Making an old ceiling fan smart

Hi everyone,

I have older ceiling fans over beds in two bedrooms. Power to the ceiling fan is controlled by a wall switch (not currently ZWave). Each fan has a light and 3 chains. There is a chain to turn the light off/on, another chain reverses the fan and the last chains sets 1 of 4 speeds (off, low, medium or high),

The device operates mostly with the light off and the fan on. I know I can put in a wall switch to control the on/off.

I was wondering if it is possible control the light or fan speeds? Currently I only control lights and door locks and they are all ZWave. Was reading about ZWave Relays but not sure if this is what I am looking for.


I am guessing probably not without rewiring. I assume you have a single switch for both the lights and fan. There are fan control switches available; however, using these would interfere with the light control (i.e., if the fan is switched off by the smart switch, the light will have no power).

Anything you do is going to require rewiring the fan to provide separate power to the light(s).

I saw a YouTube video of a guy doing something like that with one of these: Dual Relay Module T2 - Aqara

Your options depend on whether you have a neutral wire at the switch.

I don't, so what I ended up doing is split light and fan supply at the fixture (the ceiling fan should have separate supply wires) : fan to switch and light direct to line power. Then I use a smart bulb in the fixture and install a Pico next to the fan switch. It's pretty straightforward to program the Pico to control the bulb. Option 1 : install a ZEN51 in the fixture so you can control the fan on/off both using the switch and through automation. Option 2 : if you have neutral in the switch box, you could also control fan speed, e.g. with a GE Fan Controller (just set the chain to fastest speed and leave it).

You could also do it the other way around : install a dimmer at the switch to control the light and a Pico or other smart button to control fan on/off via a ZEN51 or similar relay.

Each light/fan is controlled by a separate wall switch in a separate bedroom.

I guess I can just use a ZWave wall switch to turn it on/off. It is mostly used by my when she goes to bed because she is too warm and then she gets up at night to turn it off because she is too cold. She does like the current setup (lights and schedule) and I am thinking she would like just asking Alexa to turn off the ceiling fan. The fan speed doesn’t change much and the light and fan direction change even less.


I replied to the first response and didn’t see the other two.

I believe there is a neutral wire. I changed the switch a couple of years ago to get rid of paint on the old one. IIRC, there is a neutral wire.

So if I have a neutral wire, I can use a switch with a fan controller? How does it control the fans speeds if they are currently controlled by a pull chain.


The fan controller modulates the voltage sent to the fan. You don't want to have both in play, so set the fan to maximum speed using the chain, then remove the chain or make it too short to reach).

Remember that, for this to work, you need to supply power to the light separately.

Nice to know. Thanks was wondering how that worked.

With the current wall switch controlling both the light and the fan, wouldn’t all the power go through the wall switch prior to getting the ceiling fan, thus not allowing me to split the power for the light and fan?

Correct. Which is why, to leverage this solution, you would need to rewire the fan and light power supplies at the fixture.

If you don't want to touch the wiring I am not sure what can work for you, as @djgutheinz pointed out previously. You could still use a smart switch but would have to manage the pull chains for the desired result.

EDIT I think I didn't fully get your question on first read:

Depends on the specific electrical installation, but typically there is line power at the fixture, and a wire drop goes from the fixture to the switch, with one lead connected to line power. Therefore at the fixture you have the option of wiring the load to line directly or to the return from the switch.

Thanks for all the info. Always her great advice here. Even on a Sunday when there is tons of football on TV.

I will Yale the ceiling fan apart and take a look and if I can split it I will. If not, I will install a wall switch.


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Inovelli made a fan switch (that included a canopy module) that would allow full control of the light (with dimming) and fan (with speed control and on/off) from a single gang wall switch. No need to open up walls. Didn't even need to open up walls if you had no neutral at the switch (just needed to change the wiring in the fan's octagon box).

Unfortunately, the switch is discontinued:

But you can preorder the new version:

I would just wait till you can get one of these, they work great and give you full control, without needing to open up the walls and/or fish any wiring.


Waiting for a product that does it all, correctly, is obviously the best advice, but in this era of instant gratification, the combo of rewiring the Light (to have always on power) and then using a smart bulb, and a fan controller in-wall switch probably makes the best "today" answer.

These types of in-wall fan controllers work well:

and just replacing the existing switch is a simple'ish task. However, that also controls the light and that's where the real work begins.. that's the rewiring mentioned here. You have to get always on power to that canopy. Most people think that the cabling to the in-wall switch is what needs to change and that certainly makes it 'cleaner' but isn't the only place where power exists.

I added ceiling fans to this house and wired up always on power only. I did not plan for an in-wall switch. I installed a fan/light controller in the canopy and mounted a Pico to the wall plate for the room light. Although the fans do have a light, and it is controllable, in 3 of the 4 fans, the light is never used. You might consider that option too.. just leave the bulb in the off position and remove it's chain too and just use something else for room lighting.


FYI, at my current and 3 previous homes the power feeds into the switch box and 14/3 wire runs to th fan/light. The oldest house had pull chain combo fan/lights in bedrooms which only had 14/2 wires.
Power was always fed into switch box! Not the ceiling fixture.

I have used 2 of the fan controls that @csteele references above.
Some may disagree with my method, 3 years later.........
Switched power to deep metal fan box.
All three wires (USA)
Fan control mounted in box, with the rocker panel removed.
Bypassed power to light socket, Hue bulb in socket.

Might not be exactingly correct, but has been working fine.

Another consideration is to invest in a Lutron SmartBridge Pro. That way you can use a Caséta fan controller (which doesn’t require a canopy module) and then a two gang plate with a pico next to it. It will look like you have individual lighting and fan control boxes when in fact, there’s just one box on the wall. You can then add remote picos for both fan and light in other places, even if there’s not actually a box on the wall, and once you put a plate over it, it will look like there is.

The nice part about this is that you have the ability to add additional highly reliable pico control everywhere, for either smart bulbs or control of smart switches that are in other locations. Plus the bonus of having extra control for other devices using hold sequences or double taps on the pico. Additionally, the inexpensive, 5 button pico remotes allow you to use the middle button other automations.

If you have power at the switch and 14/3 going up to the fixture you are gold, everything can be done from the switch box.

If there is no power at the fixture other than that coming from the switch box, then the only option I can see is to remove the switch, marette the wires together and do everything with smart devices in the fixture and control with a Pico or similar.

Even simpler, since we used beside lamps, I just disconnected the light and used a GE fan “switch” in the switch box.

My current bedroom has a super quiet DC fan that requires full AC voltage at all times so I just use a switch for the fan and a dimmer for the light. Speed control uses the fan’s proprietary battery powered speed controller.

I haven't seen these before. Tempted to pre-order one even though I really don't need it.