A Few Tips
I'm not any sort of authority on ceiling fans, but I am a
Mechanical Engineer and I have owned no fewer than seven ceiling
fans for 25+ years. My fans are cheap -- I'm a skinflint --
so I've got some experience in what to avoid in cheap fans.
In my experience, there are three common problems that befall
cheap fans: The bearings get noisy, the capacitor fails, or
the blades deteriorate.
Most ceiling fans have ball bearings. In most
applications, this would be a good thing; ball bearings
are precision manufactured, durable, and thanks to mass production
and standardization are relatively inexpensive and readily
available. In this case, however, ball bearings are
arguably the worst option. A ball bearing consists of steel
balls rolling around steel races, and the metal-to-metal rolling
generates a metallic sound. New, these bearings are
pre-lubed with some sort of relatively thick grease that not only
lubricates the rollers but also dampens any noise they
generate. After a while, though, this grease dries out a bit
and gets pushed out of the races and the fan develops a sound when
running. It's not really a fault; it'll run for many years
making that noise. But if you're trying to sleep in that
room, that ssssssssss sound over your head might disturb your
You can try lubricating the bearings, but your odds of success are
poor. The bearings are sealed, which means they have little
metal covers with rubber edges over each side to keep dust and
dirt out. It also keeps oil out. You might be
able to use a hypodermic needle to inject a bit of light
lubricating oil past the rubber edge of the seal, but
unfortunately light oil will only make the noise worse!
It'll rinse the rest of the thick grease out of the bearings, and
they'll be really noisy from then on. What it really needs
is something akin to wheel bearing grease to dampen the sound, but
you'll never get that stuff in with a hypodermic. If you're
really good, you might be able to pry out a clip, lift the dust
seal up, spoon some grease in there, and reinstall the seal and
clip. Good luck!
One other possibility involves motorcycle chain lube. This
stuff comes in a spray can with a tube on the nozzle. When
sprayed, it comes out of the tube as a very thin, watery fluid,
perfect for soaking into the links of a motorcycle chain.
Once out of the spray can, though, a solvent quickly evaporates,
leaving a rather thick grease behind. If you could get that
stuff into the bearings, it might work. I've never
succeeded. And remember, you're dealing with lubricants and
solvents in close proximity to an electrical device.
Spilling it all over everywhere is not good, especially if you're
dumb enough to turn the fan on before it dries.
The obvious answer to all this is to get the bearings out, which
would give you an opportunity to clean and lubricate them properly
"on the bench", or even to just throw them away and install new
bearings. Again, good luck! Standardized ball bearings
are designed to be replaceable, but these ceiling fans are not
designed to be rebuilt in this manner. You will find it very
difficult to get the motor open, the old bearings out (requires a
puller of some sort), back in, and back together. While
there are only four wires into a ceiling fan (ground, neutral,
power, and lamp), inside the motor there are zillions of wires
associated with the three speeds, and you'll probably mess up a
bunch of them attempting that rebuild.
Back in the day, Hunter fans were built without ball
bearings. Hunter fan motors -- besides filling the entire
cast metal housing, rather than most of a stamped tin casing being
an empty shell surrounding a little motor -- had only one bearing,
and it was a sleeve bearing immersed in an oil bath. On
paper this sounds cheap, there's no balls and no machined races,
but in fact it's a vastly better way to build a fan. It does
require rather precision machining, and unfortunately that has to
be done at the fan factory, they cannot just buy over-the-counter
bearings and slap them in. It also involves a little port on
top where the owner has to check the oil level once a year and
make sure it doesn't run dry. For all that, you'll get a fan
that'll run silently for 100 years. Unfortunately, I think
Hunter may have moved away from this design. If you can find
one that still has that design, I suggest you buy it.
The capacitor on a 3-speed fan is actually two capacitors in
one; in fact, it's possible to replace it with two separate
capacitors, and some fans once came with two capacitors. I
suspect they fail in a variety of ways, but I had one fail
dramatically: The fan started making a humming sound, the
blades ground to a stop, it began to smoke and stink, and molten
goo started dripping from the switch housing on the bottom.
Fortunately, we weren't sleeping under it! We got the power
turned off quickly.
It may be dramatic, but believe it or not this is an easy
fix. Three screws remove the cover on the bottom of the
switch housing, and the capacitor is inside. Before you do
anything, make very careful notes which wires connect to
which. New fan capacitors are readily available.
Oddly, the replacement capacitor may not have exactly the same
specs as the original. Don't worry about that! The
only difference it'll make is that the fan may run slightly faster
or slower on the various speeds. The new capacitor may have
different color wires than the old one, and when you first hook it
up something odd may happen like the 2nd speed is slower than the
3rd. You'll get it working, though.
While in there, I recommend you fasten that capacitor down.
When left to rattle around in there, sometimes they will buzz or
rattle while the fan is running. A bit of double-sided foam
poster tape usually works well enough; just apply it to the end of
the capacitor and stick it down to the flat area deep inside the
housing. Obviously, if you have a fan that's running fine
but has a buzz, you might want to look into this.
