I have been changing out the ceiling fans in the bedrooms of a house I have and have run into a problem in one room. The switch didn’t seem to be working so I removed the switch that is there and placed it in another room and it worked, so I know it isn’t the switch. I put the switch back into the original bedroom.

Coming out of the box is two uninsulated wires that were twisted together (no wire nut). Two whitre wires twisted together with a wire nut, and two black wires that were attached to the switch on the left side.

Coming out of the ceiling is two white wires twisted together with a wire nut and a black wire. I attached the black an blue wires of the new ceiling fan to the black wire and the white wire with the other two white from the ceiling. I also attached the green grounding wire. When I flipped the switch to see if it would work, nothing happened. So I decided to try putting the uninsulated wire (ground) around the ground screw on the switch. I then flipped the switch again and the light flicked on and then immediately off and the fan motor started and stopped.

Thinking I might have flipped a breaker, I went to the breaker box and flipped all as none looked flipped. I removed the uninsulated wires from the switch and put a wire nut on the uninsulated wire and tried again and nothing. I took the wire nut off and put the uninsulated wire back on the switch and tried again and the same things happened – light came on/went off and fan motor started and stopped.

The fans replaced in the other two bedrooms are fine. The only difference I found was the wires coming out of the ceiling in those rooms are red and white. I was told the red was for use with a dimmer switch (one bedroom has a dimmer).

I have made sure the wires in the ceiling fan are well twisted with a wire nut. Does anyone know WHY this is happening. What am I doing or not doing? I am going to try and download some photos I took and post them here – maybe that will help, having something to look at. Thanks in advance for any assistance. Please – no technical terms – I’m intelligent, but not technically brained.

As an electrician, you need a qualified person, REALLY. That is aluminum wiring and in very bad condition. It appears that one of the twisted bare wires has insulation on it meaning that it may be a hot wire, not a ground. I see a red wire at the ceiling box. 2 white wires means more wires there than you think. GET AN ELECTRICIAN NOW! One more thing. It appears that the ceiling box is a brown fibrous (non-metallic) box. That is not acceptable to support a ceiling fan. The vibration of the fan can cause the screws to strip out and come out of the box.

I realize the wiring is not ideal, but let me correct a few things:
~ The switch box that IS NOT working (FIRST BEDROOM), has two white/tan wires, twisted with a wire nut, two black wires – each one attached to the right side of the switch and two uninsulated wires – in the photo, they are connecting with the green ground screw. There are NO wires with partial insulation in that box.

The switch box that IS working (MASTER BEDROOM) is the one that (obviously) needs some work in that the wire nut (red) is cracked and I do see insulation worn away (black) from the wires. There IS NOT a red wire in the ceiling box – the red wire is in the switch box from the Master bedroom.

The ceiling box (FIRST BEDROOM) has ONE white/tan wire and ONE black wire. (I mistakenly said there were TWO white/tan wires in my original post – there was only ONE). I attached the white wire to the white/tan wire twisted together with a wire nut. I attached the black (fan) and blue (light) wires to the black wire twisted together with a wire nut. I then added the green ground wire. There ARE NO additional wires in the ceiling box.

I don’t know what photo WIRED is looking at, but the ceiling box IS NOT a brown fibrous box – in fact it is black metal – and barely viewable in the photo. It is exactly what is required for a ceiling fan as a ceiling fan came down from that spot and I replaced the old fan bar attachment with the new one (the black metal bar) from the box the new fan came in. The only brown in the photo at the ceiling is the dirty part of the popcorn ceiling from where the previous fan had been.

One reason I requested assistance from my DIY group is because I feel comfortable that what answer(s) I receive will be honest and up front. Unfortunately, that is not always the case when a person (woman) contacts a professional (male). I like to be aware (in advance) of what to expect by way of “the language” and what needs to be done. It’s the same reason I call my BIL, an (Auto and Motorcycle mechanic over 40 yrs) auto mechanic when I have a problem with my car. I tell him what noise it’s making (and/or let him listen over the phone). He will tell me what is wrong and approximately what it should cost to repair it. That way, when I take it to a local auto mechanic, if I’m told something different or the cost seems out of line, I know that perhaps he’s not being upfront and/or honest w/me and I go someplace else. I don’t need to be
talked down to.

