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Pancake Box | Can It Be Used for a Ceiling Fan? (Code Examined)

The kind of box required for a project is usually determined by its application. For instance, a box that is suitable for mounting ceiling lights might not be ideal for ceiling fan installation because of the additional weight. 

In this article, I’ll be focusing on pancake boxes, otherwise referred to as pan boxes. I explain what building codes say about fan-rated junction boxes, the requirements for a box to be regarded as fan-rated, and whether pancake boxes meet the requirements.


Pancake boxes can be used for ceiling fans, but they must be rated for this purpose, which means that not all pancake boxes can be used. This is a rule set out in Section 314.27(C) of the NEC.

IRC Requires Junction Boxes

According to Section E3905.1 of the International Residential Code (IRC):

“A box or conduit body shall be installed at each conductor splice point, outlet, switch point, junction point, and pull point except as otherwise permitted in Sections E3905.1.1 through E3905.1.6.”

This means that junction boxes are required for ceiling fan installations. There are several reasons why they are important:

  • They provide an anchoring point for the fan.
  • They enclose the wires to protect them from physical damage.
  • They prevent accidental contact with bare wires.
  • They keep the bare wires away from flammable materials.

However, not all junction boxes are appropriate to be used with ceiling fans.

NEC Requires the Boxes to Be Fan-Rated

Ceiling fan junction boxes do everything a regular junction box does, but they are designed to support the weight of a ceiling fan, even with the addition of rotational forces, and attach to a joist.

Cozy-living-room-with-vaulted-ceiling-and-a-ceiling-fan

Regular junction boxes aren’t designed for weight-bearing and, thus, might be unable to support the weight of a ceiling fan. I say “might” because it does depend on the weight of your ceiling fan.

Unlike regular junction boxes, ceiling fan boxes are more heavy-duty. They come with a minimum rating of 50 lbs and can support up to 75 lbs. 

Section 314.27(C) of the National Electric Code (NEC) states the requirements for ceiling fan junction boxes.

According to this code, junction boxes used to support a ceiling fan should be listed by the manufacturer as suitable for ceiling fan installation and should not be used to support fans that weigh more than 70lbs.

Using a box that is below the weight rating of the fan would result in an unstable installation, creating a safety hazard.

Pancake Boxes Can Be Fan-Rated

On the surface, all pancake boxes look the same. However, they do not come with the same weight rating.

Most pancake boxes have a weight limit of 50 lbs, but you can get specialty fan-rated pancake boxes that can support up to 70 lbs.  

According to Section 314.27(C) of the NEC code, which we discussed earlier, a box has to be listed by the manufacturer for ceiling fan installation in order to be considered fan-rated. 

So, whether a pancake box can be used to mount a ceiling fan or not would depend on if the manufacturer designed it to suit that purpose.

How to Tell if a Pancake Box Is Fan-Rated?

Electrical codes mandate that boxes designed for ceiling fan installation have a marking that shows that they are suitable for this purpose. 

Manufacturers typically place the marking on the box itself and on its packaging. So, while making your purchase, look out for information indicating that the box is appropriate for mounting ceiling fans. 

how-to-tell-if-a-junction-box-is-fan-rated

For boxes that are already installed, you might be looking for a way to determine if it is fan-rated or needs to be replaced. This means dismounting whatever is currently installed on the box. 

Most boxes have the information on the plate, which is the side facing the room, but few of them have the information on the side facing into the ceiling. If the information isn’t facing the room, you might have to unscrew the box to inspect its back side. 

Ceiling fan boxes are attached to joists, so check that the box is connected to a joist. If it isn’t, that’s a sign that the installer did not have ceiling fans in mind when they chose and installed it.

One way to do this is to inspect the box for wood screws. Alternatively, jiggle the box and if it moves easily, it’s a sign that the box isn’t fan-rated.

Of course, it might be a fan-rated box that isn’t properly installed. This would be good to know because you cannot hang a ceiling on a poorly installed box. It will wobble and can become dangerous.

How Do They Attach to Joists?

Unlike other ceiling fixtures, ceiling fans move. Their movement exerts pressure on mounting components, which is why it is essential that they are mounted on a stable surface. 

Joists are the only part of the ceiling that provides the necessary support for ceiling fans. As a result, they are crucial for ceiling fan installation. 

Conventional ceiling fan boxes are either screwed directly to the joist from underneath or from the side, or they can be installed between adjacent joists with the help of a brace. 

fan-rated-junction-box-braced-between-two-joists

Pancake boxes can only be attached directly to ceiling joists (from underneath). They feature holes on their metal plates through which wood screws are attached to the joist. 

One of the unique qualities of pancake boxes is their shallow composition allows them to sit flush with ceiling joists. 

Benefits of Pancake Boxes Over Regular Boxes

Pancake boxes aren’t always the go-to option for ceiling fan installation. This is probably because a wide range of pancake boxes aren’t fan-rated. 

