Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I control my ceiling fan and light separately with two wall switches?
Answer: To control the ceiling fan and light separately with two wall switches, a three conductor cable needs to be installed from the switch location to the ceiling fan location. NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Below is an example of a ceiling fan installation that I did for a client where I converted the single wall switch that controlled an electrical receptacle outlet to two wall switches that control the fan and light separately.
CONTROL CEILING FAN AND LIGHT SEPARATELY
In the above switch box the white wire is usually the hot wire or the LINE and the black wire is the LOAD. When the wiring is checked at the outlet, a white wire is seen connected to the hot black wires. This is normal, however the white wire should have been re-identified with a different color because it is not a neutral.
In the above photo of an electrical outlet controlled by a wall switch, notice the white wire and two black wires connected together. One of the black wires is the LINE or hot wire into the outlet box, but instead of getting terminated directly onto the outlet it is connected to the white wire that goes to the wall switch. This white wire should have been re-identified with a different color other than white, gray or green.
The black wire from the switch box is connected onto the outlet. One of the white wires connected to the outlet is the neutral conductor that is part of the same cable as the LINE black wire.
I changed the wiring connections so that the outlet was hot at all times and the switch box now had a LINE (Hot) and a neutral. Click to see my blog post about converting a switched outlet to hot for more details and photos about how I did this.
The blue arrow points to a hole that was drilled into the top plate of the wall so that a cable could be fished down to the switches. The green arrow indicates where the ceiling drywall meets the top plate of the wall.
A fiberglass wire pulling rod was used to pull the 14/3 Romex cable across the attic.
The 14/3 Type NM-B Romex cable is stapled to the side of the attic trusses.
The hole in the top plate was filled in later with firestop caulk because I didn’t want to get that stuff on my camera.
The old switch box was removed and the existing hole in the wall was made larger to accommodate the new two gang plastic old work electrical box.
I used the excess wire from the 14/3 Romex as pigtails for the LINE connections to the switches. The 14/3 contains the light and fan LOAD wires going up to the ceiling fan.
One #8 x 1 1/4″ sheet metal screw was driven through the box into the wood wall stud to secure the electrical box. Care must be taken to not over drive the screw into the wood and consequently distort the electrical box.
Doing this can be considered a code violation by some electrical inspectors, but it does make the electrical box more secure over the long term.
Depending on the brand and type of wall plate to be installed, it is sometimes better to remove the ears from the switches and outlets when installing them on plastic old work boxes. When I install steel old work boxes I usually remove the ears. See how I changed one switch to two switches in this ceiling fan installation blog post.
Above, the old work fan brace is installed inside of the ceiling. The steel octagonal fan rated box is ready to be attached.
All metal electrical boxes must be grounded. Part of the grounding conductor is under the green grounding screw with the end hanging out for connecting to. The fan box above also has 8/32 screw holes for a standard ceiling light fixture to be attached.
UPDATE: The grounding method of the metal box depicted above is no longer permitted beginning with the 2020 National Electrical Code 250.148(C). The box must now have a separate grounding pigtail which gets connected to all of the other ground wires in the box.
In the photo above the box is grounded by looping the grounding conductor from the feed cable around the ground screw. This method of box grounding is no longer permitted. The box must have its own grounding pigtail. See my blog post about grounding outlets and switches for more details.
The above is one of many different styles of ceiling fan bracket that comes with each ceiling fan. They are all made to be mounted onto a standard fan rated electrical box.
All ground wires get connected together. All white neutral wires go together. If you are going to install a remote control receiver, this is where it gets inserted.
I connected the black wire from the new wall switch to the black wire on the fan that controls the fan motor. The red wire from the switch was connected to the blue wire on the fan to control the light on the fan.
All of those wires jammed inside of the electrical box is a compelling reason to use a 2 1/8″ deep fan rated electrical box instead of an 1 1/2″ box.
See my Ceiling Fan Wiring Diagrams blog post for several choices of ceiling fan wall switch wiring.