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Question DetailsAsked on 7/13/2013

My gable attic fan stopped working. Is it the the thermostat or motor? Do I need a handyman or electrician?

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7 Answers


Could be thermostat, motor, motor capacitor (if it uses one), electrical switch, bird or bees nest stopping the fan from turning, wire connection came loose, squirrel chewed wires, etc.

I would go with an HVAC contractor - an electrician might be able to determine the cause, but would not likely have the parts or routinely deal in them. An HVAC contractor is likely to have the small parts in his truck, and knows where to get the less common ones or replacement motor if needed, through his regular distributors.

Search the List for local HVAC contractors and reviews.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


Thank you, LCD but that sounds expensive.

Answered 7 years ago by Guest_93386501


Unless you are qualified to do electrical troubleshooting, if the breaker for that circuit is not tripped and the power switch is on, you need an expert.

You could get up there through the attic and check the blade is not obstructed, will spin freely, and look for any sign of burning or smoking. If it will keep turning by itself when it is hot enough the thermostat should be ON, and the power switch is turned on by a helper if you spin it the right way with a stick (watch your fingers) then very likely a blown capacitor. Do NOT leave power to the unit for more than a few seconds if it is not turning - can cause a fire or burn the motor out if motor is not designed for stall amperage, which only the better ones are.

If you know how to use a volt-ohm meter you could check you have power to the thermostat - that would eliminate the wall switch and a tripped panel box circuit breaker. You could then check, with thermostat temperature hot enough to turn ON, see if you have power at the motor leads - if so, then not the thermostat, has to be in the motor.

You could check if there is a built-in breaker red reset button on the motor itself. Do NOT HOLD it in - just push in, if it pops right back out then you have a short in the motor.

If you know about electrical systems and how to handle them, you could jumper around the thermostat to see if that is what is bad. Of course, make sure your thermostat battery is not dead, if it is digital and has one (rarely - usually a mechanical bimetallic switch).

Otherwise I would use an HVAC expert - yes a handyman costs half or less as much per hour, but is far from likely to be able to diagnose or fix it right. The HVAC contractor is the way to go - probably about $65-100 for a diagnosis, plus repair cost. An electrician would be the same cost or more typically, and less qualified to repair it.

Your only other real alternative is to replace the thermostat hoping that is it, then replace the fan motor youself hoping that is it, and so on, etc. Could quickly cost as much as the HVAC visit, without solving the problem.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


So I went up and checked it again. It's not the thermostat because you can turn it down and the motor starts to if it wants to start but can't.

I probably need to replace the motor or the whole fan. I would like to find a handyman with electrical know-how to do this—as this is the first of several projects around the house that I will need done. I need to start a working relationship with someone I can trust.

How do I find a reliable, affordable, independent handyman with good references? Seems like is mostly handyman/contractor firms.

Answered 7 years ago by Guest_93386501


Hello, this is Kiel from Angie's List. We definitely list independent Handymen in addition to contractors and companies - you'll want to search for the category Handymen to see our top rated providers in that area. You can also contact our call center at 1-888-944-5478 or send a written request to for more information.

Call center hours:

Mon-Fri: 8:30am – 8:15pm ET
Sat: 8:30am – 3:00pm ET

Thanks so much!

Answered 7 years ago by KielH


OK - you are halfway there, if you have not already gotten a handyman.

If you can spin the fan freely without it grinding or squeeking (should spin quite easily) then that rules out mechanical blockage or shot motor bearings or dragging graphite brushes.

If you turn the thermostat so the motor hums (don't do for more than a few seconds to avoid overheating) you should be able to start it by spinning the fan blade fast in the right direction - do NOT do by hand to avoid losing a finger - use a stick - if it will then run, your problem is a shot capacitor, in all likelihood - not a big item.

Here is basically what a starting capacitor looks like (it stores up energy to give a high-amperage (and sometimes higher voltage too) shot to the motor to start it) -

And here is what it typically looks like on a motor (though this is a lot larger than yours) - the "hump" on top of the motor is a protective shidld over the capacitor -


If you remove the capacitor and take it to an electric supply house they can test it to see if it is good - typically cost about $10-25.

Be cautious removing it - keep track of how it is wired with respect to polarity (+ and - by contacts on capacitor, should be color coded wires), and bear in mind the capacitor may have a residual charge in it, so keep your fingers away from it - can take an hour or more to discharge naturally.

Of course, while you are up there, look at how the motor dismounts - usually only about 3-4 screws or bolts. You could shut off the circuit breaker to it, disconnect electric wires at the junction box, unbolt the motor, and take the entire motor and capacitor in to be tested. The fan blade unit will usually have a setscrew or allen screw holding it onto the shaft, or it may just be slipped onto a flat sided or keyed shaft with a center retaining screw - usually pulls off pretty easy, but if not take the whole shebang to the shop for testing.

If not fixable, then at least you have it there to get or order a correctly sized replacement.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


sometimes called a "whole house fan" is usually the bearings or motor that wear out,sometimes buying a whole new replacement unit at a do it yourselfer lumberyard is cheaper,(and makes more sense) than a replacement motor

Answered 6 years ago by romantimothy

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