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The 30 year old ceiling fan has 2 switches, one for the light and one for the fan. I want to keep the 2 wall switches if possible and do not care about a remote.

What should I look for in a new fan?

4 Answers 4

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You need a standard fan with a light kit. Make sure that you measure your current fan and get one with the same or appropriate width. Don't trust your eyes on this.

I also advise getting a light kit that does not have fixed LED and one that allows you to put any bulb you want in it - or you could very well be replacing the light kit in 2-3 years. Also as pointed out by others a lot of lights are now fixed and it might be hard to figure out this. If you go online - example Fan with light kit you see this includes two bulbs. So either ask a worker or make sure the light kit comes with actual bulbs.

While you're replacing the fan I always recommend replacing the switches if you don't have an adjustable fan switch and a dimmer switch. Lutron makes a variety of these and it takes ~10 minutes to swap these out.

If you do not care about remotes:

  1. Lutron dimmer switch
  2. Lutron Fan Control

If you want remotes or control via phone app:

  1. Smart Dimmer
  2. Smart Fan Control

I have personally installed all of these 20-30 times over (we redid electrical in two houses lately) and they are easy install and look good. Also everyone likes the single toggle for the fan because you know it's the fan right away.

I definitely recommend Caseta smart switches because they are compatible with anything and easy to use and set up. You can use both a remote or a phone app and the switches still work until you get the app working days later.

The key is to get an old-school fan because they are made better; let the switches do the dimming, speed changes and "remotes".

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  • In some quick non-scientific research (random fan/lights from Home Depot), it is clear that a lot of fan/lights do not include a way to connect two separate switches. That used to be the standard, it is clearly not any more. Commented Apr 26 at 16:19
  • @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - that is almost exclusively the ones with fixed LED fixtures. These fans are made so cheaply and corners cut I am not sure why anyone would use them. If you actually go to home depot most of the fans there are normal 2 wird with light kit separate. But you are right, online they are just trying to have the lowest cost. Same reason not to buy bathroom/kitchen fixtures online from big box unless you are 100% positive what you are getting.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 26 at 17:25
  • A few years ago I would have agreed with you. But in some quick searching I found that many fans (no matter what type of light) now have remotes with molded 3-wire connectors from remote to the main part of the fan/light. That makes installation slightly easier (plug in a connector instead of 3 wire nuts) but also means that connecting the fan and light to separate switched hot wires instead of using the remote requires either an adapter for the connection (I don't know if any of the fan manufacturers sell such an adapter or not) or voiding your warranty (by chopping off the Commented Apr 26 at 17:49
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - again at least near me these "remote bound" fans aren't really sold at stores. All this fad "crap" is sold online on big box back pages (until you sort by price). I get there might be 1 in 50 that need something like that because of the wiring issues at their house but it is all crap. These remotes have issues, the fixed LEDs have issues. If you want a remote for a fan and light get one that works through a smart switch. I have installed hundreds of lutron adjustable switches and dimmers and have installed the smart switches - takes 5 mins.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 26 at 17:56
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - I did look at Lowe's today - I was there getting electrical and went by the fan section. It has become heavily LED fixed light and remotes (not sure the implications on the wiring). Read the reviews on these things and they are horrible. Might be smart of big box. Think that the average life span of a fan is 20-30 years and big boxes selling these might make that 5-7 years. Chalk it up to another thing that got worse as technology evolved.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 27 at 3:15
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Just look for a standard fan at your home store with a light fixture included and a remote not included. The newer fans with light fixtures will probably come with LED bulbs so if your wall switch for the light is a dimmer, it might not work and you'd have to replace it or just use your old light bulbs and keep the old switch. Take pictures of the wiring before you disconnect anything is case you have to come back here for help.

