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I know this is a well-trodden question here, but, as per usual, there doesn't seem to be an exact example of the particular fixture that's been previously asked.

I'm trying to install a ceiling fan where only a light fixture used to be hung. I removed the light fixture to find this pancake box in the ceiling.

Pancake box with wiring coming out of it, surrounded by drywall

This building is 100 years old, though I don't know how old the fixture is.

I was able to remove the 1" nuts from the holes where the wiring is coming out. I was also able to remove the two screws holding the box into place. There are also two metal stubs coming out of the box still; I'm not sure if they are nails or rivets, but they are loose and would not prevent the box from coming down.

The problem is, I can't figure out how to get the box out of its current hole. It seems to fit perfectly into the plaster/drywall. I've sprayed some blaster (to get those nuts off) and also around the edge, and I have tapped with a flat-head screwdriver around to get rid of some excess plaster, but it's not looking like it will budge.

Any advice?

Edit based on comments:

  • The light had a ground wire connected to one of the screws, though, admittedly, it was barely attached.
  • I was not planning on changing the wiring. It's an apartment in a multifamily building, so I don't have access to the ceiling or walls.
  • The fan does have a light. I was planning on controlling the fan/light with pull chains. The fan (Westinghouse Comet) has explicit two-wire connection instructions, but I may be out of my depth.

At this point I could put the old fixture back on and give up, call an electrician, or keep trying to pull out that pancake box and put on a stronger box for the fan.

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    That looks like a reasonably modern box (with those knockouts). I'll be that it's riveted/welded to a bracket behind it and that bracket is nailed into a joist, which is why they used a pancake box in the first place - the joist is exactly where they wanted to put the light.
    – FreeMan
    Nov 12, 2023 at 23:22
  • This is helpful, thanks! In the case, do you think we could mount the fan directly to the box, or do we need to find a way to get that box down regardless? Nov 13, 2023 at 0:03
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    @thebenjaminp You'll need to remove the box and any bracket up in there and install a ceiling fan rated box.
    – JACK
    Nov 13, 2023 at 0:49
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    You might be able to use this box. But first. What's the wiring plan? What cable will you be using? This one in the picture? Is there outer insulation? A ground wire? Does the fan have a light? If you need to pull new cable, the box will have to be removed anyway.
    – jay613
    Nov 13, 2023 at 4:07
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    @freeman I'm going to guess, and this is really reading a lot into a picture, but the wires look too new to be ungrounded so my guess is it's NM, still clamped in the cable clamp, OP removed the nut and pushed the jacket with clamp into the ceiling. The ground wire was hopefully short and clamped to one of the mounting screws, or was cut back to the insulation and not used. So ... hopefully there is a jacket, ground, and clamp there, and the fan doesn't have a light. Or, the fan has a canopy big enough for a wireless receiver. And the joist can handle the fan weight. Could be golden.
    – jay613
    Nov 13, 2023 at 15:00

1 Answer 1

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Don't remove it.

As you said you're renting I'm going to answer for a few different scenarios.

  1. If the landlord or super or manager is able/willing to take this on, you should get their help and in many jurisdictions you must do that in rented place rather than do DIY electrics. So the rest of this answer applies to either that person or to you, depending on what's permitted.
  2. If there is NOT a joist behind this junction box I think you'll need landlord involement as you will need to break open more of the ceiling to install a proper fan box that uses nearby joists for support.
  3. If there IS a joist above this, I guess it would run from about 1:00 to 7:00 in your picture you should simply reattach the cable and ground to the box as they were before, attach the fan bracket directly to the joist using wood screws of appropriate length, and drilling through the box if necessary or convenient. Attach the ground wire using a third screw and leave enough of it to attach the lamp's ground wire to it with a wire nut. Use the chains for control as you said.

If you're lucky it'll be #3. The strategy is, use the joist not the box to directly support the fan.

You should also put a metal cap in the unused breakout at top right.

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  • Appreciate the advice and realistic perspective! Super helpful. Our landlord is totally unhelpful hence why we wanted to take this on, but seems like it will be a bigger risk than is worth it. Nov 14, 2023 at 2:58

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