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Product Guide

Multi-Speed Bath Fans for Whole-House Ventilation

An overview of products and functionalities

The Broan ZB80L1 bath fan offers an 80 CFM high speed, an adjustable low speed, and an LED light.

Bath fans are increasingly asked to perform two functions. They provide spot ventilation, exhausting moist, odor-laden air from bathrooms so that it can be replaced by drier, fresher air from adjoining rooms. They can also provide whole-house ventilation, running round the clock to improve air quality throughout the home. Advanced bath fans incorporate features like multi-speed operation, high-efficiency motors, and built-in sensors that can make them effective in both roles.

Using a bath fan for whole-house ventilation is an “exhaust-only” strategy: the fan pushes stale air out, and outdoor air enters the house through gaps, cracks, and intentional openings. Other strategies are possible. Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs) and Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) provide “balanced” ventilation, using fans both to exhaust house air and to bring in outdoor air. Ventilating dehumidifiers are an example of a “supply-only” approach. Outdoor air is drawn in and conditioned under fan power; this forced flow pressurizes the house and increases exfiltration (outward leakage) through gaps and cracks. These different ventilation strategies have been discussed at length on GBA (see Three Ways to Ventilate a Home and Three Types of Ventilation: Pros and Cons). In general, balanced and supply-only strategies provide better control of the source and distribution of fresh air, but at a significant cost in equipment and installation. An exhaust-only approach using a bath fan remains the most affordable—and most common—way to provide whole-house ventilation. (The 2021 International Residential Code (IRC) requires HRVs or ERVs in Climate Zones 7 and 8; in warmer zones, an exhaust-only strategy is allowed.)

Many products on the market

A huge number of bath fan models are available with different price points, airflow rates, and visual styles. Some double as overhead light fixtures, a handy feature, especially in small bathrooms. Bath fans with built-in electric heaters can be a great…

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5 Comments

  1. user-723121 | | #1

    I have been using the Delta Breeze fans for over 10 years. They are quiet, well built and also work quite well in bath fan replacements.

  2. billfrombirchwood | | #2

    Replaced all of my Broan fans with Delta Breeze much quieter.

  3. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #3

    Jon,

    As usual a great, comprehensive take on the subject.

    I don't like the way bathroom fans go in. They are finicky to air-seal, and if you decide to switch out the fan for one with another size housing, the connection to the duct is inaccessible.

    Instead I've started to install them in air-tight plywood boxes that are big enough to hold any typical housing and leaves the connections exposed. The only difference in looks is you need to buy a larger ceiling grill.

    1. frontrange | | #4

      That's a great idea! I recently was unable to replace a failing fan with a quieter model because the connection was inaccessible and had to settle for a noisier one.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #5

        frontrange,

        I thought it up out of necessity. I bought a Panasonic renovation model, which is easy to mount from below - but they carefully omit how you are then supposed to connect it to the inaccessible duct. In the ones I've done since I mount an electrical outlet in the box and put a plug on the fan wire. You can swap the whole thing out in about ten minutes.

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