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This weekend, I replaced a non-functioning ceiling fan in our home with a new one. The home is over 100 years old. When I replaced the fan, I found what is pictured in the attached image. It seems to be an old style pancake box with a center stud mounted to a ceiling joist. The mounting bracket and nut over the center stud used to hold the previous fan, which had been there for several years. (The old fan was there when I moved in.) I showed these pictures to the employee at a big box home improvement store, and he said "yeah, you can totally attach a new fan to that center stud and bracket! I live in an old house too and I've done that for lots of fans."

So I did, and I covered and sealed up the hole as well, because there's some old insulation in the attic I don't want leaking down into the room. Now I'm reading about fan-rated boxes, and I'm worried I did something bad. (Do your research first, kids!) I'm terrified this old box isn't strong enough and the fan is going to fall on someone. Here's what I'm trying to figure out:

1) Am I in danger? That old box and pipe seem pretty beefy, but I know fans are heavy and motion can wear things down over time. I also have no idea what I'm looking at. I should add this is over a bed, so someone will be under it for several hours at a stretch, and not alert.

2) Is there some way I can brace or reinforce this from above, up in the attic, so I don't have to open (unseal) everything up again?

3) If I don't want to mess with that old box and all the other electrical in there - because I have no idea what it is - would I be better off returning the fan and just installing a light, which wouldn't put stress on the box?

EDIT: I noticed the packaging says to use a box rated for a 35lb or less fan, so this is not a very heavy fan.

pancake box with fan mount

EDIT #2: I was able to get into the attic and look at the mounting from the top. The threaded pipe with the fan bracket seen in the "from below" appears to go all the way through the mount, loops over a crossbeam, under another joist, and runs all the way across the attic floor. (Not the conduit, the darker pipe next to the conduit) Due to the light oxidation, I think it is steel. It could be iron, but I didn't think iron pipes could have smooth bends like this one does? In any case, I know it isn't up to any modern code, but it seems very strong. The only risks I see now are 1) the fan bracket failing, which seems unlikely since it is designed to be a fan bracket, or 2) The threads in the nut or pipe somehow strip, which also seems unlikely given they are steel.

seen from above

  • You're dealing with the old knob and tube wiring. It looks like a partial upgrade might have taken place because of the black, blue and white wires. I'll wait for harper's response. – JACK Jul 30 at 19:07
  • If the fan hasn't fallen yet, it won't. Those bracket mounts are a lot stronger than you think. – Carl Witthoft Jul 30 at 19:11
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    @JACK it's not knob-and-tube. I've seen what's up in the attic and it's all armored cable or conduit. Some of the armored looks pretty old, though. – SouthShoreAK Jul 30 at 19:45
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    Can you fit a crossmember or two in from above, attaching it to the joists with brackets, then attach the fan to the crossmember, thus unloading the box, structurally-speaking? – ThreePhaseEel Jul 30 at 22:26
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    I'd be concerned about the weight in operation. In a normal fan box the steel cross piece would be also be screwed to the jbox with the fan screwed into the cross piece. From the picture, the only thing holding the fan's weight is a brass nipple and nut with only 2-3 threads. IMHO, I'd bit the bullet and replace the box. My old house (1924) also has old armor cable. I've had to replace a lot of that because the insulation was failing. If you decide to open it up again, make sure you have everything you might need to replace ahead of time ;-) – Ring Jul 31 at 17:29
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That support is probably an old gas line (pre electricity) I say this because of the length you described. If it was shorter and anchored in the box itself or just above the box it would be called a hickey. Years back this hickey was a normal way to support heavy fixtures. And as long as it cannot come down your fan will stay up there. As far as other comments this is not knob and tube. Because it is in conduit, since it is in conduit I would consider pulling some new thhn wiring. Now for the last part of your question, current code calls for listed boxes but on older homes I have used the same hardware you have and there were no problems that pipe is probably stronger than a listed box.

  • Yeah, I'd call this a bit of a grey area; I personally would put it under the intent of the "independently of an outlet box" wording in 422.18 though, at least, as the load path is primarily up through the pipe running over the joist then under the crossbeam. – ThreePhaseEel Aug 3 at 16:18

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