My ceiling fan stopped working many months ago. I had somebody looked at it and they couldn't figure out what was wrong so I bough a new one today. When I dismounted the old one I found this strange wiring setup as shown in the image below. I'm no electrician, and this is my first time installing a fan, but it's still puzzling.

enter image description here

  • Why are there four lines? You can see three at the top of the box and one coming in at the bottom.

  • Why are all the hot lines connected together?

  • Why was one neutral line being used as the live line? The terrible thing is I can't remember which one it was.

This is connected to only one wall switch. The previous fan was controlled by a remote. Is it possible that more than one switch was used to control the fan before the remote was installed on the previous fan? There are no other switches in the house which could be used. Perhaps they were removed.

  • 4
    It looks as if a direct feed from the power panel comes to this box and then feeds out to two other branches. The fourth black hot wire appears to feed toward the fan wall switch (exiting the box at the top right). The switch switches that hot line and sends the switched power back to this box on the white wire (part of the top right bundle). The fan load is then connected between this switched white wire and the neutral bundle.
    – Michael Karas
    May 30, 2015 at 21:24
  • 1
    @MichaelKaras Agree, but the switched white should be marked black. If confirmed, a piece of tape will help the next DIYer.
    – bib
    May 30, 2015 at 22:16
  • @bib - True. I was just commenting on what I saw as the plausible connections in the OP's electrical box.
    – Michael Karas
    May 30, 2015 at 22:20
  • If you remove the upper right cable, then this becomes just a plain junction box where the incoming cable splits out to two other circuits/cables. To add the fan onto that, you take always live power from the black bundle, pass it through a switch at the other end of the upper right cable, pass it back on the white wire in the upper right cable, then through the fan. Hence a switched fan connected to the same feed as the branch circuits, wherever they go.
    – simpleuser
    Jan 8, 2016 at 4:57

2 Answers 2


It just looks like your wires going down to your switch are mixed up. We in electrical have a saying "back on black". That way it's easier to see which wires go where on your light (as in there would be one black wire and one white wire waiting for you in the box to connect to your light).

It looks like the wire that goes down to your switch is the cable in the top right of the photo. So here pretend I am an electron and lets follow the current. I come into the box in one of those cables in that big black bundle as a hot wire. Than I leave the bundle and travel down the switch cables white. Than after the light switch is closed I travel "back on black" to the light bulb copper screw (or fan black wire). Than I will go through the light bulb or fan and I will travel back to the neutral area of the panel (with all those other whites in that bundle).

Like the other guys said there are other loads so don't worry about the extra wires. They are just taking power from that box. So if you want to you can take your cable that goes to the light switch and either switch the spots of the black and white wires to make it less confusing for you, or you could just tape them the opposite colours. Or you could leave it and pretend that the white wire that goes to the light switch is a black wire...to help sort your mind out.

  • Either way, the white wire used in the switch leg (whether going to the switch or returning from it) should be marked black with permanent marker or tape so somebody doesn't assume it's a neutral, right? ;-) May 31, 2015 at 18:55
  • I can see that as being a good thing to do out of courtesy. However if you think of 3 way switches, you do not tape the white wire another colour so people don't think it's a neutral. But heck it shouldn't be that hard to tape it eh. May 31, 2015 at 21:11

This is not strange at all. It's because you have a feed in, two feeds out (going to other things on the circuit), and one switch loop.

The switch loop is not using a "neutral" as a live. It is simply using a white conductor as a feed to the switch, or at least it should. The way it is wired now is incorrect. The white of the switch loop should be connected to the constant feeds in the box, and the black of the switch loop brings back the switched line.

If you don't remember how it was wired you need to do a continuity test to see which cable is the switch loop.

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