No neutral fan control?


(Stratos Geroulis) #1

There are plenty of threads on this topic, I’ve tried to follow and check all of them but most seem to be outdated as the scene of switches is moving at the speed of light (pun intended) haha

I live in an old house, no neutral at the switch box. I have a pull chain fan. The wall switch controls the power to the fan and the pull chains control the fan speeds and lights respectively (the good old simple setup). What I’m looking for is for a simple on/off switch to replace the one on the wall (that does not require neutral and can handle the load). Any ideas?

If that’s not something that exists (yet) anything that i can tuck into the ceiling shroud?

Any pointers will be appreciated!
Thank you,
Stratos


(Jimmy) #2

Can Lutron Caseta handle the load?


(Mark) #3

I have no neutrals in my switch boxes. For one fan with separate hot wires for lights and fan, I installed a Lutron dimmer (for lights) and a Lutron switch (for fan). Unfortunately I can’t control the fan speed from the switch this way, only the pull chain.

I have two other fans with a single hot wire that connects to an RF receiver in the fan canopy. The receiver is controlled wirelessly by a transmitter remote to allow for control of lights and fan speed. I replaced the in-canopy receiver with one that has both a standard ~400MHz RF receiver as well as a zigbee radio. Now those fans can be controlled by both the handheld remote, and the ST hub.

There are several threads about that zigbee-enabled fan controller. This one has links to the device itself and the device handler that works with ST.

Edit: Lutron caseta switches need their own bridge device in order to be controlled wirelessly. Then they can be integrated with ST through a cloud-to-cloud integration.


#4

You probably already know this, but first things first: A dimmer switch intended for lights should never be used to control a variable speed motor. The physics are different. You can burn out the switch or the motor, and it’s a definite safety hazard. So you need a switch which is designed specifically to control variable speed motors.

Lutron has not put out anything for variable speed fan control in the Caseta line, which is the one that has an official SmartThings integration. So that’s not an option.

Second, before trying to sort through all of the information in the forums, it’s usually good idea to start with the FAQ section. :sunglasses: In this case, there is a current FAQ on fan options. And the fourth option in that FAQ is for situations where you don’t have a neutral. It’s utilizing a Lutron Maestro fan controller device, And integrated through a Logitech Harmony Hub universal remote.

It’s not ideal for several reasons. For one thing, it’s an expensive option because of the number of devices you have to use. And, since it’s based on an IR remote to the wall switch, it’s one way status only. That is, you can definitely create a SmartThings automation that will control the fan, including voice control options, time of day, triggers from other sensors, etc. But if someone does use the handheld remote or the wall switch to turn on the fan, smartthings will not be aware of it, so the status in the SmartThings app may be incorrect.

So it’s an option that will work for some people, but not others. Here’s the FAQ (this is a clickable link)

In addition, as @marktheknife already noted, many people find that they can use the Hampton Bay zigbee fan controller ( also listed in the fan FAQ) even if they don’t have neutrals at the wall switch, Because the wall controller for that particular device is battery-operated. So as long as you’re OK with having a battery operated device on the wall, it can be a much better option than the Lutron Maestro/harmony choice. It’s less complicated to set up, it’s less expensive, and you do get two way status so the SmartThings app does not get out of sync with the fan. So I would definitely look carefully at that one as well.


(Stratos Geroulis) #5

Guys,

First of thank you for the detailed responses. I don’t think there is a more friendly and detailed community around.

I had read the FAQ and I’m intrigued by the hampton bay one but here’s the thing. I wouldn’t mind keeping the functionality of the system as it is: i.e. a simple on/off switch on the wall that powers the fan to it’s previous state (whatever position the pull chains are). Most of the times, our lights are out and we just want to control wether the fan should be on or off (at a certain speed we have it set at). Having the speed control and individual light control is cool but from the explanation you guys and others have provided it sounds like it might be a tad too complicated.

That’s why i mentioned that my first preference would be a wall switch. I understand that dimmable is not what i should go for. But would a simple on/off one used for other lights sustain the load of the fan? If so, is there one that works without a neutral? I understand the casseta is one of them (and i don’t necessarily object to the extra hub) but i think from what i read they’re limited to 2A loads. I’m not sure that that’s enough, is it?

Thank you for all the responses.


(Mark) #6

PD-5WS-DV is the model of caseta switch that doesn’t require a neutral. The max load for fans is 3A.


#7

I would check with Lutron support before considering that model, though. It’s really intended for single speed extractor fans that only have on/off as an option.

I understand that @Stratosg Only wants the wall switch to turn the fan on/off, but the fan is a variable speed motor, and the physics are different. I just don’t know if that particular Lutron switch would be compatible, but Lutron support will know.


(Mark) #8

Hmm, hadn’t thought about that. The installation manual refers to “general purpose fan” with an icon of a ceiling fan.

