Say Goodbye To Pull-Chains: 7 Ways To Add Smart Control To Your Old Ceiling Fan
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To me, the idea of having to manually reach up and pull the pull-chain on a ceiling fan is as awful as having to manually lift up your garage door. So, if you’re like me and you’re addicted to everything smart home, you probably have a need to add smart control to any ceiling fans in your home.
Unfortunately, its not always practical to just toss out your old fans and replace them with brand new smart fans.
I bought my ceiling fans because I like the way they look. They match my décor and include the lighting and fan speed options I want. Plus, they still work. Why would I want to replace them?
Despite all that, I could just open up my wallet and buy new smart fans. But, the available pool of ready-made smart fans is still relatively small and comparatively expensive.
Fortunately, its not necessary to spend a lot on a brand new smart ceiling fan. There’s several available low-cost options to retrofit your old ceiling fan with smart control.
What Does It Mean To Make Your Ceiling Fan Smart?
Before I get too carried away, I should probably explain what I mean when I say smart ceiling fan. A smart ceiling fan has its light and fan connected to your smart home. Once connected to your smart home, you can control it remotely with your smartphone or by setting up predefined rules or interactions with other smart home products.
My ideal smart ceiling fan control should have:
- Voice control. I’m a big Amazon Alexa user, but the other major voice assistants can work just as well.
- Plus, I should still be able to turn them on/off with a wall switch. There’s always times when a good, old-fashioned wall switch is both easier and faster.
- I also want the option to have fans and lights automatically turn on/off when I enter/exit a room. This is usually done with PIR motion sensors.
Best Solution: Smart Ceiling Fan Control Using A Smart Switch
If you have a separate wall switch for your ceiling fan and light, then a wall mounted smart switch and smart fan speed control could work great for you. The smart switches install in the wall and replace your existing wall switches. You’ll add the convenience of smart control, and you’ll still be able to control your fan and light manually.
This option offers the most opportunity for custom automation. You can setup automations using motion sensors, temperature sensors, and voice commands. However, remember “custom” automation means that YOU have to do the programming.
NOTE: If you don’t like the idea of tinkering with automations and smart home hubs, you may be more interested in looking at complete smart ceiling fans.
Smart Fan Speed Controls
WARNING#1: DON’T try to use a dimmer switch as a fan speed control.
I know intuitively it seems like it would work, but its not a good idea.
A typical ceiling fan motor is an AC induction motor. For a switch to effectively slow down that type of motor, it requires a variable frequency drive (VFD) or a TRIAC with some extra circuitry. That is not how light dimmer switches are designed.
If you try using a light dimmer switch on your fan, you will most likely hear a loud humming sound on low speeds. Even worse, the ceiling fan motor could be damaged over time.
WARNING#2: Watch out for regular switches being sold as fan controllers.
Lately, I’ve noticed a few WiFi smart switches being sold as fan controllers. However, they don’t have the required circuitry to effectively control a ceiling fan motor. Don’t buy them and expect to be able to control your fan’s speed unless you enjoy hearing a constant hum.
Below is an image of one of the offending products:
Sellers don’t list what’s inside the switches, so it’s hard to know for sure which products are the “real deal”. The best way I’ve found is to scan the reviews for people complaining of a humming sound after installing the device.
So far the only quality in-wall fan speed controllers I’ve found are the two I’ve listed below.
The GE Z-Wave Plus smart fan speed control is a fan speed controller that is installed at the wall switch. It operates using Z-Wave wireless, so it will require a Z-Wave hub. Unfortunately, it’s not quite an all-in-one controller. It only controls fan speed and does not control lighting functions.
In order to use the Z Wave ceiling fan control, you install it in place of the wall switch for the fan and set your ceiling fan speed to its highest setting.
INSTALLATION TIP: I recommend you set your fan to its highest speed before you disconnect your existing switch. That way, there’s no question that the fan is set to its top speed when you turn the power back on and test your smart fan speed controller.
Another great option for a fan controller is the Lutron Caseta Smart Fan Speed Control. Lutron is a little more expensive, and it runs on it’s own wireless protocol so it requires a bridge. But it’s very high quality and reliable equipment (see my review).
Control Your Lights
You don’t need a specialized smart product to turn your ceiling fan lights into smart lights. A simple smart switch like this GE smart switch can do the trick.
This GE smart switch is a Z-wave device. That means it communicates wirelessly using the Z-Wave protocol. In order for the switch to work you’ll need a smart home hub (like Samsung SmartThings or Wink 2) that works with Z-Wave.
Next Best Thing: Bond, The Smart Remote Controller
If you don’t have a wall switch for both your fan and light, you won’t be able to use smart switches like I described above. If you’re really ambitious, you could tear into your walls, rewire the ceiling fan, and install the desired switches. But that could end up being a lot of work, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
In most cases, if your ceiling fan has a light, it’s wired to a wall switch. However, its less common to also have the fan wired to a switch. In this case, the only way to turn the fan on/off or adjust the speed is by using the pull-chain hanging from the ceiling fan. Lame, right? Fortunately, this is the era of smart home control, and we can do better!
There are a couple solutions for smart control that don’t require wall switches.
If you have a ceiling fan with a remote control, there is an easier way.
A device like the Bond controller can record the signals that your remote control sends. Once the signal is recorded, it remembers and plays it back whenever you (or your smart home) command it to. The ceiling fan then responds to Bond exactly as it would respond to your remote control.
Bond can record and play back any function that your remote can control. Usually that includes light dimming and fan speed.
Once your ceiling fan is connected to Bond, its easy to setup voice control with Amazon Alexa.
Bond can be placed pretty much anywhere in your home. The RF signal used by most ceiling fans easily goes through standard walls and has a range of roughly 40 feet. It also needs to be within WiFi range of your home router.
