Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

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Chicago Electrical RepairsThe other day I turned the dining room table into Santa's workshop. Or at least my workshop. (Someday I'm going to have a basement and a work bench and a sop. But till then, this condo-dwelling Hyde Park Electrician will be doing his electrical repairs on the dining room table.) At least I used a baking sheet to capture the dust and not scratch the table.

One of my clients in Kenwood had a wall-mounted exhaust fan in her bathroom that stopped working. Flip the switch, juice is there. But does the fan blow, or even hum or gurgle or sputter? Nahhh. So I opened it up and found the fan motor had met with its untimely demise. Poor thing. Not a spin left. (Middle picture shows the old, dirty somewhat rusty fan motor that I took out. as well as my daughter's balloon ladybug and my coffee cup.)

The motor is mounted, as you can see, on a metal plate assembly that mounts within the fan housing that is permanently installed in the wall. On the other side of that plate is the fan itself, in this case a round white plastic one. The fan is connected to the motor by a small shaft.This fan is nicknamed a "squirrel-cage fan" because it looks just like one of those wheels that a pet hamster or mouse runs on. (Don't ask why they don't call it a hamster-cage fan. I couldn't tell ya.) When the little electric motor spins the shaft, it spins the fan, which sucks out the air from below and throws it out of the exhaust duct that leads from the fan housing to the outside wall.  All of this is hidden by the plastic grill that goes over everything, which is the only part you would see as you look at the fan installed on the wall. When the whole thing is in place and working, when you flip the switch the motor spins, the shaft spins, the fan spins and the air blows out the exhaust duct to the exterior. These are VERY important in bathrooms. Not just to take the unpleasant odors out, which I used to think were their main function. But much more important to to pull out the hot steamy moist air when you take a shower of bath, to prevent mold from growing in the grout lines or small corners of the tub or shower area. Very, very important.

At any rate, with the fan motor dead, the whole thing is useless. She needed a new fan motor. Which as you can see, is a relatively small deal. Except that this fan is no longer made. The manufacturer does not support the fan by furnishing replacement parts for sale. (Why would they when they can sell you a whole new fan?) I took the plate assembly with the old fan (and 15yrs of dust) with me, and searched for a new replacement part.

After several weeks of searching, I decided I would not have much luck getting one from the manufacturer. Unfortunately, the ones on the market now are just a little bit bigger, so the entire plate assemble could not be swapped out in one piece. Now a contractor that is hungry for work or billable hours might have told her "Sorry, they just don't make the parts any more. We have to replace the whole thing." And "the whole thing" would mean cutting a big hole in the lathe and plaster wall to extract the housing, making a big mess of the shower wall forcing them to get a plasterer to repair it when he was finished. It may have also required removing the exterior ventilation grate to properly retrofit the exhaust duct. Second story bathroom. Of course. Extension ladder. Lot of labor cost. I imagine a really hungry contractor could have made this into a 6 or 7 hour job, easy. Plus plastering, painting, and sealing up the vent on the outside wall. And many clients who want fresh air in their bathroom would have reluctantly said 'Well, if we gotta do it, we have no choice. Do what you have to do."

But somehow, recession or no recession, I could not see billing Clifton and Julane several hundred dollars for a job that really required nothing more than replacing a little electric motor. The first time I worked for them was 1986 or 87, if I recall. They have been great clients and great people. Their son and my daughter go to the same Sunday school. And Clifton's mom has also been using me since the late 80s. I appreciate their friendship and loyalty. I was going to find a way.

After thinking a while and looking at the new fans, the ones that would fit in if only the walls were cut open, It occurred to me that while the housing sizes were different, the motors that they used to spin the fans probably were not. So what if Nu-tone was not selling individual replacement motors for their 1998 model fans any more? They were selling plenty of brand spankin' new motors for their 2011 fans. So I bought one of those. All it took was a little ingenuity to figure out how to remove the motor from the 2011 fan and then retrofit it into the assembly plate of the old fan and then securely attach the now cleaned up squirrel-cage. I  "McGuyvered" it as Julane said. The top 2 pictures show the finished product. From there, it was just a hop, skip and a jump from my dining room table to their shower stall, where I re-installed it and turned it on. She hummed like a charm. Fresh air!
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