Say Goodbye To Pull-Chains: 7 Ways To Add Smart Control To Your Old Ceiling Fan

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:

  1. Voice control. I’m a big Amazon Alexa user, but the other major voice assistants can work just as well.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Hunter SimpleConnect

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.

Fanimation Fansync

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Eric Blank

Eric Blank blogs about smart homes and other connected technology here at thesmartcave.com. He enjoys technology, sports, outdoors, and dabbles in the dark realm of politics. He dreams of someday living in a castle on an island but for now will settle for smalltown, USA.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
hfgc - 8 months ago Reply

My fan and lights are powered by the same lightswitch and I don’t have remotes for them…do you think I could install something similar to the GE fan switch and use smart bulbs to control the lights with Alexa?

    Eric Blank - 8 months ago Reply

    I don’t think so. The power to both fan and lights is controlled by the switch. If you installed the fan controller in place of the switch, you would be able to have smart control of the fan. However, every time you turn off the fan, there would be no power to the light.

      Travis A Johnson - 6 months ago Reply

      Correct me if I’m wrong:
      In theory I believe you can hook the blue wire (if your fan has it) straight to the hot/black wire coming from the breaker which would make the light sockets or pull chain switch of your fan always “hot”. Then you could use smart bulbs and retain the single switch for fan speed.

        Eric Blank - 6 months ago Reply

        That sounds like a valid option. You would then also have the option of installing a smart fan controller in the switch box.

Allison - 6 months ago Reply

Hi there! Kind of a related question to the earlier comment. I have an old ceiling fan in my apartment that I am renting (so don’t want to do too much to the fixtures). It has two pull chains, one for the fan and one for the lights (4 bulbs), and there is a wall switch too that has to be on in order for the pull chains to be active.

I am not really concerned about operating the fan or lights remotely, but I want to be able to dim the lights. I was thinking that smart bulbs would be an easy solution, but I don’t want to burn my building down. I have an amazon echo dot and a couple of sengled smart bulbs that I’m using in other rooms.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you!

    Eric Blank - 6 months ago Reply

    Yes, smart bulbs would be ideal for your situation. The fire risk I think you are referring to is only if you use a dimmer a switch on the fan power circuit. So you are also correct in that you would definitely not want to replace the wall switch with a dimmer switch.

Kishan - 6 months ago Reply

Hi,

How did you manage GE Switches with Ceiling Fan with Remote? Do we need to bypass the remote and wire the fan so that we can use both the switches(Light and Fan) and replace them with GE switches? Thank you.

By the way, good article.

Sheik Sajith - a few months ago Reply

Hi – i have a fan + led light combo which does not have a wall switch – it is directly hard wired and controlled only through a remote. The remote stopped working and i tried couple of other universal remotes but could not fix it. Is there a way to use on of these smart switch options. I also have Alexa enabled devices. Pls suggest

    Eric Blank - a few months ago Reply

    Universal remotes (like Bond) require a working remote to initially program them. If your remote isn’t working, I wouldn’t expect a universal remote to work either.
    A possible easy fix is that the dip switches on your remote got changed. See this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au5YeiIeOOI

William Cole - a few months ago Reply

I want my new ceiling fan to operate off two wall switches (already in place), one for fan, one for light. The problem is the new fan comes with the “smart box”, activated by remote, and only has one set of power inputs. (1 hot, 1 neutral). I left the smart box out, and hot wired directly into the fan and light hot legs. Wall switches now work perfectly except I have no speed control on fan. Any suggestions? I don’t want a remote or phone operation. Looking for “old school” set up.

    Eric Blank - a few months ago Reply

    You could just get regular fan speed control. Lutron makes a great (non-smart) switch that combines fan speed control and light dimming all in one switch: https://amzn.to/2Jhe1Yo.

Wayne - a few months ago Reply

I been using the Lutron IR Maestro’s:
https://amzn.to/305p0tR

Combined with SwitchBot Hub Plus, Smart IR Remote
https://amzn.to/2VODvmx
It’s similar to the BOND (IR Blaster), but also acts as a bridge for it’s own push button switches as well a couple of which I was already using (I made my coffee maker smart).