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  • +100000 for "take a pic before disconnecting wiring"!!!! Of course, if everyone did that, it would cut question volume here in half...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 26 at 14:15
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The other answers are basically correct. But I would caution you to make 100% certain that the fan/light you buy can actually be controlled by two separate physical switches. There are four possible ways a fan/light can be controlled;

  • Two separate switched hot wires - that is what you want.
  • Pull strings - The string for the fan will typically allow for at least two levels of speed control - e.g., high/low/off. A fan with pull strings may also have two separate hot wires so that the fan and light can be switched separately, but that is not guaranteed.
  • Separate remote - This is a remote module which may come preinstalled but is technically separate from the fan/light itself. It connects to a single hot wire from the ceiling (which may or may not be switched) and to separate switched hot wires for the fan and light. If the remote module is removed then you have two separate switched hot wires.
  • Integral remote - This is a remote module that is preinstalled and the fan/light is not designed to be used without it.

I think there are two key reasons for the change from the old standard of "pull strings and separate switched hots" to the multiple options today, many of them incompatible with two separate switches:

  • Low Price Fans/High Price Labor/Youtube = More DIY - In ye olden times (a few decades ago), the relative price of ceiling fans was higher than today (offshore mass production, low-cost shipping and big box stores have lowered prices a lot) and labor tended to be lower cost and more available, at least in the US (have you tried hiring a professional electrician for a small job lately?). In addition, where it used to be the only ways you could find out general electrical, plumbing, construction, etc. information was to talk to a real-live expert or read a book, now you Google the topic and watch a bunch of Youtube videos. For better or worse, all of these factors have increased the number of people who want to install their own fans. A very common installation is to replace a light fixture with a fan/light combination, and designing the fan/light for a single switched hot wire avoids the relatively complex job of running a new cable. If you hire an electrician anyway then it isn't a big deal, but if you are trying to do this yourself then keeping the installation to "remove old light" + "assemble components of fan/light" + "connect to existing ceiling wires" makes it much more practical for DIY.
  • Inexpensive Remote Controls - This goes along with so many other consumer electronic devices that are now dirt cheap compared to a few decades ago. The cost of an entire base-level fan/light with remote control can be less than the one hour of electrician time that might be needed to run a new cable. The remote module and controller are a small fraction of that cost. There are reasons to prefer traditional switches, but low total cost (fan/light + installation) is a big selling point.

The key is to look at the installation instructions. Nearly all mass-market appliances have installation manuals that can be downloaded from either a retailer (Home Depot is generally very good at providing manuals online) or the manufacturer.

If the installation manual includes specific instructions for two switches then you are all set. If it does not include specific instructions for two switches but includes a remote module with installation information for that module (i.e., not preinstalled) and the remote module connects to the fan and light with bare wires and wire nuts rather than a special connector then usually installing the fan/light without the remote module will allow for connection to two switches.

Taking a quick look at Home Depot, for example:

A few other things to watch out for:

  • Single Neutral - Most fan/light combinations, including the two examples above, have only a single neutral wire for fan and light. That means your switches have to have three wires (plus ground) in a single cable or conduit. You can't use two two-wire cables (black/white/ground) with one for each switch, because then the neutral will not be balanced with each switched hot wire.
  • Speed Control - If a fan has its own speed control, that may or may not work properly with an external switch speed control. It will probably work fine as long as the internal (e.g., pull string) speed is kept on high, but no guarantees, and it may seem to work but lead to premature failure of switch and/or motor. If the speed control is via remote control and you remove the remote then an external switch speed control should work fine.
  • Dimming - Most fan lights are now LED (whether integral or bulbs), and not all LEDs are dimmer compatible. As with fan speed control, if there is internal dimming then external switch dimming may or may not work properly and may seem to work properly but lead to early failure of dimmer and/or LEDs.
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What features should a ceiling fan have so I can switch light and fan separately?

It is really simple. Look for a fan with lights; which either uses two switches or has room for the extra wiring to separate the two (lights and fan motor). No more complicated than that. If you are prepared to properly install it, then get a licensed electrician to install it.

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