This article is by staff writer April Dykman.
Being a homeowner is expensive.
Correction: Being a homeowner who wants to tear out and replace everything in the house is expensive.
But my home is also my hobby. It’s one of those expenses that falls into the “needs list” (shelter) and the “wants list” (my complete kitchen remodel). Living in aesthetically pleasing surroundings puts me at ease almost as much as a really mean massage, the kind where they throw elbows.
So, possibly you don’t identify with that. Possibly you totally understand where I’m coming from. Either way, I had a situation, and I needed a frugal solution.
Here’s the deal: My three ceiling fans were ugly as all get-out. And I had to look at one of them every morning when I woke up and every evening before I fell asleep — and all day long while I worked.
But I didn’t want to buy three new fans. For one thing, the fans I have are made by a good brand and they work well. They’re also in great condition. So I certainly didn’t want to replace three perfectly functional fans with cheaper models.
But I also didn’t want to spend the money on three high-quality fans purely for aesthetic reasons. For instance, I liked this fan from Restoration Hardware, but it was $329. So let’s do the math:
3 fans x $329 per fan = Not gonna happen!
I have a long list of house projects that I’d rather spend that money on, and ceiling fans aren’t at the top of that list. So I continued to glare at these fans, trying to figure out what to do with them. Leave them alone and just replace the fans later? Give them an Extreme Fan Makeover?
I decided that they couldn’t look any worse, so a makeover it was.
Using the Restoration Hardware fan as a guide, I came up with a game plan to transform my ceiling fans.
I saw that the blades were lighter on the other side, so one thing I wanted to do was flip them to the lighter side. Then, to address the lights, I found a low-profile ceiling fan light kit at Lowe’s for $50, and paid for it with a Christmas gift card. (Thanks, Aunt Susan!) By the way, I recently saw simple light kits for as low as $20. Then I bought a can of Valspar Metallic spray paint ($6), and I was ready to get started.
(Note: I forgot to take a “before” picture of the ceiling fan I worked on, but since I have three of these bad boys, I snapped a pic of one of the other fans.)
How to give your ceiling fan an overhaul
If you’re interested in doing something similar, here’s how I executed the plan.
First, I cut the electricity to the master bedroom, cause I really didn’t want to end up like this guy. The expert at Lowe’s said, “Turn electricity off at the fuse box, check to make sure it’s off with a voltage tester, and flip the wall switch in the room to the off position. If in doubt, you can always hire an electrician.”
Next, I got a ladder and a husband. It doesn’t have to be a husband, but it helps to have a second pair of hands. Fans aren’t all that heavy, but they are unwieldy. Another tip from Lowe’s Fan Expert Guy: “If you can, remove the fan blades before taking down the fan unit and put them back on after reinstalling it. It makes it a lot easier to handle the fan.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible for us, so while my husband unscrewed the screws (I couldn’t reach!), I held onto the fan.
Although the fan base was no longer attached to the ceiling, the wires were still attached. So we disconnected those, being careful to not let the fan hang by the wires.
Then we took the fan into the garage and started figuring out how to take the entire thing apart. First, we removed the old light kit and set it aside. From there, we continued taking the fan apart until it was in a whole bunch of pieces. Don’t be intimidated by my handyman jargon, guys. The inside of the fan was full of dust (gross!) so we cleaned every piece and took the metal parts outside. I also opened the new light kit and took the metal rim outside.
We placed all of the metal parts on a large piece of cardboard, and I used painter’s tape and an old t-shirt to wrap parts like the motor and wires — things that should not be painted.
Then I spray-painted the metal pieces with two thin and even coats of Valspar Metallic in Brushed Nickel.
After the pieces were dry, we brought them back into the garage. We started to reassemble the fan, with the lighter side of the blades facing down and with the new light kit.
Then we carried the fan back into the master bedroom, and I held it up while my taller half locked it in place, hooked up the wires, and put the screws back in.
Then it was the moment of truth. We flipped the breaker, flipped the light switch, and violà! We had light, we had a fan. Thank goodness, too, because if it didn’t work, we probably would’ve had to take the stupid thing down again!
Being the interior design weirdo that I am, I’m still staring at my ceiling fan, but now it’s because I love it. I’m also especially happy that I was able to “upcycle” our fans, rather than throwing them in the dump and shelling out hundreds of dollars for new ones.
Renovating my house and doing these sorts of projects reminds me of the part in the documentary Helvetica when graphic designer Michael Bierut says, “…there was a time when it just felt so good to take something that was old and dusty and homemade and crappy looking and replace it with Helvetica. It just must have felt like you were scraping the crud off of filthy old things and kind of restoring them to shining beauty.” And all for $6 and one afternoon of time, I might add. (Ugh. Now I’ve also given myself away as both a typography and a documentary nerd.)
At any rate, obviously, I’ll be repeating this process with the other two fans. And I’ve got a few more house projects in the works, so let me know if you’d like to see more DIY ideas here at Get Rich Slowly!
Finally, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite frugal home makeover project? Tell us about it in the comments!