Ceiling fan wattage limiters can be useful devices for reducing the energy use of ceiling fans. However, they can also cause problems, such as interfering with light fixtures or reducing the wattage too much.
Many people, myself included, give the option of removing the wattage limiter to solve such problems. But when it comes to electrical devices in electrical systems, it’s always best to make sure that you understand their purpose before messing with them.
Ceiling fan wattage limiters are installed to prevent ceiling fan lighting kits from using too much power. They are not involved in making the fan safe, so removal is not going to be dangerous.
What Is a Ceiling Fan Wattage Limiter?
A wattage limiter is a small, box-shaped device that comes with some ceiling fans. Its purpose is to decrease the flow of electricity to the ceiling fan lighting kit, reducing the number of watts that the fan uses in an effort to conserve energy.
Why Do Fans Contain Wattage Limiters?
In 2005, the Department of Energy gave us the Energy Policy Act. This act required the use of energy limiters in ceiling fan lighting kits as they are an effective tool for energy conservation. These kits are not supposed to use more than 190 W.
Technically, there is nothing in the Act (not that I could find, anyway) that says wattage limiters must be used to achieve this, but it seems to be the chosen technique.
Ceiling manufacturers were upset about this new regulation because the wattage limiters failed often and it increased the warranty-related costs carried by the manufacturers.
In response to these companies’ complaints, the government re-looked at their rules regarding wattage limiters for ceiling fan light kits and conceded that there are other ways to ensure efficiency (Pages 19-20 of DOE Docket No. EERE-2014-BT-TP-0007).
Nowadays, wattage limiters are still used sometimes due to their practical purpose of reducing energy usage, as well as for compliance with energy use standards.
In addition, older or used ceiling fans may come with the device if they were made while the original act was still in place.
Wattage Limiters Don’t Play a Safety Role
You may be worried that removing the wattage limiter will be a threat to your safety, but this is not an issue, as their function is solely related to energy conservation and not safety.
To provide further reassurance, the following are the parts of the ceiling fan (completely separate from the wattage limiter) that actually function to protect against the risk of electrocution and fire:
- Grounding wire. This ensures that any excess current is sent away from the device and you if you are touching it.
- Thermal fuse. This is the device that turns off power to your fan if it becomes overheated (fire risk).
- Breaker/fuse. These ensure that if too much electricity enters the circuit, the electricity supply to the circuit is cut off before it can damage the fan or cause a fire or electrocution.
The only danger that may come with removing a wattage limiter is during the actual removal process because it is wired into the circuit.
This can be avoided by taking the proper steps to ensure you are using safe procedures during removal, like turning the fan off at the breaker first.
Problems with Wattage Limiters
Although wattage limiters can be helpful devices, their tendency to fail is quite annoying. If you don’t know about the limiter, then the issue caused can be an unsolved mystery for ages before you finally figure out the cause.
The way that the limiters can cause issues is by excessively (more than they are supposed to) restricting the wattage to the ceiling fan lighting kit.
There are a few different things that can cause a wattage limiter to do this:
- First, a wattage limiter may be faulty, in that it is set to a lower wattage than the 190 W limit. There are, however, steps you can take to attempt to fix this.
- Another way limiters can restrict the wattage is if they are the incorrect size. The size of a limiter is based on the maximum wattage it can control.
- Finally, if the ceiling fan wattage limiter is damaged or broken in any way, it can malfunction and excessively restrict the wattage as a result.
When they are acting up, wattage limiters cause issues with your ceiling fan lights and can even affect the fan motor itself.
The ways that a wattage limiter can affect the ceiling fan itself include only allowing the fan to run at specific speeds, or only allowing the fan to run if the lights in the attached fixture are turned off.
Should You Remove the Wattage Limiter?
Now that you know that it is safe and you can remove the wattage limiter from your ceiling fan, the question is should you remove it?
There are a few things that one must take into consideration before deciding to remove a wattage limiter from a ceiling fan.
First, are you experiencing issues with the function of your ceiling fan or light fixture? If not, there isn’t any compelling reason why the limiter should be removed.
If you are experiencing issues with your ceiling fan and its lights, you must entertain the possibility that taking out the limiter may not fix the issues you’re experiencing. It’s only one possibility as to what’s causing the issues.
In addition, by removing the wattage limiter you may cause your ceiling fan to become non-compliant with standards. This can affect your fan’s warranty and industry certifications, as well as your ability to pass a home inspection.
Finally, the issues you are experiencing may be fixable in a different, more manageable way than going through the removal process.
For example, it seems that wattage limiters typically only affect CFL bulbs. These bulbs could be replaced by an alternative type of bulb that limits energy use while shining at the same brightness as CFL bulbs.
In any case, it’s important to do your own research and explore all of the options available to you before deciding to permanently remove the wattage limiter.
Where to Find the Wattage Limiter
To find the wattage limiter, you will need to look inside the wiring box of the light fixture of the ceiling fan.
Inside the wiring box, you will find a small, black/gray box that is attached to a few red and/or blue colored wires. This is the wattage limiter.
If you are having trouble finding your wattage limiter, all you need to do is look for the wires that are attached to the bulbs in the fixture and follow them until you find the limiter.
Remove to Test Issue
If you are having issues with your fan and lights and you suspect it could be the wattage limiter but aren’t sure, you can remove it from your fan as a way of troubleshooting to find out the true problem.
If you do remove the wattage limiter and the problem still persists, then you can be sure the limiter isn’t the issue. You should put it back in place and look for other possible causes and solutions to the issue.
If your fan and lights suddenly work after you have tried removing the wattage limiter, it may be that you have a faulty limiter.
In this case, you will most likely be able to fix the issues by buying a new wattage limiter and installing it in place of the old, faulty one. Alternatively, you could leave it out altogether if you would prefer.
You may be wondering if there is a possibility that an issue with another part of the ceiling fan is causing the wattage limiter problems.
If the ceiling fan was installed properly according to manufacture instructions, is used correctly, and is equipped with the correct size and type of parts, the limiter shouldn’t affect its function.
For example, if you had installed fan blades that are bigger in size than the original ones, this could cause issues with the fan’s function in relation to the limiter because more power is needed to turn larger blades.
How to Remove a Wattage Limiter?
- As with any wiring project, switch off the electricity before you start working on replacing the limiter.
- Unscrew and remove the light fixture and/or its covering from the fan to access the wiring inside the fan.
- Once you locate the limiter, you should see three wires coming out of it. A black wire, a red wire, and a white wire.
- Using wire cutters, cut all three wires off as close to the box as possible to give you the longest length to work with.
- You will cap off or terminate the white wire.
- The black and red wires need to be spliced together. You might need to strip some of the insulation off to get a good splice.
- Cover the newly spliced wires with a cap or wire nut.
- Screw the lighting fixture back onto the ceiling fan, and you’re done!
Don’t forget to turn the power back on before testing if the lights work.