Bond may seem expensive (check current price) at first, but it can be used with up to six devices right now. Also, its mostly being marketed as a ceiling fan controller, but its not actually limited to just ceiling fans. It can control any device that uses an RF signal (learn more).
The best part about using a WiFi ceiling fan control like Bond is that there is no wiring. So, if the idea of digging into your wall switches with a screwdriver makes you a little nervous, this may be a great option for you.
Can I Still Use Bond If My Ceiling Fan Doesn’t Have A Remote?
No, but if your old ceiling fan is not set up for remote control, you can buy a universal remote control kit made specifically for ceiling fans. The kits come with a receiver unit that installs inside the housing of your fan. So, to install a remote control kit, you’ll need to open the fan housing and do some wiring. But, once the kit is installed, you’ll be all set to use Bond.
What’s the Best Ceiling Fan Remote Control Kit?
There are several kits available on Amazon.
Whichever one you choose, check the dimensions of the receiver and make sure there’s room for you to fit it inside your fan’s housing.
One of the most popular kits is the PECHAM kit. It’s a good product except that the receiver beeps every time it receives a command. The beep is relatively annoying, especially if you’re trying to create a seamless smart home experience.
Instead, I recommend this kit. It’s a few dollars more, but it doesn’t beep. You can individually control up to 16 different fans using the dipswitches. You can also use the dipswitches to control multiple fans with one command. The dimensions of the receiver are 4.3″ x 2.2″ x 1.2″.
Wink Enabled Ceiling Fan Premier Remote Control
The Wink remote control includes a receiver module that installs in the fan housing. The remote control itself can be used manually like a regular remote control. But, it also includes Zigbee wireless technology for smart home connectivity.
The remote is made specifically to work seamlessly with the Wink hub but it is possible to work with other Zigbee enabled hubs such as SmartThings.
There is also a wall control available separately. The wall control is basically just another remote that gets mounted on the wall. It runs on batteries so it doesn’t require any wiring. The wall control only takes up the space of a single standard sized switch, but it includes all functions you need to control your ceiling fan. Each button has a convenient illustration so even guests will be able to easily figure it out.
Insteon FanLink Controller
The Insteon FanLinc controller is close to an all in one solution for wireless ceiling fan control. It controls both fan speed and light intensity in one convenient box.
However, the controller uses the proprietary Insteon protocol to communicate. That means you’ll need an Insteon hub for it to work. There’s nothing wrong with Insteon, but if you’ve already started building your smart home and it’s not Insteon, then this probably isn’t a very good option for you.
Also, the FanLinc controller is installed inside the fan housing. That means if you do have wall switches for the fan or the light or both, you’ll have to make sure the switches stay turned on for the controller to work.
The Hunter SimpleConnect Control connects and controls your ceiling fan via Bluetooth. The system includes a receiver that installs inside the ceiling fan and a Bluetooth hub that relays the signal from the fan receivers to your mobile phone.
I don’t really consider the SimpleConnect control a valid option for smart control. The reason is that it doesn’t connect to any other smart home devices. The only way to use it is to open up the SimpleConnect app on your phone while you’re within Bluetooth range and navigate to the settings you want to change. Basically, you move the switch from the wall to your pocket. But, in most cases the wall switch would be quicker and more reliable.
Perhaps in the future, Hunter will attempt to expand the function of the app and integrate with some other platforms. But, in its current form, I don’t really see a lot of use for the SimpleConnect control.
Fansync is another Bluetooth connected product similar to the Hunter SimpleConnect. Again, it just turns your smartphone into a relatively expensive ceiling fan remote control that only works when you are within Bluetooth range.
The blue module installs in the canopy of the ceiling fan. The remote pictured on the right comes with a housing that can be mounted on the wall.
Its not necessary to use Fansync on a Fanimation brand ceiling fan. Most ceiling fans with an AC motor can be controlled with it.
Fanimation has recently come out with WiFi versions of their receiver. They have a number of different models, each of which is designed to be installed in a particular model of their ceiling fans. The new WiFi version is compatible with both Alexa and Google assistant.
Ai-Sync Smart Ceiling Fan Remote Control
The Ai-Sync Smart Ceiling Fan Remote Control includes a WiFi receiver that installs in the fan canopy and also an RF remote for manual control. You can use it to change between 4 different fan speed settings and it also supports light dimming.
It can be set up to work with Alexa, Google assistant, and even IFTTT.
The market for smart ceiling fan controllers is still pretty new. There aren’t any fully integrated, all-in-one solutions available yet. But, we can still do pretty well with what’s available.
For the most comprehensive ceiling fan control, use smart switches. The smart switches offer the most flexibility, but they also require the most work. You’ll need a smart hub and any smart home interactions will have to be programmed with your hub’s software. Depending on how experienced you are, this can become time consuming and difficult. If you’re just a casual user, it may be more trouble than its worth.
On the other hand, a product like Bond is probably best for someone that isn’t a hardcore smart home do-it-yourselfer. It offers a quick and tool-less (as long as you already have remote controls for your fans) setup, voice control, and IFTTT compatibility. These are all perfect for the person that wants to do a little home automation, but doesn’t want to get too deep into any programming. Plus, the price per fan is quite low if you’re using it with multiple fans.
The Bluetooth solutions are, for the moment, relatively weak. The only thing they really do is turn your smart phone into a ceiling fan remote. The smart home integration is almost completely lacking so it would never satisfy the hardcore user. There’s no voice control, no IFTTT, and they only work within Bluetooth range. So, even for the casual user, I think Bond would be a better solution.
If you happen to come across a smart ceiling fan controller that I don’t have listed here, let me know about it in the comments below so I can check it out. I’m always on the lookout for the latest smart home products.