When purchasing a new ceiling fan, whether you need a wall switch or not may not even cross your mind, but it’s an important consideration.
Many fans have pull chains, remote controls, voice controls (like Alexa) and wall switches, but which do you actually need?
The National Electrical Code (NEC) states that every room must have a wall switch; located near the entry door that controls either a ceiling fixture or a switched receptacle. All ceiling fixtures must be controlled by a wall switch and not by a pull chain alone.
When installing new equipment (such as a ceiling fan) in a property or building a new property, referring to local and national codes is essential to ensure that the installation complies with the NEC code.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) describes the national codes for residential and commercial wiring, if you are planning to undertake the installation of a ceiling fan yourself you much adhere to these rules in order to stay safe.
Ceiling fixtures such as lights and fans must all be to a circuit breaker on the main power distribution panel, and all individual fixtures must be linked to a wall-mounted switch. The wall switch allows for the safe installation and maintenance of appliances and fixtures on that circuit.
The built-in redundancy is designed and prescribed by the NEC to ensure the safety of electrical contractors and the property inhabitants. Let’s look at the reasons for the design of electrical installation codes.
What’s The Difference Between A Wall Switch & Wall Control Switch?
A wall switch and a wall control switch are different things.
A wall switch will turn the ceiling fan on and off from the source, therefore when switched off at the wall, the ceiling fan will not function when using the remote control or pull chain.
A ceiling fan wall control switch is used to control the speed and whether the fan is rotating or not. If the fan is stationary and switched off, it will still be powered and ready to run when you need it, so not completely off like it would be on a wall switch.
Take a look at our guide on the best ceiling fan wall control switches and whether you can use dimmer switches with ceiling fans.
Does A Ceiling Fan With Remote Need A Wall Switch?
Ceiling fans can be controlled by remote control, but the code requires that a wall-mounted switch be installed to control the power supply to the ceiling fan.
The electrical motors used in ceiling fans are most likely DC-type motors. The advantages of using DC (direct current) motors make them ideal for use in ceiling fans.
DC Motors are virtually silent and are thus an obvious choice for ceiling fans. They are also lightweight, making installation easier and less weight on the installation point. DC motors provide more torque and thus require less energy to create a downdraft.
The ability to adjust fan speeds and to start and stop the fan is easier with DC motors. All the electrical components for the circuitry and fan functions are incorporated into the motor assembly, making installation very easy.
To minimize the risk of fire or electrical shock, the power to the ceiling fan must be able to be shut off at a switch located in the same room. In addition to this wall switch, the circuit breaker on the electrical control panel can also cut power to the entire circuit on which the ceiling fan is connected.
This double switch-off arrangement is termed redundancy.
If the circuit is overloaded, the circuit breaker will interrupt the power supply to all outlets and appliances on that circuit. If the DC motor is defective and causes a problem, the wall switch can cut power to the ceiling fan.
If the ceiling fan is remote-controlled, this function may be disabled in case of a problem, thus necessitating the need to cut power at the wall-mounted switch.
An electrical contractor will always start the fault-finding process by cutting the power supply to the affected circuit at the electrical control panel. Using a multi-meter, the contractor will verify that no live electrical current is present in the circuit.
By process of elimination, the contractor will check all appliances and electrical outlets on the circuit where the ceiling fan failed. The ceiling fan can be safely removed and tested for internal faults.
Replacement with a new ceiling fan motor is easy. Using the multi-meter, the contractor will switch on the main circuit and check whether other appliances and outlets are functioning correctly.
Finally, the wall switch can be turned on, and the ceiling fan tested. The contractor will test whether the remote control functions work as intended.
It is also good practice to switch the ceiling fan off at the wall switch when not in use for long periods of time (like going on holiday), cutting the power to the motor and eliminating the risk of an electrical overload at the ceiling motor, thus in turn potentially a ceiling fan fire.
Why Switch The Ceiling Fan Power Off At The Wall Switch?
Commercial and domestic power supply installations have redundancy built into the circuit designs to prevent the risk of electrocution or fire. Most household fires start as a result of a malfunction of the electrical system.
Ceiling mounted fans have electrical DC motors due to the power efficiency of these motors. The DC-powered motor is powered by 110V and 60 Hz AC power supply on the 15 Amp circuit for the ceiling lights and fans.
The incoming AC power will pass into a DC rectifier before powering the fan motor. This AC to DC rectifier is part of the ceiling fan circuitry. The rectifier gets hot during the conversion of AC to DC and may result in overheating, leading to fire.
Can You Just Use The Remote Control?
Many models of ceiling fans can be switched on and off with remote control. The remote control can also adjust the fan speed and switch the light fitted to the fan on and off.
Using the remote control to switch the fan off does not cut the AC power supply to the electrical circuitry of the ceiling fan control unit. The power to the ceiling fan control unit has to be switched off at the wall switch.
In case of an electrical failure, the remote control may not be operative, and the wall switch can be used as an over-ride switch to cut power to the ceiling fan.
Conclusion: Does A Ceiling Fan Need A Wall Switch?
The National Electrical Code (NEC) mandates installing a wall-mounted switch to cut the power supply to the ceiling fan when not in use.