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There was a ceiling fan which I removed. I usually would take a picture of the wiring before removal but the design of the fan made that difficult and only after I got the fan down did I see this mess. I will never rush this stuff again. After removal of the ceiling fan I realized that some of the wires were still hot! I was lucky.

I had turned the light switch off first before checking I had the right breaker -- breakers are labeled but not always correctly or completely -- and I should have double checked. And apparently the only switch in the room doesn't control all the wires in that box. Lesson learned. I shut off the main and put nuts on the exposed ends.

Thank you for any help. I have referred to posts on this site for years and obviously I could do a better job of putting all the good safety advice to use.

enter image description here

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    That box is not rated for a ceiling fan and you'll need to replace it with one that is before you do anything.
    – JACK
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 22:19
  • Thanks! I thought so.
    – snakehead
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 23:57
  • @JACK for my own edification, how were you able to tell the box isn’t rated for the ceiling fan? Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 16:16
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    @EllisValentiner If it were rated for a ceiling fan, it would be stamped as such. Also, the two taps are too small to support a ceiling fan. Google "ceiling fan box" and you'll see that the screws and thickness of the box is much heavier.
    – JACK
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:06

5 Answers 5

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editedpicOkay I think it's starting to make a little more sense. It depends on how the two cables coming from the ceiling box to the switch boxes are located. Is there just one cable pair (black, white, ground) in each switch box? Or, does one or both switch boxes have more than one cable entering into it? If there is two cables in each box it's possible that there's a jumper between the two boxes which for our intents and purposes would be the same thing as just having one wire in each one and we're good to go. However, if there are any more wires and either box then you need to check all the outlets and lights in that area of the house. If you have any outlets or other lights with no power then we'll need a couple pictures of the switch boxes to finish up.

However if those two cables from the ceiling come down and either terminate one in each box or make essentially a loop through those two switch boxes, with no other wires in play, then we got it licked real quick and easy.hand drawing Again, only follow this drawing if everything else in your house still works. And there are no extra wires in switch box. Simply connect the black and white to the two screws on the switch and put the wallplate on. Then up above, you going to make the connection shown in red. The hot black coming in connect to the hot black wire going down to your switch. I used the light blue to designate neutral white wire. With the incoming neutral wire will connect to your ceiling fan. Then the white wire coming back from the switch will be the other purple note and will connect to the black wire on your light. Then the wires in the other switch box just wire nut at each end and ignore them all together. And you should have a functioning fan.

If you have other outlets not working or a bunch more wires in those boxes then send pictures of the switch boxes and the wires inside and will see if we get you going with the more complicated route.

This is what I think you had at one time any how. Second switch was added to control fan separately from light, without pulling chains. And the power from switch box continues on to an outlet somewhere. think

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I am assuming this is old school and there is only one switch that supplies power for the fan. If that is the case then one of the cables is for another circuit down the line.

Looks like you have a three cables coming into this box. For the two together, one is probably the incoming hot and the other is probably for another downstream circuit - so you probably have another dead circuit somewhere (probably outlets).

The single cable probably goes to your switch as a switch loop. You will have to check your switch to see if it has one cable coming in with the black and white connected to it.

IF that is the case you would connect all the blacks together to supply the hot for the other circuit and send a hot down to the switch. The white from the single cable would be the switched hot coming back from the switch - this connects to your fan as hot. The other two whites will be connected together with the neutral from your fan. But of course this is a guess so you will need to verify the hot wire coming in and which one is the switch loop vs downstream circuit.

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  • Could I leave the two together capped and just use the single cable for a light (or fan if I manage to replace the box with one rated for a fan)? AFAIK there aren't any non-working outlets in the house although there are a few wall switches in other rooms that don't seem to do anything.
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 0:19
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    @snakehead No, assuming the wiring is as this answer says (which I think is likely), you will need to connect all three cables as mentioned. The switch cable is not connected to power, and must be connected to the upstream supply to do anything. (Also those wall switches that don't seem to do anything likely control switched outlets. Make sure to test both outlets on each receptacle, since often only one is switched and the other is left always live.) Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 3:06
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This doesn't look like much of a mess to me. As a matter of fact, it seems pretty clean.

Most likely, one cable goes to the switch that controls the light, the other cable goes to the switch that controls the fan.

