I'm working on a new ceiling fan install. I pulled out the old light fixture (traditional fixture) with three sets of wires coming into the box (three hot, three neutral, and three grounding wires). There is only one light switch, so why are there three sets of wires?

One long hot wire was connected to the hot wire receptor on the fixture, two shorter hot wires were held together with a nut and not connected to the fixture, and the three neutral wires were held together and ran to the neutral receptor.

I tried to copy this after I installed the new fan outlet box and support bar, however, I can't get the power to turn on to the fan. Here are the installation instructions that I followed to a "T".

Any help to solve this problem would be much appreciated. Thank you.


Before fan

This is how the wires were bunched with the old fixture. The white wires were combined. I think that the long black wire is coming from the box because it is coming in from that direction.

Hot Wire and not hooked up hot

The one on the left is connected to the fan, the one on the right is not.

White wires

Here is how I connected the white wires for the fan.

  • Please edit your post to show some pictures of the installation. That always helps! That said, are you sure you've got the wire nuts back on nice and tight? Pull on each wire and the nut to ensure nothing pulls out (and double check to ensure nothing disconnected while you finished the installation - I've had that happen).
    – FreeMan
    Jun 22, 2020 at 17:02
  • 1
    @FreeMan - I do not have any pictures at the moment, but I will take some pictures this evening, thanks for the tip. I will also try pulling on the nuts as well. Thanks!
    – A Cohen
    Jun 22, 2020 at 17:03
  • Grab the nut and wires, make sure nothing (especially the smaller, stranded wire leading to the fixture) pull out of the nuts. Not only is this important to ensure your fan works, but, loose connections can cause arcing, which creates heat, and can lead to fires. It's important that these be tight.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 22, 2020 at 17:07
  • 2
    Don't think all white wires are neutral. In your case two of the whites in cables are neutrals, but the white in the cable going to the switch is not a neutral; it is hot, either always hot or switched hot. Jun 22, 2020 at 19:03
  • 1
    Are you .....sure.... the 3 whites were together? Jun 22, 2020 at 20:20

4 Answers 4


(A partial answer)

Why are there 3 cables in the box?

One cable brings power from "upstream", either directly from the circuit breaker to the fan, or from the breaker via another fixture.

One cable leads from the fan to the switch. This should be the cable that you connected to the fan. This is what enables the switch on the wall to operate the fan.

The last cable takes hot power from the box to another fixture somewhere. Turn on all the lights in the house, then turn off the breaker that controls the fan. See what else turns off - that's where this other cable leads. (Once you've figured that out, you may want to be sure the label for the breaker accurately describes what it powers so you don't have to figure it out again in the future.)


The diagram for connections must be adapted for your case because the diagram does not consider that there is a wall switch. The cable connecting the wall switch to the receiver has a white and a black, one of which must be a line hot and the other a switched hot. It can be wired either way.

The white in the cable from the switch is not a neutral. It cannot be connected to neutrals and at some point will be connected to a black wire.

If the white is the switched hot, then the white will connect to the black input lead to the receiver. If the black is the switched hot, then the white will be the line hot and it must be connected to the black line hot or hots of the house wiring using a wire connector.


Jim is correct one of the wires in the box is not a neutral one of the wires is a switch leg you need to identify the black from the switch and the white from the switch put the white from the switch to the hot wire and put the other black wire to the fan

  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. It's a little hard to understand your answer; would you break it into sentences, and perhaps add some more info? And, you should probably take our tour so you'll know how best to contribute here. Jun 23, 2020 at 12:09

So the solution was a combination of things. The wires were loose causing some of the issues

  1. The white wires in the box needed to be connected together by a nut.

  2. The remaining two black wires (shorter) needed to be connected and fed to the white wires.

  3. The longer black wire needed to be connected to the black wire in the fan.

Thank you all for the help!

  • I found that one of our receivers became unresponsive, but when I shut off the power to it it became full functional again. One can do this by simply turning off the wall switch, waiting a short time then turning it back on. Jun 23, 2020 at 2:06
  • 1
    Thanks for posting what actually worked in your situation! Please be sure to click the check mark to tag this as the "correct" answer and give an up vote to all the answers that helped you get here.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 23, 2020 at 10:41
  • If the fan and light now work, the fact that you have one (black) wire unconnected probably means that a downstream light fixture is not getting power. Jun 23, 2020 at 13:01
  • @Jim Stewart - sorry I clarified the longer black wire is connected to the black wire on the fan.
    – A Cohen
    Jun 23, 2020 at 13:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.