Pull chains for light fixtures and ceiling fans have a way of getting hung up, and when this happens, you sometimes have to disassemble the fixture or fan to free it. When the chain breaks, you can usually repair it, as long as enough chain extends out from the switch to permit you to attach a coupler. If the chain broke inside the switch housing, or something else inside the housing is broken, you'll probably have to replace the switch -- especially if it's a three-speed switch on a ceiling fan.
Repair and Replacement Procedure
Repairing the Chain
If the chain broke off, you may be able to connect a length of replacement chain.
Turn off the breaker in the main panel that powers the fan. Set up a stepladder that is tall enough for you to work comfortably from the second-highest rung. If you have to climb any higher than that, get a different ladder.
Remove the protective canopy -- or finial -- from the bottom of the fan. To do this, you may have to loosen some screws with a screwdriver, or you may simply have to unscrew and remove the apex cap. Once the canopy is removed, you'll have access to the switch.
Snap on a new length of chain if the remnant of the existing chain is long enough for you to do so. Attach the coupler to the new chain first; then snap it onto the end of the existing chain. Feed the chain through the hole in the finial; replace the finial, and you're finished.
Replacing the Switch
If the chain broke off inside the switch compartment, or the switch itself is faulty, replace the switch, because the switch compartment is usually fused together, making repairs impossible.
Disconnect the switch from the fan housing. This usually involves loosening one or two Phillips screws with a Phillips screwdriver. Pull the switch out of the housing.
Take a picture of the wiring configuration of the switch with a digital camera or your phone. If you don't have access to a camera, draw a detailed chart on a piece of paper showing which wires attach to which terminals, so you can wire the new switch in exactly the same way as the old one.
Cut the wires as close to the switch as possible, using wire snips. The wires are usually soldered to the switch, but if they are attached to screw terminals, loosen the screws and unhook the wires instead of cutting them.
Take the switch to an electrical supply store to find an exact replacement. Depending on the fan, you may have to wait a week while the store special-orders the switch.
Connect the new switch. If it has screw terminals, hook the wires onto the terminals in the same configuration as they were on the old switch, and tighten the terminal screws with a screwdriver. If you had to cut the wires:
- Strip insulation from the ends of the wires in the fan housing to expose 1/2 inch of bare wire, using wire strippers. The leads from the switch should be pre-stripped.
- Twist the wires together to make a pigtail splice and tighten the twists with pliers.
- Screw a wire cap onto each wire splice. Be sure the caps are rated for the wire size -- usually 14- or 16-gauge.
Attach the new switch to the fan housing; feed the chain through the hole in the finial and replace the finial. Turn on the power and test the switch.