There's nothing cheaper about a cheap fan than the
blades. These things are made of whatever particleboard or
cardboard the maker thinks they can get away with selling.
Sure, they look nice when new, but they may not look nice for long
-- especially if the fan is installed in an area where the
humidity may get high, like in a garage or on a porch. I
live in Florida and I've had two fans with blades that drooped to
nearly vertical at the tips within two months of
installation. I've also had fans with blades that
delaminated, the pretty wood-pattern surface peeled right off and
bubbled up along the edges. Garbage.
The prevention for this is to buy "indoor/outdoor" fans.
These aren't really intended to get rained on, but they do come
with blades that won't droop or delaminate in the humidity.
Rather than being made of veneered particleboard, they are
typically made of either plastic or fiberglass. Fiberglass
would last until the sun burns out in this application; I dunno
how long the plastic will last (I'll probably find out!) but it's
certainly a lot longer than the particleboard. Fans with
these blades do cost a bit more, obviously, but in my opinion it's
money well spent -- even if the fan is to be installed indoors.
You might not care for the appearance of the plastic or fiberglass
blades, but if it'd help you can pick up a rattlecan of spray
paint and paint them to match your decor prior to assembling your
fan. Lay out some newspaper and then lay out the blades
using something to hold them above the paper. I found that a
socket set out of my toolbox worked great, using three or four
sockets to hold up each blade. Use Krylon Fusion or some
other paint that's intended for plastic; some paints just won't
stick to plastic. Apply a thin coat, let dry, apply another
thin coat, let dry, flip the blades over and repeat. Try to
apply the same amount of paint to each blade to help maintain
If you've already got a fan with deteriorating blades, the fix
would seem easy enough yet it is fraught with complications.
You can buy a set of Harbor Breeze replacement blades at Lowe's,
and guess what? The replacement blades are the
indoor/outdoor type! I guess they figure you've already
learned your lesson and won't be interested in buying any more
The package says "fits most ceiling fans" -- but it lies!
Each blade attaches to a blade arm with three screws, and
obviously that pattern of three holes has to line up or the blades
won't fit. And a cursory look at the fans on display in the
same store reveals that the replacement blades won't fit most
of them. Many new fans now come with some sort of snap-on
attachment scheme to save contractors the man-hours of having to
install all those screws, and that attachment scheme uses a
different hole pattern.
You could, of course, try to drill holes in your new blades to
match the holes in your old blades. If you're really good at
machine work and have a drill press, this might work well
enough. For most of us, though, you'll have trouble getting
the hole pattern exactly the same on the entire set of blades, and
that may result in some blades being positioned a bit differently
than others. That, in turn, will result in balance
problems. You might be able to balance it out anyway (I'll
discuss balancing fans below) but in general I don't recommend
going that route.
A better idea is to replace the blade arms as well. Right
next to the packages of new blades you'll find packages of new
blade arms, and the replacement blades will fit the
replacement blade arms. But then you face the next
complication: Will the new blade arms fit your fan?
Fortunately, your odds are a lot better here. Each blade arm
attaches to the motor with two screws, and if the spacing between
the two screws is about 2-1/16", the replacement blade arms will
fit. If the spacing between the two screws is different,
you're dead in the water, you'll probably need to buy a new
fan. When you select a new fan, besides checking for
indoor/outdoor rating, you might want to check the attachment
schemes to see if the replacement parts will fit!
Your next problem, of course, is whether the replacement blade
arms are the right color. Back to the spray paint again.
The cost of the set of replacement blades plus the cost of the set
of replacement blade arms adds up to close to the cost of a new
fan! But don't be tempted to just buy a new fan. The
new fans in that price range have the crummy blades. If your
old fan is in good working order other than the blades, you'd be
much better off buying the replacement blades and blade
arms. Besides, it'll save you the effort of removing the old
fan and installing the new; you can just swap the blades out with
it hanging there.
In my experience, the indoor/outdoor blades are considerably more
massive than the particleboard blades. Hence, when you turn
the fan on it'll take longer to get up to speed, and when you turn
it off it'll coast longer.
One other bit of good news: I have found that, after
installing the replacement plastic blades with new blade arms,
often the fan doesn't need balancing. At all.
Apparently the quality control on the indoor/outdoor blades is
considerably better than on the garbage particleboard
If your fan wobbles when running, it needs balancing.
I'll provide some tips on successfully balancing a ceiling
fan. It's not difficult, but it does take some time -- which
is the reason your contractor didn't do it.
The first step is to make sure all the blades are properly
installed and straight. Check all the screws holding the
blade arms to the motor to make sure they're tight. Ideally,
loosen each pair and then pull outward gently on the blade while
retightening it. This ensures the clearance in the screw
holes is taken up the same way on each blade.
