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Does Putting Fans in Your Attic Really Help?

Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By John T Takai
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The same problem comes around every summer. Rising temperatures make it a constant battle to stay cool, especially in your home. You can always adjust your thermostat, of course, but you’ll see a serious spike in your energy bills.

If that wasn’t enough, your attic presents another problem. While your AC can keep each room at a comfortable temperature, attics tend to store heat as it rises throughout the day.

Since attics don’t typically have any connection to the home’s AC unit, it’s hard to keep them cool. Some homeowners choose to put a fan or two in their attic to reduce the temperature, but do attic fans really help?

Read on to learn the pros and cons of putting a fan in your attic, and why it may or may not be the right choice for your home this summer.

How Attic Fans Work

The benefits of an attic fan aren’t always obvious. After all, if you’re sitting in a hot room and turn the ceiling fan on, it just moves the hot air around. It doesn’t actually cool anything off.

Attic fans work a little differently. They come with both a fan and small vents, accomplishing two things at once. When you turn the fan on, the vents draw in outdoor air that’s cooler. The fan then expels the hot indoor air.

It’s an active means of venting your attic, instead of waiting for it to cool through already installed passive venting, like soffit vents and gables.

Why Attic Ventilation Fans Help

At first, the idea of an attic fan may sound confusing. The point of installing the fan is to cool the attic down, so why replace the hot attic air with hot air from outside?

While a ventilated attic with a fan may still be uncomfortable during the day, it’ll technically be cooler than before the fan’s installation. Attics can reach 150 to 160 degrees every day in the summer. That temperature will continue to rise if outdoor temperatures go over 100 degrees.

When an attic fan runs, it cools the temperature to however hot it is outdoors. This lowered temperature helps to keep the rest of the house cool, preventing the AC unit from running all day long.

The heat in the attic rises to the gables, which help it escape, but it also transfers to the rest of your home. Conductive energy transfers mean that every room in your home that’s under your attic will also get hotter. Your AC unit picks that temperature reading up and circulates cool air. The less the AC needs to run, the more affordable your electric bill will be.

Why Attic Ventilation Fans Hurt

As more homeowners install attic fans over time, a few negative aspects of their design have created a bit of a controversy. There are a few points that homeowners should consider before installing a ceiling fan.

If you’re concerned about sustainability, it’s appealing to reduce your energy consumption. Energy usage is one of the leading ways that homeowners increase their carbon footprint, but attic fans can backfire.

While they’ll use less electricity than if your AC unit fought your attic heat, they still require electricity to run. They’ll drain energy all day long, still harming the environment.

The only way attic fans can be truly sustainable is if you hook them up to solar panels. Solar power will keep them from using electric energy. Plus, you can get a tax credit for using the solar panels.

Most homeowners either don’t know about the solar panel option or can’t afford it, which is why attic fans can end up hurting more than helping.

When Mistakes Happen with Attic Fans

Although the process of installing and using an attic fan is simple, there are a few common mistakes homeowners tend to make when they’re new to attic fans.

The first thing is that homeowners sometimes install more insulation along with a ceiling fan, oftentimes covering the fan with the insulation. Having more insulation in your attic will help improve energy efficiency, but not when it’s covering the fan. That prevents the fan from drawing the cooler air inside, defeating its purpose.

Closed windows are another issue. The attic fan creates negative air pressure that pulls the air inside, and to do that, it has to displace the air by releasing air from the house.

Without an open window, this air exchange can’t happen. It will only end up circulating the air that’s already inside.

When an Attic Fan is Necessary

The true test to determine the necessity of an attic fan is to see how effective it’ll actually be. There are a few factors that every homeowner needs to review before they install a fan.

First, you should have someone inspect your attic to see if the floor is properly sealed. A sealed floor will keep the air moving in and out of your attic, without losing any to the floor below. Lost air would result in the fan running for a longer period of time.

Your attic may also have insulation that’s less than R-19. R-19 is a kind of insulation that can deal with the extreme temperatures of an attic in the summer. Lesser insulation will make an attic fan run longer, without any real temperature change to speak of.

An inspector will also be able to tell if you have enough soffit ventilation. Without sufficient ventilation, the heat will remain trapped in your attic. Consult with a professional to see if this is necessary in your home, as it’s not always crucial.

Consider Your Attic Ventilation Fan Pros and Cons

What are your biggest goals in regards to your attic? Do you want to reduce your temperature or ventilate your attic in a sustainable way? Depending on what you want to do, there are a few different attic fan options for you to consider.

After you look through the available selection and hire a professional to inspect your attic, you’ll know what’s best for your home and your budget.

Kayla Matthews is a green tech and smart energy writer. Her work has appeared on VICE, Electrical Contractor Mag., The Week and others.

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