  • Turn on the breaker(s) that control the lights & fan
  • Turn on the light switch.
  • Using a non-contact voltage detector (NCV) determine which wires are now hot and confirm that the others are cold.
    • Use extreme caution doing this so that you don't shock yourself and fall off your ladder. The hard stop at the bottom hurts.
  • Turn the light switch off.
  • Turn the fan switch on.
  • Using your NCV, confirm that the known pair of wires are now cold and the other pair of wires are now hot.
  • Turn the breaker(s) back off

Now that you know which is which, follow the instructions with your new fan to connect the light control wires to the lighting side of the fan's circuit and the fan control wires to the fan's side.

Note

Unless your fan actually has two separate neutral wires, you will end up with a code violation and will possibly trip a breaker (or two) when you connect both white (neutral) wires to the single neutral in the fan.

If there is only one breaker controlling power to this box, you're paralleling the neutral and that's a code violation.

If there are two breakers controlling power to this box, tying the neutrals of the two circuits together is a code violation and may end up tripping both breakers.

The only solution may be to run a /3 cable that has black, red, white & bare wires in it so that the two hot circuits (from switch box to fan box) share the single neutral going back to the panel.

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    It doesn't sound like there's a fan switch involved. I think it's more likely OP has one always-hot feeding in from upstream, a /2 running down to the wall switch (and back, so hopefully taped black), and a second /2 running to some downstream circuit. Assuming that there was a ceiling fan with a built-in light.
    – Matt S
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 19:12
  • That box is not rated for a ceiling fan and you'll need to replace it with one that is before you do anything.
    – JACK
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 22:08
  • Thank you @freeman. I don't think that's exactly my situation but useful information to work from.
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 0:09
  • @matt-s Re: the switch that is correct. There is only one switch in the room but it doesn't shut off at least one of those lines. There is another box for a second wall switch but it's covered and painted over. I opened it and the wires inside are separated and capped.
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 0:10
  • Can I just leave the two cables not on the wall switch capped? I'm guessing that's how it was but would it be safe?
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 0:21
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This is a mess I have run into a few times before. Normally from 60's era installations.

Is the light on a 3-way switch? (Is there 2 separate switches that control the light?) Having the top and bottom (as positioned in the picture) neutral wires with pigtails on both, is a method of wiring a 3-way that I have run into. In a nutshell, one of those would be the real neutral, and the other is the "hot wire" for the light.

If you do have 3-way switches for light, I will attempt to explain how to reconnect. If you do not, then I will not have to write the pages of agonizingly convoluted steps to make sense of the nightmare these methods can be!

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  • There is one 2-way switch in the room for the light but it doesn't shut off at least one of those lines. There is another box just above the first for a second wall switch but it's covered and painted over. I opened it and the wires inside are separated and capped. It sounds like there were 2 separate switches to control the light at one point?
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 12:35
  • I'm sorry but I think you're right about the way this is/was wired. I'm not sure how the 2nd box can be disconnected from the circuit, the 1st box can be switched off, and some of the wires remain hot.
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 15:41
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Lol, snakehead. It is now. There is just one Romex in each switch box. Makes it super easy. The first two pictures I posted are what you need. The 2 Romex in same hole - one just drops to each switch. Since you dug the 2nd switch out, just as well use it also. Then have separate switches for fan and light.

So here goes: in ceiling box, wire nut all 3 black white together

They white wire from the single cable on right connects to the white neutral on the fan.

If using 2 switches, connect one remaining white to blue wire on fan, and the other to the black wire on the fan.

Grab a six pack and wipe your brow, your done.

If only want one switch, connect one white to both the black and blue on fan. If don't work, swap it for the other white one, and call it done.

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  • Wow! Thank you. So just to make sure: the first two pictures are the labeled photo and the drawing which has "120 volts" written on it where I make the connection in red? Is that right? I wire nut all 3 of the black and white that are together but each by itself just to cap them off, 1 white wire from single cable to neutral, then the remaining whites on the black and blue. If it doesn't work, switch the whites -- black to blue, blue to black.
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 15:20
  • I was thinking one switch but I'm pretty sure I have a spare switch somewhere so if I can find it I'll install it. I didn't see a ground connection on the working switch but there is a ground wire in the empty box I can hook up to the new switch. Thanks again for all of your help!
    – snakehead
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 15:51
  • Yup. 3 black wires connected together. Lone white to white on fan. For 2 switches one white to black, one white to blue. For 1 switch, one white to black and blue together. If not work then use the other white. (Need the white from the switch box being used. If your just guessing which one, first guess might be wrong one.)
    – Keith
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 1:57

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