Installing an Outdoor Ceiling Fan

Outdoor ceiling fan
  • 10 hours
  • Advanced
  • 500
What You'll Need
Ceiling fan
Electrical cable
Electrical boxes
Electric cable clamps
Wire connectors
Stud finder
Drill and screwdriver bits
Hole saw
Jigsaw or keyhole saw
Conduits and fittings (optional)
Conduit clamps (optional)
What You'll Need
Ceiling fan
Electrical cable
Electrical boxes
Electric cable clamps
Wire connectors
Stud finder
Drill and screwdriver bits
Hole saw
Jigsaw or keyhole saw
Conduits and fittings (optional)
Conduit clamps (optional)

Ceiling fans are a double whammy. They cut your cooling costs by increasing air circulation, and they make a snappy design statement to complement your home's vibe. In warmer areas, an outdoor ceiling fan can help keep outside areas cool in the sweltering summer months.

Outdoor fans help you fully enjoy your porch, sunroom, screen-house, patio, and deck by cooling you with a gentle breeze. As a bonus, the moving air they produce helps keep mosquitos and other flying insects at bay.

A major advantage of a ceiling fan is that it doesn’t take up any floor space, unlike swiveling or tower fans. It also creates an even draft over the whole area affected without the furniture or other large floor objects obstructing the air flow.

Here's how to approach outdoor ceiling fan installation.

Step 1 - Select the Right Outdoor Ceiling Fan

outdoor ceiling fan

1.1 - Moisture Resistance Ratings

Regular indoor ceiling fans work great inside the house but are definitely not the right choice for a fixture that needs to be hung in a damp or even wet environment.

Ceiling fans and light fixtures are tested and rated by independent organizations—either the Underwriter Laboratories (UL) or the Intertek (under the Electrical Testing Labs or ETL). These groups provide fixtures with either a UL listing or an ETL Listed mark, depending on their abilities.

The specific UL or ETL Listing of any product is specified on the appliance or the product pages supplied with the fixture—if it’s not indicated consider it for dry locations only.

Dry Rated Areas

A “dry rated area” is an indoor location not subjected to noticeable dampness. Products strictly reliable for such conditions are usually “UL Listed” (the basic listing), but they might also be omitted, with no listing specified.

Damp Rated Areas

The damp area listing is for covered outdoor areas where some moisture is present in the vicinity, but without directly submitting fixtures and appliances to rain, water, snow, or steam.

Such locations would require the use of “Damp Rated” components and would include uses in bathrooms, garages, covered patios, screened porches, etc.

Wet Rated Areas

A wet area is a location that has direct exposure to water or other liquids such that it could drip, splash or flow onto or against the electrical component.

In tropical areas and other regions where storms can get serious, the restrictions for dampness rating are often more strictly regulated. Commercial operations and licensed electricians might be legally required to use fans and fixtures listed under “Wet-Rated” or “Suitable for Wet Locations” in outdoor areas.

“Wet-Rated” and “Damp-rated” fans can be used both indoors and outdoors, for dry-rated areas as well as damp-rated surroundings.

So depending on where you live, it might be a good idea to consult your local building code to find out if you should buy a Damp or a Wet Rated fan for your particular project.

ceiling fan with wood roof

1.2 - Air Displacement

The amount of air displaced by the fan determines its effectiveness. It's directly proportional to the speed of its motor, the tilt of the blades, and the length of those blades.

At this point, depending on the degree of efficiency you want to put into the project, you can get very specific facts on all the fan’s specs by consulting the manufacturer’s datasheet on their products.

1.3 - Head Clearance

You also have to consider the head clearance the ceiling will allow you in a specific room.

For optimal airflow, a fan should be installed between eight and nine feet above the floor and should be installed or mounted over the center of the room. At the very least, it must clear a minimum of seven feet above the floor.

You can also ensure maximum efficiency of airflow by keeping an 18-inches clearance to the nearest wall, so keep that in mind when selecting the size of the blades.

Double-check to ensure the blades won't come into contact with lights, beams, or other obstacles, especially if you have a cathedral or a slanted ceiling.

Step 2 - Prepare Your Materials

outdoor ceiling fan

2.1 - Pick a Precise Location

Once you’ve determined the physical size of your fan, make the necessary measurements on the ceilings to mark the location where you’re going to install the electrical box.

If the beams aren't exposed, stand on a step ladder and use a stud-finder to find where the nearest joists, rafters, and furring strips are placed.

Based on these locations, pick the most appropriate spot with the most and best bracing supports to properly hang this heavy fixture.

2.2 - Find Closest Electrical Box

From that spot, look around the entire room for the closest terminal box or outlet where you could tap your 120 volts. Before deciding on a particular circuit to tap, make sure the electrical box is near the location where you want to install the switch for the fan.

Then, although a ceiling fan only consumes from around 50 and maybe up to 70 watts for older models, you should check out what’s all hooked up to the circuit to make sure not to overload its breaker.

You can do this fairly easily by switching the breaker off and looking for which of the outlets and fixtures along its path have stopped working, then adding them all up to determine the circuit’s overall power consumption at its peak time.

Since this is for an exterior installation, you might want to keep it simple and just run the wiring inside a well-concealed conduit, especially if some of the structure’s framing isn’t covered over with paneling or drywall.

Uninsulated structures, however, might offer an easy opportunity to execute a perfectly concealed work by fishing the wires through walls, ceilings, and attics.

In such cases, you’ll have to consider the extra cable length that you’ll need for the slight or the more pronounced detours around some of the framing.

Calculate exactly how much cable you’ll need to reach first from the source to the switch box, then up to the terminal box for the fan itself.

