What Type Of Ceiling Fan Control Is Best? Cord |Switch |Remote |Smart

Ceiling fans can be controlled in several different ways. Which ways are there and what is the best option for you? Here’s what you want to know. 

Ceiling fans can be controlled by; 1. Pull cord 2. Wall switch 3. Remote 4. Smart controller. For most people, the wall switch is the best option since it works well and is reliable. Remote controls are a good options that provide extra comfort at the expense of reliability. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into the types of fan controller and what’s best. 

Types Of Ceiling Fan Control?

Controlling a ceiling fan is not only turning it on or off. It’s also controlling the speed, light and sometimes even direction and/or a timer. The last few are quite rare so most controllers will control on/off, speed and the light if applicable. There are a few different ways you can control your ceiling fan.

There are four main ways ceiling fans are controlled;

  • Pull cord
  • Wall switch
  • Remote
  • Smart (WiFi) controller

Let’s look into the different types a little more, and what they do. 

Pull cord

The traditional way to control ceiling fans is the pull cord. You pull the cord and it turns on. If there are different speed settings, it’ll usually start at the slowest speed at the first pull and then cycle up through the speeds until you get to the ‘off’ position again. 

There is nothing fancy about it, it’s very simple and usually works. However, you don’t see these very often anymore though. And there are good reasons for that. 

The first reason is that it isn’t always a good solution. Sometimes it’s just too high from the floor to   actually be easily accessible for everyone. This is a good reason to go for a different type of controller. 

Other than that, pull cords can break and are then a pain to replace. Also, it’s hard to see what speed you’re at and difficult to find the off position since ceiling fans accelerate and slow down slowly. 

ceiling fan with pull cord
Ceiling fan with pull cord

Wall switch

The most common type of controller for new fans (and has been for quite a few years), is the wall control panel. It’s a little panel the size of a power outlet and is often installed close to a power outlet. 

Fans usually come with one of these and the buttons on the panel will be tailored to the features of the fan. Wall panels can look all kinds of ways. Sometimes there is a turning know that steplessly adjusts the speed, sometimes there is a slider switch with different settings while other times there are push buttons for different speeds and features. The light kit often has controls on the panel as well. Usually this is just on/off but it can also include a dimmer switch. 

As you can see, ceiling fan wall control panels come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. So if you want to use a wall switch, find a fan that comes with one. If you buy a separate panel, you can probably wire it in but unless you find one that’s exactly right for your model, you might end up with switches and buttons that don’t do anything or you might not be able to control everything you’d like. 

Related: Does a ceiling fan with remote need a wall switch?


Everyone knows what a remote is. It’s the same thing you use for your TV but instead it controls a ceiling fan. Many new fans come with a remote control (sometimes in addition to a wall switch). The obvious benefit of a remote control is that you don’t have to get up to turn the fan or light on/off. This is great for applications where you either don’t want to get up (bedroom) or you are unable to get up. 

Do universal remotes work on all ceiling fans

Built in remotes are reliable and work very well. Aftermarket remotes might need a module installed in the wall switch or fan itself. These work quite well as well but make sure you get a module that can handle all the features of the fan. 

Related: How to turn a ceiling fan on/off when the remote is broken

The downsides of remotes are that they get lost, batteries die at the wrong time, dogs eat them, etc. Overall you get more comfort at the expense of some reliability. 

Smart (WiFi) controller

The latest option is the smart controller. Usually this is a WiFi connected controller. This means you can control your fan with a smartphone app or voice control if you’ve got a smart phone hub. 

There are many types. The features and capabilities of the controllers differ as do their qualities. Aftermarket wifi controllers that have to be built in especially are very hit and miss. Keep in mind, not only the control box has to work properly, the app has to as well. 

Fans with smart functionality built in from the factory tend to be better and have better apps. Most WiFi controllers have the functionality to connect to your Google home, Alexa, etc. However, there is not really a standard for these things so you’ll have to make sure the fan you get has all the functionality you need. 

app to control smart fans

What Type Of Ceiling Fan Control Is Best?

So which type of controller is best for you? That obviously depends on your situation and application. 

First off, don’t buy a new ceiling fan with a pull cord unless you really, really like it. A wall panel or remote control is a better option for pretty much everyone. The price difference is not big even if you can even find a new model that has a pull cord. To change any setting you have to stand up anyways so a wall switch is easier. 

For most people a wall switch or a remote is the best option. For most rooms a wall switch is the simplest and best option. Wall switches are always in the same place, don’t break as quickly, don’t get eaten by the dog, etc. 

Remote controlled fans are best for places like bedrooms or places where you don’t really have a wall. That means; the bedroom and outdoor spaces. In the bedroom, you don’t want to get out of the bed just to turn the fan off/on and a remote is very welcome. 

In outdoor spaces you often don’t have a wall to properly install a wall switch so a remote is often better, just remember to take it back inside. 

Many fans come with both the wall panel and a remote so you don’t have to choose. If you’re not sure which type of controller is best for you, just get a fan that has both. 

Would I recommend a smart fan controller? Not for everyone and it really depends which one. There are fans that have all the smart functionality built in and then there are separate controllers you can build into almost any fan. The separate controllers are a bit hit or miss and sometimes of questionable quality. If you’re buying new, just get one with a remote and you’ll likely be better off. 

The ones with everything built in from the factory are usually a lot better. However, it is a little gimmicky in most situations. Yeah, if you’ve got a smart fridge, TV, Roomba, etc and everything is already controlled by a single hub (or you want to build this up in the future), it makes sense to use a smart ceiling fan. 


Matt moved to a location where the climate is hot and humid year round 8 years ago and got a bit obsessed with ceiling fans as an alternative or supplement to air-conditioning. He just wants the optimal ceiling fan and to get it to work the best for the specific situation. And now you can follow what he learned on ceilingfantips.com

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