If your ceiling fan shoots sparks, and the light stops working, that's a pretty clear indication that something is wrong. But what? The most likely problem is a burnt-out light bulb, but it's also possible that a short circuit occurred in the fan wiring. If the fan stopped working along with the light kit, that's what you should look for.
Start with the Easy Problem
Many bulbs that fit ceiling fan light kits are incandescent, and these have a nasty habit of burning out. When the filament inside the bulb gets old, the bulb may fail undramatically, but if the bulb experiences a current surge, the filament can actually pop under the load, producing a quick, bright flash and then ... nothing. Bulbs that burn out this way are easy to recognize because the inside of the globe is covered with black soot.
Before you reach into your all-purpose repair drawer for a new bulb, turn off the power to the fan and light, unscrew the burnt-out bulb and check the wattage. You don't want to replace it with a bulb that has a higher wattage, because, as Del Mar Fans & Lighting advises, many fans have a limiting device that stops the fan if the wattage is too high.
Screw the new bulb into the socket, but don't overtighten it or you could flatten the tab in the socket that allows the fan to power the light. If so, you'll have to turn off the power again and pull it back out with needle-nose pliers to get the light to work.
Ceiling Fan Pops and Sparks
If you see sparks coming from the ceiling fan housing, and the light pops and goes out, that's an indication of a short circuit in the wiring. To investigate and make the repair, you're going to have to dismount the fan. You may want to consider calling a fan specialist, because fans are heavy and awkward to handle while standing on a ladder. If you decide to do it yourself, consider at least removing the fan blades to make things more manageable.
You'll want to turn off the breaker before you disassemble the fan, and you may find that it has tripped already, which is what it's supposed to do when a short circuit occurs. Once you've separated the fan housing from the ceiling mount and you can see the wiring, look for blackened wires or melted wire caps, which will tell you that a short really did occur. You may find that a cap fell off and exposed wires, which contacted part of the fan, or you may find worn insulation on one of the wires.
After repairing the wiring and reassembling the fan, unscrew each of the light bulbs and examine the socket for damage. The heat from a short can actually fuse bulbs into the sockets, so if you can't get one out, don't force it. Now is the time to call the fan specialist.
Know Your Fan Wires
If the ceiling fan sparked and tripped a breaker because of a short, you may find disconnected wires when you disassemble the fan. The wiring depends on whether the fan and lights are on the same switch or two different ones. In general, you should find two hot wires coming from the fan — one for the fan and one for the lights — one neutral wire and one ground wire.
The hot wire that powers the fan is usually black, the hot for the lights is blue or red, the neutral is white and the ground is green or bare. If one switch powers the lights and fan, both hot wires will be bundled with the hot from the switch, which is black, but if the lights and fan have separate switches, each hot will have a separate connection with its respective switch wire. It's always a good idea to check the manufacturer's wiring instructions if you aren't sure.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.