Ceiling fans are a semi-permanent fixture in homes, and something most people don’t want to replace until it’s absolutely necessary. While it’s easy to swap out fan blades, bulbs, or glass globes, pull chains are an entirely different story. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through the steps of replacing a pull chain on a ceiling fan and provide you with a few alternatives if it proves to be an impossible task.
Pull Chains & Switches
Before you attempt to tackle the repair on a broken pull chain, it’s a good idea to understand how they work and why they break. Pull chain breaks come in two forms with internal and external breaks. With either type, the area where the chain goes into the housing and connects to the switch is an area where friction can occur.
After pulling on those chains for years, they can snap off, but where they snap has a huge impact on the repair process. It can also affect the switch inside the fan, which makes things a bit more complicated than most people realize. If your fan has an overhead fixture, you may have two pull chains to deal with, although both can be fixed using the process we’ve outlined below.
The first thing you’ll want to do is get a ladder and inspect the chain. If you’re lucky, and it’s simply snapped at a point that’s shorter than you’d like, it’s an easy fix. You can pick up a pull chain extension like this one which is 36” in length and rustproof. They come in a wide variety of finishes and sizes, and can simply be snapped onto the end of the broken chain to lengthen it.
If the chain is broken behind the housing or you can’t see it at all, it’s time to head grab a ladder and a few tools. Before you do anything you need to turn off the wall switch if it uses one, and then cut power to the fan. Ensure you have enough light to work safely when removing the housing and set aside some time for this DIY project so you’re not distracted or get into a rush.
- Wire Strippers
- Wire Nuts
Finding the Break
Once you’re sure the power is off and you have the ladder in place, it’s time to find the break. This process will vary to a degree depending on the style of fan you have but is straightforward once you get to the switch. Remove the globe or any accents that may hinder you from reaching the housing, and then you are ready to begin.
Remove the nut from around the pull chain, and then use a screwdriver and remove any screws around the light fixture. These hold it in place, but the screws themselves can be tricky to remove. Take your time, and be cautious about stripping the screws as well. When you get to the last screw, proceed with caution as the fixture will pop loose in most cases when the last screw is out.
Place the screws with the fixture you removed. You may need to remove a nut around the switch as well, but again, it all depends on the model of the ceiling fan. When you have the fixture loose, you should be able to get a good look at the switch. If it’s completely broken or looks damaged, you can replace the entire switch with one that’s compatible with your ceiling fan model. If that’s the case, skip ahead to the Switch Replacement part of our guide.
Fixing the Broken Pull Chain
If the chain is simply broken inside the switch, you’ll need to pry the switch open. You can generally accomplish this with a small, flat head screwdriver. Once open, you can remove the wiring from the switch and begin the repair process. This is another area where you’ll want to take your time or you could risk losing the spring inside the switch.
Once the switch has been disassembled, remove the broken piece connected to the small disk inside. It should be simple to remove, but if it’s stuck you can use the screwdriver to gently get it loose. Take your new chain, and install it where the old chain was removed, and then reassemble the switch. The spring can be tricky, but with some patience, everything should go perfectly back together.
From here, you need to plug the wiring back into the switch, reattach the fixture nut, and carefully tuck your wiring back into the housing. It can be an extremely tight fit in some cases but don’t force it back into place. Keep an eye on screw holes to ensure they line up properly, and then reattach the light fixture.
Once this step is complete, you can turn on the power at the breaker and pull the chain to make sure everything is in proper working order. If your pull chain works again, you can reattach the light fixture and put the tools away as your job is complete
Replacing a Pull Chain Switch
Fixing a switch is a little more complicated than replacing a pull chain if you’re uncomfortable with wiring. If that’s not an issue, you’ll want to cut the power off, get a set of wire strippers and get ready for a trip to the hardware store.
To get started, you need to remove the switch from the wiring. More often than not, you can simply twist the wire caps off and disconnect the switch and remove it from the fan. At this point, we highly recommend taking a good look at the wiring or even a photograph on your mobile for reference when you refit.
If you have a manual for your ceiling fan, you may be able to pull the part number and order what you need online. A trip to the hardware store is quicker, however, and a helpful clerk can help you quickly hone in on the part you need. Once you’ve gotten the correct switch, you need to remove a short section of insulation from the ends of the wires if they aren’t pre-prepped.
With the new switch in hand, reattach the wiring to the old wires by twisting them together with your fingers. Use a wire nut or twist connector to cover the ends and keep them safe from a short, then put the new switch back in the housing. Reattach the fixture nut that holds it in place, and reassemble the fan following the steps we outlined above.
You don’t have to have an electrician’s license to fix a broken chain on a ceiling fan, but you should be careful and take your time. Always make sure the power is off before dealing with any wiring issues in your home, and when in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified professional to deal with the wiring. If you’re simply ready to purchase a new ceiling fan for your home, we have that covered as well!