I believe WIRED stated I should get an electrician to work on this situation out of concern for a fellow human being. That to me is a given – I KNOW I need an electrician – as I mentioned, I am intelligent. What I was hoping for, was to get my questions answered – not be spoken to like I was. I see the issues that need to be taken care of, I don’t need them to be pointed out.

So, if anyone in the group can answer my questions, I would greatly appreciate it.
1. Does anyone know WHY this could be happening?
2. What am I doing or not doing?
3. Why would I get juice to the ceiling fan/light when the ground wire is attached (even tho it’s only for an instant) but get nothing when it’s not? And the other rooms are working fine with only the two wires attached to the switch?

First. let’s tackle terminology. in MOST cases, house wiring has a color scheme, dictated by the National Electric Code. Green or bare wires are ALWAYS ground wires, used to carry fault current to the grounding electrode conductor at the service meter. white is USUALLY the ‘grounded’ conductor, formerly referred to as a neutral, used to carry unused current back to the panel. Black and red wires are USUALLY current carrying conductors, commonly referred to as ‘hot’ wires.

Second, let’s talk basic electricity. to power a load (fan, light, etc.) a hot and neutral is required. the hot can be broken thru a switch to disrupt the power to the load (turn off a light). the switch generally will not have a neutral connected to it. in newer wiring, there is also a ground wire, either bare or insulated green. it will hook to each receptacle (plug), appliance that is not double insulated (2-wire cord), metal box, or load that has exposed metal that can be touched (fan shroud or metal case), etc.

Third, general wiring techniques. when running wiring in a house, getting the hot and neutral to each device (light, plug, etc.) can be done several ways. it is generally easier to run the cable containing the hot, neutral and ground wire from the panel thru the ceiling to the boxes used to mount the light fixtures, usually no more than ten lights on a circuit. it is good not to mix lights and plugs, because lights are generally a fixed load, that is, their amount of load does not change unless you use different wattage bulbs. it is good(best) to not have more than ten plugs on a circuit, to keep from overloading the circuit, since loads on receptacles change often, such as vacuum cleaners, lamps, fans, etc. these devices (plugs or lights) are daisy chained, or connected in parallel (hots hooked together at the load, neutrals hooked together at the load, grounds hooked together at the load, with the same load wires also connected). this way, if a load is interrupted, say a bulb goes out, everything else on the circuit will still operate.

In rooms with an overhead light fixture, you would than run a cable from the light box to the switch. if only one load will be connected to the switch, a cable with a hot, neutral and ground will do. if you will have separate loads, such as a light and a fan, you will need a hot and two switch legs, this the red wire. either way, the white conductor from the light box to the switch box will be the hot wire and MUST be labeled as such in each box. the black and red wires will be used to carry power from the switches back to the loads. this is the only time the white conductor will be used as a hot wire. fourth-your problem; you need a good electric meter to determine which wires are hot and which wires are not. turn off the breaker before doing anything. then remove the wire nuts and separate every wire in the affected area. it doesn’t hurt to put a wire nut on EVERY wire at this point. now turn the power back on. you should be able to determine which wire is the hot feeding the room- the black and white in a cable will indicate 115 volts on the feed cable (cable from the panel). when you find it, turn off the power and put some black tape on that cable, so you can remember which one is hot. if you have access to the wiring, such as in the attic, you can determine the routing of the other cables in order to identify which cables go where. otherwise, you gotta do some electrical work. you must determine which cable goes to the switch and which cables need to be daisy chained to the other room. if your meter has a continuity tester, you can twist the wire together at the switch and see which cable has continuity with the switch wires together. BE SURE THE POWER IS OFF BEFORE ATTEMPTING THIS! fifth, if no feeder cable is found at the light box, you may have a hot cable in the switch, thus the two whites, grounds and blacks in the switch box. the neutrals (whites) carry thru the box and go to the light box, with the blacks on the switch-one is hot and the other is the switch leg. for safety reasons, always hook the hot to the top screw of the switch. sixth, multiple switching, or 3-way and four-way switches. if you wan to operate the light from two places, you will need three-way switches. if you want to control the light from 3 or more places, you have to use a 3-way on each end and four-way switches in between. these switches get real complicated, so ask if this is your case, please! seven–are you confused yet? electricians have to earn their money, especially when going behind someone else!