One of the most common issues our clients encounter with ceiling fans is related to the blades not moving. In fact, even a brand new fan could happen to have an electric motor that’s humming but not spinning.
This problem doesn’t necessarily mean that the ceiling fan is broken, and there are a few things you can do to fix it at home. Usually, the core issue is either the motor, the switch, or the mechanism behind the blade.
Since we received many questions about this topic, we decided to compile a useful guide you can come back to whenever you want, in case your fan hums but doesn’t turn. Let’s get started!
What does it mean when a fan hums?
If your fan motor is humming but not turning, you can actually rejoice a little: a motor humming is the equivalent of a person breathing, which means it’s alive and there’s a good chance you can save your ceiling fan.
When the motor of a ceiling fan makes the average kind of noise you’re used to, it might mean the problem is to be found somewhere else.
However, sometimes the motor itself could be humming and still be the main issue behind the blades not turning, so keep reading below in order to learn how to troubleshoot your ceiling fan.
How to fix a ceiling fan that won’t spin
When a ceiling fan hums but doesn’t turn, the first thing to do in order to find a solution is to identify the problem.
This problem usually falls into one of these two categories: electrical or mechanical. Both categories could be either easy to fix or require help from a professional.
Usually, electrical problems may be easier to deal with, even without the help of a handyman. When the problem is mechanical, sometimes things get really complicated.
If your ceiling fan is brand new, the first thing you want to check is that you removed every packing tab and bit from the ceiling fan.
In fact, there might be pieces of packing material stuck between the blades or in other parts of the fan, which prevents it from working properly.
They might not be easy to see at first, or they might be confused with the components, so make sure to double-check.
Every ceiling fan, environment, and the situation is different, so there might be unpredictable or very specific circumstances that cause your ceiling fan to stop turning.
However, for the sake of simplicity, we compiled a list of the six most common issues related to ceiling fans and provided a solution for each one.
Without further ado, let’s dive into troubleshooting.
1. Reverse switch
Not everyone is aware that your ceiling fan can go in both directions: clockwise and counterclockwise. You can adjust the direction by toggling the reverse switch on the fan itself.
The reason for this switch is that ceiling fans operate differently based on which direction the blades go. In fact, you can actually save a lot of money on energy bills if you know how to use the reverse switch:
- In summer, if your ceiling fan turns counterclockwise, it pushes the cool air down and helps you lower the temperature of the room without using as much AC.
- In winter, if your ceiling fan turns clockwise and operates at the lowest speed, it actually pulls cool air up, and pushes warm air around the room, making your house warmer and allowing you to rely less on other heating devices.
When a fan is brand new, the reverse switch might be stuck in a neutral position. It means it’s neither pushed all the way to the left, nor to the right, but stands right in the middle.
You can access the reverse switch easily since it’s on the housing of the ceiling fan. If your ceiling fan won’t spin, but the lights are on, it could mean the problem is with the reverse switch.
It should be the first thing to check because it’s the easiest “problem” to fix, requiring just a matter of seconds.
2. Faulty wall switch
If your fan can be operated with a wall switch, the problem could be in the switch rather than the fan.
It’s quite easy to check whether there’s a problem with the switch: most fans usually have a pull chain. When the fan works with the pull chain, but not the switch, the problem is with the latter.
It could also happen that you have a double switch for both the lights and the fan, and the lights work.
In that case, it could be a wiring problem or an issue with the potentiometer inside the switch. In order to check the wiring, you need to turn off your circuit breaker first, then follow these steps:
- Using a screwdriver, remove the screws around the switch panel, then remove the panel.
- Using a non-contact voltage detector, confirm the power is actually off and not running through the switch. If it is, go back to the circuit breaker and see which fuse has yet to be disconnected.
- Connect the hot wire from the fan with the hot wire from the circuit breaker. Secure this connection through a wire nut, then turn the circuit breaker back on.
- If the blades work like this, the switch needs to be replaced.
3. Faulty ball bearings
Bearings are a fundamental part of the mechanism behind ceiling fans and many other devices. The rotor spins on them to displace air, and that’s essentially how the fan works.
However, that’s exactly the reason why bearings are put under a lot of stress and could wear out or stop functioning.
There are many types of bearings, but most ceiling fans have ball bearings, so we’re going to focus on those.
In order to check if the problem is with the ball bearings, you need to push the blades of the ceiling fan by hand. Even if they don’t work automatically, they should move when you push them.
If they don’t move, it means the bearings aren’t working and need to be replaced. Unfortunately, it’s quite complicated to replace them if you don’t know what you’re doing because you need to disassemble the motor and lubricate the right components.
For this issue, we recommend asking for professional intervention, in order to avoid damaging the fan further.
4. Faulty wires
Sometimes the problem lies in the wiring of the ceiling fan itself. This is a very generic issue, and as such there are many tips you can use.
When your living room fan, bedroom fan, kitchen fan, or attic fan is humming but not spinning, you can follow these steps:
- Turn off the circuit breaker.
- Go for the housing of the ceiling fan and remove the screws to uncover the wires.
- Remove the wire nuts and inspect the wires: search for signs of blackening, which means the wires have burned out.
- Make sure all the connections are tight, and there are no loose wires.
- Tighten all the nuts and make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be and in good conditions.
- Put everything back as it was.
- Check if the ceiling fan works now.
If it doesn’t work, and the other tips in this list didn’t help either, it’s time to call an electrician or change the fan.
5. Faulty fan motor
We mentioned that, if the ceiling fan motor is running but the blades are not turning, not all is lost because it means the motor still works.
However, this doesn’t mean that the problem cannot be the motor itself.
Depending on the environment and the age of the ceiling fan, for example, the motor may be having a hard time working properly.
This happens if the ceiling fan hasn’t been cleaned in a while and dust had time to accumulate on the motor. It could also be that your ceiling fan is placed in a very humid room, so it became rusted.
The solution is simple: you should clean your fan motor. To do that, you need to take down the ceiling fan, and then put it back up.
Of course, if the motor has been in those poor conditions for too long, it may have burned out. In that case, you need to buy a new one to replace it.
6. Faulty capacitor
We kept this possibility for last, mainly because it’s not something that can be cleaned or fixed as easily as other issues, however, it’s actually one of the most common issues when a ceiling fan is humming but not spinning.
The capacitor is essentially what kickstarts the blades of your ceiling fan. You can easily check if there’s a problem with the capacitor by pushing the blades by hand.
If they start spinning on their own after you made them gain some speed by hand, it means the faulty component is the capacitor.
In order to change the capacitor of a ceiling fan, you need to follow these steps:
- Use the screwdriver to open the ceiling fan housing.
- The capacitor should be just above the light fixture, and it is a little black box connected to the pull chain.
- Take note of the number on the black box, as you will need to buy a new capacitor with those same numbers.
- Once you have the replacement, cut the wires of the old capacitor.
- Connect the new capacitor with its new wires, in the same formation as the old one.
- Place the housing back and tighten the screws.
As you can see, replacing a capacitor is quite easy and you don’t need any specific skills, so next time you have a ceiling fan that hums but doesn’t turn, just follow our guide and you’ll fix the problem in no time.