Mark Gilbert's Blog

Science and technology, served light and fluffy.

Never hire me for electrical work

I will start out by saying that I am in no way a trained, certified electrician.  That said, I don’t recoil in fear at the thought of changing out a light switch, or replacing a chandelier.  After the odyssey involved in changing out a ceiling fan in the master bedroom, however, I’m beginning to thing that I SHOULD recoil in fear.  Ceiling fans, it seems, are in a class of evil all their own.

The master bedroom in our house had a rather ornate ceiling fan in it when we purchased it two years ago.  The fan also doubled as the main light for the room.  Within a couple of weeks of occupancy, we noticed something about that fan: we hated it.  The light was too dim, the fan was a little on the noisy side, and the blades were far too low to the ground.  It’s a miracle my wife and I still have all of our fingers given the number of times we hit our hands on the twirling-blades-o-doom.

We decided that we would eventually replace it, and “eventually” arrived about three weeks ago when the fan ceased to spin any more.  With summer approaching, we felt it was time to pull it down and get a replacement (even though our fingers danced with joy at their tormentor’s demise).

So, off we went to that wonderland that is Home Depot looking for a new fan.  We found a lovely model and brought our new bundle-of-air-circulating-joy home.  First task was to remove the old one.

— 30 minutes later —

As it turns out, removing formerly-spinning boat anchors from eight foot ceilings is a lot easier than it sounds.  The old fan weighed at least 40 pounds, and had screws in the most inconvenient spots, allowing only one-eighth turns before having to reposition the screwdriver.

But it was down.  The hard part was over.  I can just end the blog post here.

Ahem.  Yeah.  If only this was a fictional story, that line would go great.

— 90 minutes later —

The new fan went together surprisingly well.  Until I realized that I missed a step where the wires were supposed to have been threaded through a decorative cowl before attaching the hanging ball.  Sigh.  Take it apart, thread the cowl, reassemble, hang on the new ceiling bracket.

— 15 minutes later —

Hey that’s cool; I don’t have to have my wife hold it up here while I wire it up.  See how easy this is?  So I missed the step with the cowl.  No biggie.  This is much easier than the old one was.

Of course, that should have been my first clue that I was driving off the cliff.  No matter.  Onward we press.

Wire up the power to the remote control receiver.  Now we wire up the receiver to the fan.  Now we shove this whole mass of cables up into the cowl and… uh… hmmm…  Where does the receiver go?  How about this way?  No.  What if I turn it this way?  No.

— 30 minutes later —

Sigh.  Ok, I guess I have to consult the directions.

— 10 minutes later —

Ok, I don’t feel so bad for ignoring the directions now.  They don’t have anything which describes where the receiver is supposed to sit with respect to the rest of the unit.  “Oh, wife-o-mine?  Can you come in here and tell me what I’m doing wrong?”  Wife enters and I explain the problem.

— 30 minutes later —

We found that we could shove the 11.5mm receiver into the 12mm slot in the bracket, and it there would just be enough room for the wiring to be shoved to one side, and the cowl to fit over.  Phew.  Now we just need to screw the cowl in place.  There’s only three screws – how hard could it be?

— 30 minutes later —

Okay, fine!  So only two of the three screws actually line up.  The point is that it’s up, right?

— 10 second later —

Arggh!!!  I forgot yet another decorative cowl, this one to hide the screws that are holding the first decorative cowl in place.

— 1 minute and much gnashing of teeth later —

Well.  I’m sure as heck not taking the stupid thing down now.  Besides, the second cowl wouldn’t fit into place, since the third screw won’t actually go in all the way.

Wife: “It’s ok, honey.  Just keep that cowl, and when we need to do some other work in the ceiling at some later date, we’ll fix it then.”

Ok, you’re right.  Well, let’s plug in some lights, and see this thing in action.

— 5 minutes later —

Ok, the fan works fine, so try the lights.  *click*  Um, that’s a bit dim don’t you think?

In the Snicket-style of writing, “dim” is a word which means “seven bulbs that generate fewer combined lumens than my daughter’s nightlight”.


You have got –

To be kidding me.


— 75 minutes later —

I put the last piece of tape on the box.  The new fan came down and came apart far more easily than the old one did.  Trying to figure out how to repack the pieces into the box was a trip, though.  You know the joke about putting an engine back together again and having parts left over?  Yeah, well, that was me with the packing material.

— 4 days later —

I returned the old fan in exchange for a new one – one that took standard-sized bulbs this time.  The new one didn’t come with a remote control unit, however, so I purchased one of those separately.

— 3 days later —

The time has come to put fan #2 up.

— 60 minutes later —

I’m getting better at this fan-assembly thing.

— 45 minutes later —

Wiring is all done.  Ok, let’s test it before we hang it, just to make sure the remote control receiver is going to work with the new fan.  See?  We’re learning.  No sense in getting the whole thing put together and THEN finding out it won’t work.

I even thought ahead and brought up a 9-volt battery from the basement stash for the new remote.  Let me just open up the back here and …  Um, that doesn’t look like a 9-volt will fit in there.  In fact, that doesn’t even look like a AA or AAA will fit in there.  (I grab the directions).  “Install 12V MN21/A23 battery (not included)”.  What the heck is a “MN21/A23 battery”?!?


— 30 minutes and a trip to the store later —

Ok, the new fan works.  Let’s hang it and see what the lights look like.

— 15 minutes later —

Screwed in the first light bulb and turned it on.  Wow, that’s bright!  I guess we’ll have to find a smaller wattage to use in here.  A much nicer problem to have than before.

Let’s turn out the lights, and see if the fan wobbles at all.


Um…  Why is the light flickering?  Turn the lights back on.


Now turn them off, but this time from the wall switch instead of from the remote.


No flicker.  So, as long as the lights have power coming to the receiver, the receiver is letting some small amount of power through.

Perhaps I need to plug in all four lights?

— 5 minutes later —

Um… Now all of the lights are flickering.  Would this happen with incandescent bulbs (I had been using compact fluorescents)?

— 5 minutes later —

Nope, no flicker from the incandescent.


You have got –

To be kidding me.


So we put the whole thing together, and it doesn’t work.


Our options are dealing with the flicker, using incandescents, removing the receiver, or buying yet another new fan.

— 2 days later —

I ripped out the receiver, and put the fan back together.  Pull strings aren’t the end of the world, I guess.

— 1 week later —

I’ve gained enough distance from the comedy of errors that I can actually write out it without destroying my keyboard.

So the lesson here for all of you is never hire me for electrical work.

At least not by the hour.

June 22, 2008 - Posted by | General


  1. Glad to hear you have your coolness back!

    We all have a story like this.

    I had a friend “help” me put the deck on my house. 2 2″x12″x16′ and a drill later, I decided I valued our friendship so much that I put up the deck myself.

    Comment by marty adams | June 22, 2008

  2. […] Small electrical jobs like replacing light switches or outlets I can do.  Larger jobs like replacing a ceiling fan?  Yeah, those tend to turn into blog posts – long, drawn out blog posts documenting […]

    Pingback by Yay for no “Long construction blog post” « Mark Of Quality | September 27, 2010

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