Spin the fan slowly by hand and stand back and watch the blades so
that, on one side of the fan, you're looking at the edge of the
blade so it looks very thin to you. With the fan turning
slowly, each blade passing that same spot should appear exactly
the same. If one of them looks different, that means its
pitch is different, the blade is twisted to a different
angle. You've got to fix that by fitting an adjustable
wrench around the blade arm right where it attaches to the blade
and gently twisting the arm. Be very careful; those blade
arms are cheap pot metal, and bending them too much will just snap
them. You can fix the mismatch between blades by moving some
of the blades to a steeper angle to match the others, or by moving
the others to the shallower angle of the first. Doesn't
matter as long as they're all the same. It won't make any
difference in how much air the fan moves, because moving all the
blades to the shallower angle just permits it to spin a little
faster at the same power setting.
If there's a ceiling right above the fan, pick a spot on it and
measure the distance from the ceiling down to a blade tip.
Turn the fan around, trying not to rock it on its swivelling
mount, and measure the distance to each blade tip from the same
spot on the ceiling. If any blade is lower or higher than
the others, bend the blade arms accordingly to level them all
up. Warning: This is likely to be rather difficult to
do, because the fan motor won't sit still while you're trying to
bend the blade arm.
Measure the distance from the tip of one blade to the tip of the
next blade. Measure the distance between all the blades in
the same manner. The tips should all be the same distance
apart. If the distance between one pair is a bit less than
most and the distance between the next pair is a bit more than
most, the blade in the middle is bent to one side. You will
need to bend that blade arm a bit sideways to put the tip back to
centered between the blades to either side. If the distances
are all different, add up all the distances and divide by the
number of blades to determine what the distance should be between
each and every pair of blades. If any blade has more than
this on one side and less on the other, bend that blade
first. Keep bending blade arms until the blades are all
Now you'll probably need to go back and repeat all of those last
three paragraphs, because fixing one thing tends to mess up
another. Keep at it until your blades are all equally
spaced, level, and have the same pitch. It won't serve any
purpose to be balancing the fan until the blades are straight.
Balancing a ceiling fan is a remarkably unscientific process;
rather than using a fancy computerized balance machine as is used
on car tires, for balancing a ceiling fan we use
trial-and-error. Fans come with a balancing kit, but you
really don't need one; I'll describe how to do the job with or
without the kit.
Imbalance in a rotating assembly is a vector, meaning it's a
particular mass applied in a particular direction. To
correct that imbalance, you will almost always need to be adding two
weights to the blades of your fan. The odds of your
imbalance lining up perfectly with one blade -- allowing you to
correct it with a single weight -- are minimal. Far more
likely, the imbalance will line up between two blades, so you'll
need to apply a weight to each of two adjacent weights to properly
balance your fan.
A given imbalance can be corrected with a small weight out at the
tip or a larger weight closer in. The weight multiplied by
the distance from the center is what's important. The
balancing kits take advantage of this fact by giving you only one
size weight to work with; you achieve balance by how far out from
the center you apply them. They also provide a clip that
weighs the same as the balance weight, so you can slide the clip
around until the fan balances and then stick a weight down where
the clip is. They only give you one clip, so you've got to
apply one weight and then start over to apply the second.
Since the fan won't be perfectly balanced with the first weight,
your trial-and-error involves trying to figure out which spot
results in the least wobble, which is more difficult to discern
than no wobble at all.
You can forget the clip and balance the fan by just taping the
weights down with Scotch tape and peeling them up and moving them
around. Since you're using the weights themselves rather
than a clip, the weights can be heavier or lighter than the
weights that come with the balance kit. You can use a paper
clip, a small bit of scrap metal, whatever. Once you've
decided where they need to go, remove the Scotch tape and fasten
them down permanently. I often balance fans using very thin,
broad pieces of sheet metal applied with clear packing tape, since
that makes the flattest application to the blade.
Balancing a fan is trial-and-error, which requires patience.
Run the fan at high speed, notice how much it wobbles. Stop
it, stick a weight on it near the inner end of a blade, then run
it again and see if the wobble is better or worse. If worse,
try a blade on the other side of the fan. If it doesn't seem
much different, try an adjacent blade. If better, try moving
the weight a bit outward on the same blade. Keep stepping
outward until the wobble reaches a minimum and then starts getting
worse again. The spot where the wobble is minimum is where
you want that weight to stay. If you reach the end of the
blade and the wobble is still improving, your weight is too light,
you either need to use a bigger weight or two weights on that
The second weight should go on an adjacent blade. There are
two adjacent blades; try one and then the other, again starting
with the weight near the inner end. If one of the farther
blades works better, you put the first weight on the wrong
blade. If adding weight to the opposite blade on a
4-blade fan is what works best, you really screwed up that first
weight. If you did things correctly, this second blade will
require less weight than the first, so you might opt to use a
lighter weight than the first one. Using the balancing kit,
of course, you'd just use the same size weight mounted closer to
the inner end.
If you've done the job correctly, the fan should have no
wobble. None at all. It takes a lot of patience to get
it that good, though, so most people quit when it's "good
enough." Hey, if it's good enough for you, it's good
enough. It's probably a bunch better than it was when you