This is one installation that's well worth the effort.
Nothing beats a hot shower at the end of a long day, but all the steam that’s produced can wreak havoc if your bathroom isn’t properly ventilated. While not all local building codes require the installation of bathroom vent fans in new construction, if your bathroom doesn’t have one, “installing one now is still recommended as it will improve overall air quality,” says Krystle Remington, a product support team member for online plumbing retailer SupplyHouse.com.
But venting steam is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of these fans. If you’re thinking about installing a bathroom fan—or replacing an existing one with a newer model—keep reading. You'll learn how today’s bath fans can both clear the air and protect your home, making a fan an indispensable feature in a well-designed bathroom.
1. Bath fans eliminate steam in all seasons, without your having to crack open a window.
In some municipalities, a bath fan isn't required if there is an operable window of at least a given dimension. But who wants to open a window when it's cold outside? Yet that's exactly when a shower produces the most steam. “Water vapor condenses faster during cooler months,” Remington says. After a shower in winter, heavy mist will often collect in the bathroom and settle on fixtures, mirrors, and cabinets. Running a bathroom exhaust fan eliminates the moisture without your having to open a window and let in all that frigid air.
Opening a bathroom window in the summer isn't much help either, unless you're lucky enough to live in an arid region. "Warmer days are usually more humid as well,” Remington notes. When you open a window on a humid summer's day, even though you're just trying to air the room out, the incoming moisture can deposit additional condensation on bathroom surfaces.
For comfortable year-round ventilation—whether or not you have an operable bathroom window—you need a vent fan. As a rule of thumb, you should install a fan with a CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating number that is the same as your bathroom's square footage. Panasonic's WhisperGreen Ceiling Ventilation Fan (available from SupplyHouse) exhausts air at the rate of 110 cubic feet per minute (110 CFM), making it suitable for a 110-square-foot bathroom.
2. They prevent the damage water droplets can inflict on bathroom surfaces.
Foggy mirrors aren’t the only problem in unventilated bathrooms. Water that condenses and accumulates on non-water-resistant surfaces, such as wallboard, cabinets, and wood trim, can warp cabinet doors, cause paint to peel, and worse. "The moisture accumulation can also lead to mold growth,” Remington says, and mold produces airborne spores that can aggravate allergies and, over time, lead to structural damage.
Even a basic bathroom fan, such as the Broan InVent Ventilation Fan (available from SupplyHouse), protects both air quality and bathroom surfaces. The Broan InVent can be installed in a side wall if you don’t have attic access above the bathroom, and rated at 80 CFM, it will quickly remove moist air from bathrooms of up to 80 square feet.
3. They get the job done quietly.
When bathroom ventilation fans first hit the market, they often sounded as if a 737 jet airplane was circling overhead. New technology, however, has improved both their noise and performance. To spot a silent operator, note a fan's sone rating—a measure of the noise it emits. Fans rated at one sone or less are considered extremely quiet. At that rating, a fan running in your bathroom might seem even quieter than the sound of a neighbor's lawn mower coming in through an open window.
Inline vent fans like these (also known as duct fans) are quiet by design. “These fans place the mechanical fan portion further away from the area that needs to be vented, so less noise is heard when it’s turned on,” Remington explains. The motor unit of Fantech’s Bath Exhaust Fan Kit, an inline vent fan available from SupplyHouse, installs in the duct itself and can be positioned up to eight feet away from the bathroom. At that distance, you may hear nothing at all when the fan's operating! This type of bathroom fan can also be stationed in a duct that branches out to two separate grilles in a bathroom ceiling. That way, moist air can be removed more evenly from all parts of the bathroom—a bonus in master bathrooms with separate showers and tubs.
4. They can replace existing overhead lighting.
If you have an existing ceiling light in your bathroom, you should be able to install a fan/light combo without having to cut additional holes in the ceiling. (You will, however, need to install ducting to vent the steamy air outdoors.) Bath fans have become extremely accommodating,” Remington says. “Not only do some models have lights, but some may also provide a soothing night light”—like, for instance, the Broan Ventilation Fan With Light and Night Light (available from SupplyHouse). The 100 CFM-rated fan accommodates a bright 100-watt light bulb for daytime use as well as a gentle 7-watt night light for soft illumination that's particularly welcome when nature calls in the middle of the night.
istockphoto.com and supplyhouse.com
5. They can warm a bathroom—and more.
If you think a fan/light/night light combo is impressive, you’ll be blown away by some of the other features of today’s new ventilation fans. Some high-end models, such as the Panasonic WhisperWarm Ventilation Fan, rated at 110 CFM (available from SupplyHouse), are equipped with built-in heaters that help warm up the room. Other bath fans come with humidity and condensation sensors that can be set to switch on when air moisture reaches a certain level. Still others feature motion detectors that turn the fan on when someone enters the bathroom and then off a minute or so after movement is no longer detected. No matter what you’re looking for in a bath fan, with all the options available today you're sure to find a model that suits your needs.
Get the help you need for the home you want—sign up for the Bob Vila newsletter today!