When buying your cable, always add a couple of extra feet for unforeseen obstructions that you’re bound to encounter, as it's much easier to deal with extras than end up too short at the other end.

If your fan has a built-in light fixture that you want to control separately from the fan at the wall switch, you’ll have to go with a 14/3 instead of a 14/2 cable between the switch box and the ceiling box as described in the supplied wiring instructions.

2.3 - Prep Switch Materials

You will, of course, need an octagonal ceiling box and a switch box, a variable fan switch, at least four cable clamps, and five to eight wire nuts.

If you should opt for a fan with a built-in light fixture that you want to control from a separate switch, your switch box should be a 2-gang box. This will require one light switch and one variable fan switch.

Step 3 - Inside Wall/Ceiling Installation

A ceiling fan in a four seasons room.

This step describes the installation of a ceiling fan in a location where the walls and the ceiling structure are covered over with sheeting, siding, boards, etc.

It also provides you with all the electrical details, which you can follow in the same manner if your location offers you the exposed framing of the room or location, or if you simply decide to go for the less complicated surface layout outlined in Step 4.

3.1 - With a finished ceiling, cut out through the sheeting for the size of your ceiling box and install the necessary brackets to hold the fan in place. Working from the attic might offer you better and easier access for the installation.

3.2 - The opening can then be cut out for the switch box at the location previously selected.

3.3 - With both openings ready, go to the electric panel and switch off the breaker dedicated to the outlet selected for your fan’s 120 volts supply.

3.4 - Remove the receptacle box from the wall to give access for fishing your cable through. A 14/2 cable will now have to be fished through from the receptacle box to the switch box, higher on the wall. Cut the cable to length with about 12-inches sticking out of the openings at each end.

3.5 - Fish another cable, either 14/2 or 14/3 if needed, from the switch opening up to the ceiling opening, again with about 12-inches extra length at both ends.

3.6 - Remove about eight inches from the jackets of all four cables coming out of the three openings, and 5/8-inches from each of the wires exposed.

3.7 - Remove the necessary knock-outs from each of the boxes and install the cable clamps in place, then put the cables through and secure them with eight inches sticking out from them.

3.8 - Install each of the three boxes into their respective openings in the walls and ceiling and secure them in place.

3.9 - You can then proceed to secure the small steel safety cable tied to the fan’s casings into the wood structure using a #10 screw. This will provide some support and stability as you hook up the wires from the fan to the line as per the instructions provided.

3.10 - The fan base can then be secured to its terminal box.

3.11 - Based on the fan you chose and the type of control you want to operate your fan and possibly the light fixture, hook up the switches as prescribed in the instructions provided with the device.

Once you have that done, install the switch or both switches inside the switch box and secure it in place, then install the cover plate.

3.12 - Finally, back at the receptacle box, connect the black from the fan circuit to the black coming from the source, connect the white wires together, and make sure the ground wire is properly grounded and connected to the Gnd from the source.

Replace the outlet back into its box, secure it in place, and put the cover plate back on. If you turn the circuit breaker back on now, you can turn on the fan and its accessories.

Step 4 - Installing an Exposed Electrical Layout

ceiling fan outside

This installation is prepared in the same fashion as Step 3, except that you will not need to cut through any part of the walls or ceiling.

You will instead have to install special plastic or PVC boxes secured to the surface of the wall and ceiling, or directly onto the studs, joists, and rafters.

As an exterior installation, the appearance is not as critical, although some effort can be put towards concealing as best as you can behind some of the woodwork or other inconspicuous recesses.

4.1 - With exposed joists or rafters, install the ceiling box in place directly on the framework or on added support pieces.

4.2 - You can then attach the switch box securely to the wall, preferably inset within the framework instead of on top, which could cause an obstacle from protruding from the wall.

4.3 - The conduits can then be cut to length, coupled with the appropriate connectors, and inserted into each of the boxes after being coated with the proper adhesive.

Since a full length of a PVC conduit pipe has one end flared to provide a female connection, that end will have to be cut off from the first length you’ll be installing starting at the switch box.

This will reduce the chance of having the wires jamming at the conduits’ joints while pushing the wiring up towards the ceiling box. Therefore, you should then cut the subsequent lengths (wherever cutting is needed) to preserve the female part which is needed to secure it to the previous piece, which should present you with a male end.

Just add conduit lengths until you reach the bend for the ceiling or some other obstruction, and use an elbow coupling to mark where the last piece is to be cut to fit properly. Cut the piece to the right length and glue it together with the elbow’s female end.

4.4 - You can then secure that section of your installation to the wall with a couple of conduit clamps.

4.5 - Once this is completed this far, start over with securing/gluing the female end of the first ceiling piece to the male end of your PVC elbow, and keep going until your conduit reaches the ceiling box. Again, cut it to the right length, and couple it to the box after applying a layer of adhesive.

4.6 - You can now attach that last overhead section of the conduit to the ceiling by securing it with conduit clamps.

4.7 - Pass the wires through starting at the switch box until they extend about eight inches from inside the ceiling box. You can then cut the wires at the switch box so that eight inches are extending outside the box.

4.8 - To bring the wiring to the outlet box where your power will come from might require a little ingenuity on your part if the outlet box is inset within the wall (as presented in Step 3).

The best solution is most likely to fish it through and insert it in the switch box from the back or from the least conspicuous spot—this is done by following Steps 3.3 to 3.6 and making sure the circuit breaker is switched off.

4.9 - You can finally complete your installation by following the instructions from Steps 3.9 to 3.12.

If you’d like to further expand your knowledge with more specific details on ceiling fans or different installation situations, you can follow the links here to read about the optimal angles for ceiling fan blades, adding a ceiling fan to a concrete ceiling, or expanding on ceiling fan wiring.