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Can Dimmer Switches Be Used With Ceiling Fans?

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A dimmer switch is meant to control the intensity of light in a room, essentially economize electricity usage, or customize the lighting experience at home. Most dimmer switches are meant for lighting devices only in a particular range of voltage, and the details are specifically mentioned in the spec sheet. 

Dimmer switches should not be used with ceiling fans. It could be quite dangerous to use a standard dimmer switch with a ceiling fan or any other mechanical appliance for the simple reason that it can damage the motor. Also, it can get overloaded and become a fire hazard. 

This article will discuss more about dimmer switches, its compatibility with ceiling fans, and measures that can be taken if a dimmer switch is already connected to a ceiling fan. I will also talk about ways in which the speed of ceiling fans can be regulated without using a dimmer switch.

Why Are Dimmer Switches Unsuitable for Fans?

Ceiling Fans or any other fans are primarily induction motors. To control them or their speed, a capacitor is needed. The Dimmer Switch, on the other hand, works on the principle of adjusting the amount of flow of electricity to the lighting device and accordingly controlling the luminance.

It is worth mentioning here that all dimmer switches are not suitable for all kinds of lighting devices either. A dimmer switch will have its range within which the voltage can be altered. For a light to be operated safely and effectively by that switch, it needs to work within that voltage range. For example, a dimmer with 0-10 V dimming capacity will be compatible with a light fixture that operates in the range of 0-10 Volts.

When a standard dimmer switch is connected to a ceiling fan, a loud hum sound can be heard from the fan. A tremendous amount of heat gets generated as the switch gets overloaded beyond its capacity. This incompatible connection not only causes damage to the motor of the fan but also can cause a devastating fire. 

What to Do When a Dimmer Is Already Connected?

Most ceiling fans come with a light attached to the fan. This is most likely the reason why a dimmer switch could be connected to a ceiling fan in the first place. Should the ceiling fan be already connected to a standard dimmer switch, here’s what you should do:

  • Check whether the dimmer switch attached to the fan and light is compatible with a ceiling fan or not. This can be done by removing the switch panel (if the switch was pre-purchased and you don’t own the spec sheet). Those switches which are safe to be used with a fan will specifically have it inscribed on the inside, and others will mention that the switch is meant to be used on light fixtures alone.
  • In case the dimmer switch is not compatible, replace it immediately with a toggle switch with which the fan and the light can be operated simultaneously. The downside to this option is that the light cannot be “faded down” with the toggle switch. But it is the safest thing to do as it will keep the fan and the wiring from getting damaged. 
  • Retain the dimmer switch for the light and add a toggle switch for the fan. However, this option is available only if the wiring in the fan is done separately and is independent of the light control. In most cases, where the fan connection is older than ten years, the wiring is not separate.
  • If the wiring in the fan and light are not independent of each other (in case your ceiling fan is old or the new fan was given a retro installation), then it is possible to separate them and install a separate switch for the fan on the wall. It is advisable to get this done with the help of an electrician or a qualified technician only.

In the last case, it may be required to set up a new switch on the wall for the fan with separate wiring (concealed or otherwise), and that may require a builder’s permit. Cecelia Harsch, a home improvement writer, provides a DIY method in SFGate about how to separate the wiring of the light from the ceiling fan to install two separate switches for both.

Ways to Control Fan Speed

Now that the possibility of operating a ceiling fan with a standard dimmer switch is ruled out, the question that arises is: how can the speed of the fan be controlled? There are a few suggestions: 

A Regular Pull-Chain

Most classic models of fans have a pull chain system. These chains are tugged to alter the speed of the fan. The fans that come with lights usually have two pull chains, one for the fan and the other for the light. But this system may seem a little outdated. While the pull-chain system works just fine for bedroom fans and for other rooms with a low ceiling, it is rather inconvenient to haul up to a high ceiling in case of a living room or a hall.

Fans With Remote Control

Some ceiling fans can be operated only with a remote (no switch installation required). One such fan is the Honeywell Carmel Ceiling Fan with an integrated light kit and remote control, which is easy to install, with smooth remote operation and an added feature of warm air circulation in winter. 

The traditional fans can be customized to convert them into remote-controlled ones. The remote control kits come with a receiver unit attached to the canopy of the fan and a hand-held remote device. 

The remote control helps to regulate the speed of the fan as well as the fan running time. The YUKIHALU Universal Ceiling Fan Remote Controls Kit is compatible with most ceiling fan brands and is a recommended buy. Although these remotes have the option to turn the light on and off, they cannot dim the fanlight.

2-in-1 Wall Control

This is actually a wall-mounted remote which can be both wired or used as a battery-operated control device. It has three fan speeds, power off button, and allows full control of mood change for the ceiling fan light in a single control panel. I recommend the Hunter 99375 Wall Control because it is compact and convenient but is worth its cost.

Voice-Controlled and Smart Devices

While remote controls are more convenient than toggle switches or pull chains, many have faced the woes of misplacing the remote or pairing issues. This is why those who are considering dimmer options for their lighting may find smart devices more apt. These can connect directly (through the wifi) with home appliances such as ceiling fans and activate or control them. 

One such device is the BOND Home App, which can be used to control ceiling fans (up to 30 appliances including fireplace) by using your smartphone or voice-enabled devices such as Alexa or the Google Home assistant. However, this device can be used on existing remote-controlled ceiling fans only. 

While this device is slightly more expensive than the other smart devices available in the market, its wide range of connectivity and compatibility makes it a winner.

You can watch this video to understand how this device works:  

Conclusion

A dimmer switch is a great-to-have feature in most modern homes with the need to set the right mood and ambiance with the lights. However, using a standard dimmer switch with a ceiling fan is never recommended unless the switch makers specifically mention it. 

  • Always cross-check if the dimmer switch attached to your fan (in case it is) is labeled as a “fan speed controller” or not.
  • If you wish to retain the dimmer switch for the light, separate the fan connection from it and install an independent control for the ceiling fan.
  • To add a speed control device for the ceiling fans, you can either purchase a fan with the requisite controls or attach them separately (manual or smart) to your existing fans.