If they indeed meant “bathroom extractor fans only”, that’s not a particularly helpful thing to put in the manual.

Guess I should check with Lutron support as well. The switch has been working fine on two ceiling fans with pull strings for probably about a year now. But of course that doesnt mean it couldn’t start a fire tomorrow.


#9

Again, I would check with Lutron to be sure.

My understanding, which may be wrong, is that “general purpose fan” is a construction industry term which means the same as “switched” fan, that is a fan which is safe to operate with just an on/off switch. As opposed to a variable speed fan of either type of controller (discreet/capacitive or continuous). But @navat604 or one of the other electricians in the community might have a better definition.

Most ceiling fans are variable speed fans with capacitive controllers.


(Mark) #10

I emailed them, let’s see what they say after the holiday. I’ll let everyone know.


(Stratos Geroulis) #11

@marktheknife

Thank you for contacting them. I like this solution so please do get back to us once you hear from Lutron. Do you use their hub to connect this to ST? Does it come with a remote as well?

@JDRoberts i understand your concern, i know enough about these guys to be dangerous haha so getting your input on this is important. What makes me feel a little comfortable about this is that i currently operate this fan with a traditional on/off switch which it seems this is exactly what this lutron switch is doing. On the other hand, like you said, I’m missing the physics of this so although on the surface it seems the same, it could be very different.

It is very confusing the way they have their documentation though i agree. I read about it myself and if i didn’t know what i was looking for (i.e. the distinction between fans like @JDRoberts pointed out) i wouldn’t think twice, it would’ve seemed like my fan is exactly what they’re talking about.

It will be interesting to see what they respond. Thank you all for your input!


(Mark) #12

I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Let’s see what Lutron says.

I do have Lutron switches and dimmers integrated with ST through a Lutron bridge. Lutron makes a line of battery-powered remotes called picos, but unfortunately those won’t work with the official ST integration, last time I checked. But if your Lutron switches are integrated with ST, you can use any button controller that works with ST to control the Lutron devices and your other ST-connected devices too.


(Mark) #13

Here’s the word straight from Lutron, talk about a quick response! So not only are their engineers great, their customer support is top notch!!

Based on this response, I have no concerns using the switch I mentioned with a ceiling fan that has speed controlled by a pull-chain.

Hello Mark,

Thank you for your interest in Lutron product. The switch controls single speed, and 3 speed fan motors with a pull chain. It will control up to 3 amps and do on/off only. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Phil L.
Technical Support
1-888-Lutron1 (588-7661)
appsgroup@lutron.com
www.lutron.com/support


#14

So it’s relying on the pull chain to correctly set the winding selection in the fan motor, and then the wall switch to just turn current on and off. Essentially turning the three speed motor into a single speed when looked at from the perspective of the wall switch. That makes sense, it’s just not a lot of automation. :sunglasses:


(Stratos Geroulis) #15

Mark,

That’s great, thanks for getting back to us with their response!

@JDRoberts yup that’s exactly what i had in mind. Agreed, not a lot of automation but enough to solve an immediate problem i have.

I am still considering the hampton bay one but i have to see if my fan is appropriate for it. If it’s not then the lutron might be my only solution…


(Mark) #16

While I would love full speed control for my two fans that are currently wired to the Lutron switch that doesn’t require a neutral, just getting on/off control is pretty good.

I can turn my bedroom fan on/off by asking Alexa while I’m in bed. Or I can set it to turn off automatically a few hours after my wife and I go to sleep (helps me feel cool enough to fall asleep but not always needed once I’m asleep, and it makes her cold).

I can set my kitchen fan to turn on automatically if the temp is above X and there’s motion in the kitchen. Or turn off once no one’s in there anymore and they forgot to flip the switch.

Those of us without neutral wires often have to take what we can get when it comes to smart switches! And as you often say, all home automation is local :sunglasses:.


(Mark) #17

I have two fans that came with in-canopy RF receivers for speed control. I replaced those receivers with the Hampton Bay zigbee receiver.

I’m confident my other two fans with pull chains would work with the Hampton bay receiver from an electrical perspective. But they weren’t designed to fit a receiver in the canopy, so that’s probably the big thing you’ll want to confirm.

Eventually, I may replace the fans with models that have a bracket with room for the receiver. Or even pay an electrician to run neutrals. But for now, this will do.


(Stratos Geroulis) #18

Mark, you hit it right on target. I have an extra pickle to overcome, I’m renting so I can’t make any real changes. I see that the fan has a canopy of some sort up there but I didn’t have the time to investigate further (i.e. open and check if the receiver will fit). If it doesn’t then I have a fan with no neutral on the switch that has no space to fit a receiver and I can’t do anything to change, in which case Lutron to the rescue! haha

The only thing that’s meh about the lutron solution is the extra bridge I have to buy (hence still considering the hampton bay one) but you know, beggars are no choosers! :wink:

Thanks again for everybody’s input!