The configuration does require a bit of savvy with IFTTT and Webhooks though.

    Eric Blank - a few months ago Reply

    Wow, that’s a cool idea I never thought of.

Bebe - a few months ago Reply

Hello, I have purchased and Emswell 52 in. LED Mediterranean Bronze Ceiling Fan with Light Kit Works with Bond and Alexa for the voice command abilities. Can I also install Westinghouse Lighting Westinghouse 7787500 Wireless Ceiling Fan and Light Wall Control for wall control access without complicating the wifi/voice command setup? I fear I will confuse the Smart Ceiling Fan with the Wall control setup?

Robert in Austin - a few months ago Reply

I have 3 ceiling fans in a large room. There are 3 switches on the wall. One for another set of recessed lights, one for the 3 fans and 1 for the three fan lights. All I want to do is turn the fans on or off remotely. I dont care about speeds or reverse or anything. I just want the one switch to be on or off. What do you suggest.. I want to be able to control it from when i’m in bed.

Robert - a few months ago Reply

Can you think of any options for a DC ceiling fan? I have a Craftmade CQ52 with a Craftmade ME-MODULE-ICS receiver and an ICS-WALL controller. All fan and light control is from the internal receiver, but I would replace the receiver if there is an option for integrating it into my Insteon system.

Tena Kenny - a few months ago Reply

I have 25 year old Honeywell fans with lights installed in two rooms in my house. There is nothing wrong with the fans or fixtures cosmetically…they still look great and fit the decor. The problem is the wall switches….they don’t work anymore. The original Honeywell switch is no longer available. I had one electrician tell me I have to buy new fans…that the switches cannot be replaced with anything else. Is that true? Isn’t there a universal switch that can be used with a Honeywell fan? Can you recommend a replacement switch that has separate controls for the fan and the light that will be compatible with these fans? Thank you!

Doug - a few months ago Reply

Seriously?? I don’t want to get my phone or internet involved… I just want to turn on my fan.

    Eric Blank - a couple of months ago Reply

    Well then, you’re not looking for a smart control.

sharon johse - a few months ago Reply

Hi, I have a hunter ceiling fan that the speed control switch is bad.
can I some how bypass the switch and make into a remote control fan? Also what remote do I get?

Jay - a couple of months ago Reply

Is there any switch that works with Alexa that doesn’t require a bridge? Lutron makes a nice switch but also needs a bridge. So the switch cost $60 and the bridge cost $80. $140 to be able to say “Alexa, turn off the fan” seems a bit steep.

There’s no other option like Wemo that doesn’t require a bridge?

    Eric Blank - a couple of months ago Reply

    I agree, the Lutron option probably only makes sense if you plan to continue adding Lutron switches to your smart home. Here is a potential low-cost option: https://amzn.to/2LPUOzk. It is an all-in-one remote control and wifi module. It seems pretty popular, but its pretty new and I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. It looks like it uses the same hardware as many of the other remote kits. If it is the same, the one annoyance is that the module beeps every time the fan speed or light on/off is changed.

O'D McKewan - last month Reply

I have the wink enable ceiling fan/light module and remote. Everything works great though wink, but Alexa only recognizes the device as a light, so I only have voice control of the light settings. Do you know of a work around to get Alexa to control the fan, other than Bond?

Matt - a couple of weeks ago Reply

Hey Eric, nice article! I hope you can help me. I have 4 pull chain 3-speed ceiling fans with lights in the house, 3 with simple power on/off wall switches and one with no wall switch. An inelegant solution for the switched fans is to just replace the wall switch with a non-dimming controllable switch, use smart bulbs, and leave the fan switched to the medium speed. <— phoey! Perhaps I’m a bit dense, but l am having no luck in finding a clear how-to on converting an old 3 speed 2 pull chain ceiling fan/light to a wireless/Alexa control. Then there is the one ceiling fan that has no wall switching, only the two pull chains. Can you point me to a (some) product(s) and ideally a you tube, that would help this old disabled fellah who has an increasing need for remote/voice control? Thanks!

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