One of my favorite things about pancake boxes is how easy they are to install. The boxes feature screw holes that you can fit to align with ceiling joists and then screw the box in place. 

With pancake boxes, you do not have to bother about attic access as the box is designed to support old work installations.

In some situations, their shallow composition can prove advantageous. For instance, if the joist is very close to the ceiling, regular boxes, which come in depths of 1 1/2“ to 3” might not be ideal, as they would poke out of the ceiling. 

On the other hand, pancake boxes are just 1/3” or 3/4” deep and are designed to sit flush on the joist. 

Additionally, pancake boxes cost slightly less than most metal fan-rated boxes, so they can help save costs if you are on a tight budget.

Best Fan-Rated Pancake Boxes

The first thing to look out for when purchasing a pancake box for your fan is its weight rating.

This is particularly important if you are purchasing the box online because there are a lot of pancake boxes that claim to be ideal for ceiling fan installation but on closer perusal, you discover that their weight limit is below 30 lbs. 

I’ve put together my top three picks of fan-rated pancake boxes. All the products on the list are able to support fans up to 70 lbs and light fixtures up to 150 lbs, which is the standard weight limit for fan-rated junction boxes. 

They are all made from durable metal and can be used for a variety of applications. 

1. Hubbell-Raco 295 1/2-Inch Deep 1/2-Inch Ceiling Fan Support Pan Box

Sale
Hubbell-Raco 295 1/2-Inch Deep 1/2-Inch Bottom Knockouts 4-Inch Round Ceiling Fan Support Pan
  • This are easy to use
  • This are highly durable
  • This is manufactured in China
  • Model number: 295

Last update on 2022-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros

  • Includes the necessary installation hardware and instructions. 
  • Programmable design offers installation flexibility. 
  • Includes a metal cover to protect wiring during painting or drywall installation. 

Cons

  • Their 1/2“ depth can only house limited wires. 

2. Westinghouse Lighting 0103611 Saf-T-Pan, 1/2-Inch Deep

Westinghouse Lighting 0103611 Saf-T-Pan, 1/2-Inch Deep, Red
  • Support box allows for safe installation of a ceiling fan or light fixture; attaches to an existing ceiling joist
  • Fits all ceiling fan models; 1/2-Inch-deep box with 6-cubic-Inch capacity
  • Dual mounting capabilities; five knockouts for Conduit or Romex
  • UL listed for lighting fixture support of 150 pounds or less, acceptable for fan support of 70 pounds or less

Last update on 2022-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros

  • Features dual mounting capabilities. 
  • Includes a plastic cover to protect wiring whenever you are working on the ceiling. Includes necessary mounting hardware. 

Cons

  • The screws provided might be too long, so you might have to shorten them or replace them. 
  • Their shallow depth would force you to cut wire excesses, which could end up being unhelpful in the future. 

3. OhLectric Saf-T-Pan Ceiling Fan Support Box

OhLectric Saf-T-Pan Ceiling Fan Support - Contains Thread Screws, Romex Connector - 6 Cubic Inch Wiring Capacity - 1/2 Inch Deep Ceiling Pan - Provides Secure Attachment To Ceiling Joist - OL-40670
  • GREAT PROTECTION: Installing fans and light fixtures is no more a hard task! Because our Saf-T-Pan is engineered to support fans up to 70 pounds and light fixtures up to 150 pounds. This tool will...
  • COMPLETE TOOL: Comes with all necessary mounting hardware, wire bushing, romex connector and instructions to get the job done right the first time. The Safe-T-Pan also features a Saf-T-Cap to protect...
  • SAFETY LISTED: Your safety is our priority! Our support tool is certified to be a safety listed product by UL. This Saf-T-Pan features a 1/2-inch-deep box with 6-cubic-inch capacity, so you can easily...
  • EASY INSTALLATION: Your work becomes easier! As our tool comes with small details like wooden screws, you can easily fix your ceiling fans. You need not get any extra tools for fixing your fans or...

Last update on 2022-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros

  • Includes plastic cover to protect wiring while painting or drywall installation. 
  • Comes with the necessary mounting hardware.

Cons

  • You might be forced to cut wire excesses because of their shallow composition. 
  • Knock-outs might be difficult to remove. 

Sources

https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2015P3/chapter-39-power-and-lighting-distribution

https://www.thespruce.com/electrical-switch-and-junction-boxes-1824666

https://www.thespruce.com/electrical-devices-require-no-junction-boxes-1152220

https://codes.iccsafe.org/s/IRC2021P2/chapter-39-power-and-lighting-distribution/IRC2021P2-Pt08-Ch39-SecE3905.12

https://www.electricallicenserenewal.com/Electrical-Continuing-Education-Courses/NEC-Content.php?sectionID=886.0

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