Utility rooms are a perfect place to install quiet ventilation fans. (Photo courtesy of Broan-NuTone.)
Ventilation fans - particularly the ones found in bathrooms and kitchens - play an important role in a home's indoor air quality. If installed properly, ventilation fans help remove excess moisture from the air, which can significantly reduce the possibility of mold or mildew growth. A good ventilation strategy can also result in odor control, heat removal, and elimination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

ASHRAE Standard 62.2, "Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings," recommends that homes receive a minimum of 1 cfm per 100 square feet of floor space, plus 7.5 cfm per person. While the ventilation rates really depend on the sources of contaminants in the home, the typical range for a home is between 30 cfm and 80 cfm.

In this age of tightly built houses, it is likely that many homes do not receive the proper amount of ventilation, even if homeowners regularly use their bathroom or kitchen fans.

This is doubtful, especially given the incredible amount of noise generated by the most commonly used economy-grade fans.

The good news is that there's a new generation of fans available, which are quiet, energy efficient, and can move more air than ever before. The bad news is that many homeowners either don't know they exist or are intimidated by the thought of replacing the fans themselves. Those who can help with this dilemma - local HVAC contractors - often don't take the time to discuss ventilation with customers, which means both sides are losing out on the benefits that can be achieved with better, quieter fans.

Manufacturers offer a variety of super-quiet ventilation fans, including this QTRENFL Model from Broan-NuTone.

Fans Benefit All

Years ago, a well-known pundit in the HVAC industry mentioned in one of his seminars that contractors could become more profitable by simply offering to upgrade their customers' bathroom fans.

He noted that most homeowners have extraordinarily loud bathroom fans, which they would gladly replace with quieter ones. Contractors didn't readily embrace the notion that ventilation fans should be a natural sales extension to their traditional offerings, perhaps because business has been so good in recent years that they've become rather complacent.

However, there are major changes taking place in the industry, and there has never been a better time to offer ventilation fans to customers. Consider that prices on heating and cooling equipment will keep rising, not only because the cost of raw materials is increasing, but also because of the price increase that will occur with the new 13-SEER equipment that must be manufactured after Jan. 23, 2006. Profit margins will probably be thinner, and it may be more difficult to sell higher priced 13-SEER replacement units.

In addition, the constant media attention on mold has made homeowners very concerned about the indoor air quality in their homes. As a result, many builders of new homes are requiring the use of better fans to aid in the reduction of mold issues.

"Builders don't want anything to do with a mold lawsuit, so they're telling HVAC contractors to put in quieter fans," said Patrick Nielsen, product manager for ventilation fans, Broan-NuTone, Hartford, Wis. "They don't want the excuse that there's mold in the bathroom due to homeowners not turning on the fan because they can't stand listening to it."

Larry Hershkowiz, marketing manager, Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J., added, "Newer homes, built over the past 10 years or so, have been built more tightly. As a result, proper ventilation has become extremely important for the health of the residents. That leads to the fundamental question: Will homeowners be more apt to use a fan that sounds like a helicopter landing on the roof or a super-quiet ventilation fan that is barely audible to the human ear?"

Many builders are answering this question by installing quieter fans, so it only makes sense that HVAC contractors should be concerned about it in the add-on/replacement market as well. It's a win-win scenario: Homeowners will have better ventilation because they'll actually use their quieter fans, and contractors will have better bottom lines because of the additional sales of higher-end fans.

There are myriad fan options now available for bathrooms, including super-quiet fans that have light or nightlight combinations (above and below). (Photos courtesy of Panasonic.)

Quiet, Please

Economy grade fans are noisy - usually in the range of 3 to 4 sones. New ventilation fans are available in a wide variety of styles, finishes, and configurations, and often have noise levels of less than 1 sone. Broan-NuTone just introduced its QT Series of extremely quiet fans, and they are available as fans alone, fan-light-nightlight combinations, and heater-fan-light-nightlight combinations.

"Before this line came out, our quietest 80-cfm fan was 0.8 sones," noted Nielsen. "Now with our new line, where we have good, better, best, just the ‘good' level is about that, and then the ‘best' is less than 0.3 sones."

Panasonic also offers a line of very quiet fans, including the WhisperCeiling™ and WhisperLite™ models with TechnoFlow™ technology; the WhisperFit™ and WhisperFit-Lite™ line of low-profile retrofit fans, as well as through-the-wall, heater, and inline models. "Our quietest fans are less than 0.3 sones and are, on average, 75 percent more energy efficient than the minimum Energy Star® requirements," said Hershkowiz.

Fans don't just have to be relegated to the bathroom, noted Karen Collins, marketing communications manager, Broan-NuTone. "Fans can be put in the kitchen to remove heat from wall ovens, dishwashers and sinks, in addition to over the sinks and/or shower in the bathroom, in a basement, exercise room, or craft room. And certainly the utility room is a good application. These are all great places to add more ventilation."

While it's definitely easier to install a ventilation fan during new construction, it's not impossible to do in a retrofit situation, although it can be more time consuming. Most fan manufacturers, such as Panasonic and Broan-NuTone, offer extensive advice on how to install their fans in retrofit situations. Distributors are also a good source of information.

Even though it may take a little time to install extra ventilation in customers' homes, it's definitely worth it. Customers will experience better air quality at a lower noise level, and contractors will be satisfying their customers' needs while adding to their bottom line.

Publication date: 07/25/2005