Bathroom Exhaust Fans Are Kind of a Big Deal

They’re out of sight, but bathroom exhaust fans should never be out of mind. It’s important to have them, it’s important to use them, and it’s important for them to be installed properly.

Building code mandates ventilation for bathrooms, but it doesn’t specifically require exhaust fans. Small windows also qualify, even though they provide minimal ventilation and are unlikely to be opened when outdoor temperatures are extreme. As a result, many homes lack these fans, which is a recipe for all sorts of household headaches.

What’s the Big Deal?

Bathrooms need good ventilation because they tend to be small and they frequently fill up with troublesome gases -- some come in the form of shower steam, and others come from, well, bathroom activities.

Without an exhaust fan, unpleasant odors left behind by one occupant can linger for the next guest. But perhaps even worse, steam has nowhere to go, trapping humidity in the home and resulting in the formation of condensation on just about every surface.

These water droplets can cause all sorts of trouble. In the short term, they promote the growth of mildew and mold. That’s not only foul-smelling and unsightly, but it can even present a health hazard if it really gets out of control.

Over the long haul, that moisture can also wreak havoc on paint, wallpaper, drywall and even wood, wrecking the structural integrity of your bathroom. Bathrooms that are abused by humidity for years can degrade to the point where they need to be gutted and rebuilt from the studs.

Shoddy Workmanship

Unfortunately, just because you have an exhaust fan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing a bang-up job. While building code requires some sort of ventilation, it doesn’t stipulate exactly where the exhaust vent for bathroom fans need to go.

For the record, it needs to go outside. But because building code doesn’t say so, some builders take shortcuts by venting the exhaust into the attic or into gaps in the walls. As you might imagine, this just removes the mold risk from one part of the house and shifts it to another. If you’re not certain that your bathroom exhaust fan vents to the outside, it’s worth having an HVAC specialist check to make sure you’re not steaming up some hidden part of your home.

There can be other workmanship issues with exhaust fans, too. The vents should be as short and straight as possible to help humid air escape efficiently. If this isn’t the case, steam can condensate inside and drip back down, rotting the bathroom ceiling.

Use It Or Lose It

Even if you have a functioning bathroom exhaust fan, there may be members of the household who don’t know exactly what it’s for or how it should be used. If this is the case, spread the word! It’s important to run the fan whenever you’re running hot water in the tub or shower, and to keep it running for several minutes afterward until all of the steam has dissipated.

No fan? Malfunctioning fan? Vents going where they shouldn’t go? Take care of the problem before it’s too late. To get started, reach out to your local HVAC professionals for a thorough inspection and no-obligation consultation.

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