held remote controls for fan speed, light dimming, etc., which I know your mother-in-law will appreciate.
  • Most newer fans have brackets that allow them to hang from the mounting bracket on the ceiling while you wire them up, so they no longer require two people to install. Removing the old one, may be a different story.
    – Tester101
    Aug 24 '12 at 20:07
  • 1
    I know and have done three fans (Mieles) with this feature and LOVE it. However, getting a bit older, less balanced and slightly weaker in the upper body, I HATE to carry that motor and housing up the ladder to the hook. The lift-to-hook once I am at the top of the ladder is where I need backup (and it is always good to have a tool-hander-upper).
    – bib
    Aug 24 '12 at 20:18

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