Selecting, Placing Bath Fans

Incorporating some form of mechanical ventilation in bathroom design, commonly referred to as intermittent ventilation, is important. Regionally, it may be referred to as spot or local ventilation. The purpose of any type of bathroom ventilation is to remove moisture and odor from the bathroom before it can damage the immediate environment or contaminate adjacent rooms.

Successful design requires architects, designers and builders to understand the types of ventilation products available. Understanding where to position them and how to properly size them is also important. Remember the purpose of bathroom ventilation is to remove excess moisture, humidity, odors and other indoor pollutants such as aerosols and perfumes. Good ventilation also prevents the deterioration of interior wall coverings, structural framing and insulation.

Proper sizing

Fans are rated by the amount of air they move, measured in cubic feet per minute. Most codes require a 50 CFM intermittent fan or an operable window for bathroom ventilation. The Home Ventilating Institute and the National Kitchen and Bath Association recommend eight exchanges of air per hour in a bathroom. This recommendation will typically exceed minimum code requirements.

Determining the proper CFM for a bathroom is easy. The volume of the room is determined in cubic feet (LxWxH), and then multiplied by 8 (this is the number of exchanges of air per hour). The sum is then divided by 60 resulting in the required CFM for the room. An easier way to guesstimate is to allow 1 CFM per sq. ft. of room, or if there is an 8-ft. ceiling take the square footage of the room and multiply it by 1.07. If designing a large master suite or spa specify 50 CFM per fixture with 100 CFM per jetted tub or whirlpool.

Once you specify the size of the fan it’s time to determine the length and diameter of ductwork. Check the manufacturer’s installation guide to determine the proper length and diameter. Follow the manufacturer’s directions. If you reduce the diameter of the ductwork you will reduce the efficiency of the fan by creating static pressure. If you increase the length of the ductwork beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations or install too many elbows or transition fittings, you risk compromising the fan’s performance by upwards of 90 percent. In most cases a fan will need to be oversized in CFM to meet both the requirements for air exchange and length of ductwork. It does require careful planning on the front end for these installations to work.

Remember that larger CFM fans require deep joist bays to accommodate the ductwork and the fan. A fan larger than 250 CFM may not fit your installation. If this is the case it may be easier to install a remote blower with ceiling-mounted exhaust grills. Remote blowers have high CFM ratings and you can place multiple exhaust grills in the bathroom where they are needed most. These remote blowers can also vent a second bathroom if sized properly.

Fan placement

Hot air, humidity and odor rise so the best place for these fans is in the ceiling or as high off the floor as you can get them. Ventilation fans need to be located near the fixture that creates the moisture and odor. One fault that many designers make is to position the fan in the center of the room. Even in a small 5-ft. by 7-ft. bathroom the fan should be located directly over the toilet or tub/shower area. As the square footage of the bathroom grows it becomes necessary to locate the fan over the wet areas and the toilet. Fans placed over a shower or tub must be rated for that location and most codes require that they be protected with a ground fault circuit.

Some projects require installing multiple fans, which can be switched separately or together. A fan can be placed over a spa-like shower to exhaust steam with another placed over a toilet and bidet to eliminate odor. A compartmentalized bathroom will require a minimum of two fans. One of the fans should be located in the toilet enclosure and it should be switched independently. A fan/light combination can be used here but we have found that these units do not provide enough illumination for reading. Place the ventilation fan directly above the toilet and bidet and then add recessed or ceiling-mounted fixtures for general or task lighting.

After determining the fan’s location, make sure it can be positioned parallel with a joist bay and in the direction of the fan’s outlet. If the ductwork is located in an unconditioned space you may want to insulate it to prevent condensation. Consider where the termination point will be as well. These fans can be vented through the roof, a gable wall or a soffit. When locating the termination point keep in mind the direction of prevailing winds, and try to find a location that is out of sight.

Fan types

Once the CFM requirement and the fan’s location are determined, you need to choose the type of fan to install. You can specify a fan-only product, a combination fan/light or a combination fan/ light/ heater. Some manufacturers even include a night light. Fan-only solutions work when you have a good lighting plan. Fan/light combinations are good solutions if you have limited ceiling space and need general lighting.

Combinations with heaters should be placed in a location where a bather is going to be naked and wet. Having so many options requires careful consideration of the number of switches required to operate all of a fan’s features.

You may need to specify a single-gang box with four switches just to operate a single unit. Fans should be switched with timers. They are most effective when left on for 20 minutes after a bather leaves the room.

Look for the Energy Star rating and an HVI certification when specifying and purchasing your products. Become familiar with all available products, and work with a manufacturer that has good representation in your community. Remember that aesthetics are just as important as efficiency.

Good bathroom ventilation protects a client’s health as well as their homes. The design/build community is responsible for specifying and providing this ventilation, so the systems we design must be balanced and easy to use. The products we choose must be visually appealing. It is our responsibility to promote healthier indoor environments along with good indoor air quality.