I'm Not a Fan

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

 

Blind devotion can put you on the losing side

Fanaticism is typically associated with political extremism or sports. Seems like a pair of odd bedfellows. Although if you have met a die hard sports "fan", you know it's really not that far of a stretch. I for a time was a sports fan, but my team was sold and moved away. So I can understand....to a degree, how one can become emotionally irrational when it comes to supporting their favorite team. Or a point of view for that matter. 

Such is the case I have found with whole house fans. A whole house fan is just like the name says, a big fan meant to cool the entire house. These big blowers are installed in the ceiling below the attic, exhausting the hot house air through the attic ventilation to the exterior. I find many people simply love their whole house fan. I know this because when I state that I'm not a fan, I get a very impassioned response from the owner of said fan. 

Whole house fanAs a home inspector I see several technically related problems with these devices. The first being, where does all that air go? The attic vents are almost always to small to exhaust all the air pushed by these large (about 3 feet in diameter) fans. Second, with use the vents become clogged with dust and dirt carried by the fan into the attic further restricting air flow. Which means the attic ventilation itself becomes restricted when the fan is off, which brings up yet another point. The fan is used very little during the course of a year. When not in use the opening is a large, un-insulated hole in the ceiling. 

For some reason, I have found a good number of homeowners, both new and seasoned, seem to not recognize the detriment to having a large un-insulated area in their ceiling. This would include the attic access. Most realize quickly, when discussed, the heat loss associated with a lack of insulation over the fan or an access, but few fail to understand cooling loss. Attics get hot in the warmer months, the insulation also keeps the cool air in and the hot air out of the living spaces. So when the fan is not running, it's contributing to the warming of the house, which it will be called on to "fix" later in the day. 

Ice damming evidence on vinyl sidingI do find some of these fans covered with insulation, often haphazardly, on occasion, but most are left as is, diffusing the heat the homeowner is paying for, into the attic. I will usually half kiddingly state that the snow on the roof over the fan will be the first to melt. In fact I recently found direct evidence of the whole house fan actually creating a mini ice dam. 

Climbing my ladder onto the roof I saw the tell tale water staining on the siding and soffit from an ice dam. The stain was very localized, being about three feet across. Examining the rest of the house exterior I saw or didn't see staining any where else on the siding. Later, when inspecting the attic I found the attic insulation to be uninterrupted with the exception of where the whole house fan protruded into the attic. There was not a cover or loose insulation anywhere in the vicinity of the fan, meaning it was left exposed all year round. The staining on the exterior directly corresponded with the fans place through the ceiling. 

This is just another reason why I'm not a fan of the fan. 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

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Ambassador
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Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Totally agree Jim, they have no business in "heating climates."  I pretty much always call for their removal.  I think in the South you can make a case for them in terms of decreasing AC use---but even then proper air sealing by some means will be necessary.

May 10, 2015 10:47 PM #1
Rainmaker
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Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning James. I'm not a fan either. I have had squirrels get in to my last home this way too.

May 10, 2015 11:03 PM #2
Rainmaker
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Fred Hernden
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Home Inspector

Not a fan of the fan either. Grew up in a house that had no air conditioning and only the attic fan to move air through the house. Seemed to work back then, I don't know how because there is no way I could do it now.... gasp!

May 10, 2015 11:28 PM #3
Rainer
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Jerry Lucas
ABC Legal Docs LLC - Colorado Springs, CO
Mobile Notary Colorado Springs, CO Notary Training

Good information.  I have an access hatch to the attic in my closet.  It is covered with insulation.  Some houses have rooftop wind turbines to pull hot air from the attic space.

May 10, 2015 11:29 PM #4
Rainmaker
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Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

James I love your intro and transition plus the play on the word "fanaticism"!

As for the house fans, have never been a fan either.

May 11, 2015 06:13 AM #5
Rainmaker
2,425,193
Kathleen Daniels
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
San Jose Homes for Sale - Probate Broker

James, you make a good case for not being a fan of hole house fans. 

May 11, 2015 09:47 AM #6
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Ed Silva
RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

I don't care for the fans for the noise.  A proper air conditioner would be more efficient and not create the attic problem you offer

May 11, 2015 12:18 PM #7
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Fred Griffin
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

     I saw one of these a few years ago, in a 1940's house (it had been added sometime "after"). 

     The owner was quick to understand that this was "insufficient"; she had an HVAC company come in and re-work the entire system for the home. 

May 11, 2015 01:28 PM #8
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Praful Thakkar
eXp Realty - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

James Quarello - now I know, why you are not a fan of a fan....

(And that makes me worried as I got to go up my attic tomorrow morning and make sure everything is done right - I believe it is!)

May 14, 2015 02:54 PM #9
Rainmaker
1,726,785
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

But wait.  Instead of sweeping dust under the rug, it's so convenient to sweep it into the fan air flow!  Gone!

Just another benefit perhaps not considered.

I did see one once where a guy had fashioned a well-fitted styrofoam box around his fan for winter months.  If you have one, you might as well do what you can with it.

May 16, 2015 08:52 PM #10
Rainmaker
679,604
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Charlie, I also usually recommend removal. I just can't see any real benefit.

Shelia, Squirrels can be very destructive like most rodents. They're cute if they're outside

Fred, I grew up in a home with out A/C. In fact it wasn't all that prevalent back then.

Jerry, There should be no need to forcibly move air out of an attic. Proper passive ventilation is all that is necessary. 

Olga, Thank you. 

Kathleen, They are not very appealing to my inspector sensibilities. 

Ed, The noise is another aspect, but the energy loss can not be denied.

Fred, The fan will diminish the A/C's efficiency. 

Praful, I hope so as well.

Jay, I have seen a similar cover, but it very rare, like the Dodo. 

May 16, 2015 10:18 PM #11
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Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams fox cities - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

I agree with you Jim, I find that a box fan in an upstairs window does the same thing without the associated winter heat loss.

May 16, 2015 11:08 PM #12
Rainmaker
277,990
Jim Paulson
Progressive Realty (Boise Idaho) www.Progressive-Realty.info - Boise, ID
Owner,Broker

I don't see very many whole house fans here in Idaho, but thanks for letting me know some of the pros and cons.

May 18, 2015 03:08 AM #13
Rainmaker
679,604
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Bob, I would agree. 

Jim, You're welcome. 

May 22, 2015 09:34 PM #14
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