Anyone familiar with attic fans?

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knightrider
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Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by knightrider » Thu Aug 09, 2018 8:57 am

We have one in our attic in a condo we bought last year . The condo was built in the 80s. I have never heard the fan go on, so I am assuming it does not work. Anyone know how I can test it out? Is there a switch for it somewhere?

It is also in a very inaccessible place. I would somehow need to lug a ladder up in the attic. Then I would somehow need to walk over all the insulation material which resembles 2ft deep snow ( but gray colored ). Sounds like a recipe for a disaster..
Last edited by knightrider on Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

renue74
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Re: Anyone familiar wit attic fans?

Post by renue74 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:03 am

We have a house built in 1995 and an attic fan that is not very accessible as well. It's over a gable vent that is about 10-15 ft. high in our attic. I would also need to take a ladder to look at the fan.

We bought our house in 2002...and the fan never worked. My thought is that the motor went out on it.

A few years after we moved in, a hail storm came through and we got our roof replaced. The new roof has a ridge vent at the top.

I told myself the venting from the soffit to the new ridge vent was fine enough and I didn't really need to worry about the attic fan. :sharebeer

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papiper
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by papiper » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:06 am

Most attic fans have a on/off wall switch that looks like a light switch mounted in a closet near the attic access or on a stud just inside the access - often by a pull cord for an attic light. If you take a strong flashlight into your attic and can see the fan, look for how the electic wire for it runs and you should find a the location.

jebmke
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Re: Anyone familiar wit attic fans?

Post by jebmke » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:07 am

renue74 wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:03 am
We have a house built in 1995 and an attic fan that is not very accessible as well. It's over a gable vent that is about 10-15 ft. high in our attic. I would also need to take a ladder to look at the fan.

We bought our house in 2002...and the fan never worked. My thought is that the motor went out on it.

A few years after we moved in, a hail storm came through and we got our roof replaced. The new roof has a ridge vent at the top.

I told myself the venting from the soffit to the new ridge vent was fine enough and I didn't really need to worry about the attic fan. :sharebeer
We blocked the gable vents and had a roofer cut the ridge vents that were missed when the roof was put on. We have large soffit vents. Ridge vents will work fine if there is adequate intake to direct air up the inside of the roof line.
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jebmke
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by jebmke » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:08 am

papiper wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:06 am
Most attic fans have a on/off wall switch that looks like a light switch mounted in a closet near the attic access or on a stud just inside the access - often by a pull cord for an attic light. If you take a strong flashlight into your attic and can see the fan, look for how the electic wire for it runs and you should find a the location.
May depend on how/what was installed. We had two gable vent fans activated with thermostats. There are cutoff light switches next to the fan but you have to go up in the attic to shut them off.
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DanMahowny
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by DanMahowny » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:18 am

I had an attic fan at my previous home. Didn't work, ever.

Climbed up there one day.

Flipped the switch on/off- nothing. Banged on it lightly with a small hammer- again nothing.

That's the extent of my handyman skills.
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BeerTooth
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by BeerTooth » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:27 am

powered attic ventilator fans are generally considered to be a net drain on energy savings, so a broken one is better than a working one: https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ar ... -they-hurt

WhyNotUs
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by WhyNotUs » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:29 am

With 2' of attic insulation you should be getting a lot of savings on heating and cooling and enjoying a more comfortable home.

Do you have some reason to believe that the hot air in the attic is impacting your home? The previous owner may have disconnected the fan after superinsulating the attic because they thought they were using electrcity for something that was not a concern.

My attic is R-60 and have a cold roof with gable vents and have no interest in anything other than the normal exchange of air through the gable vents. It is cold in there in the winter and hot in the summer. I do not try to address either of those unless I have some evidence that they are impacting the conditioned space of my home.

If I had A/C vents in there I would want to insulate them to prevent heat exchange but I do not.
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GAAP
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by GAAP » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:31 am

BeerTooth wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:27 am
powered attic ventilator fans are generally considered to be a net drain on energy savings, so a broken one is better than a working one: https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ar ... -they-hurt
Yes. However, you may still need it for moisture control in some climates.

The house I just bought has two. One of them is thermostatically controlled, no exterior switch. The other is literally a plug it in to turn it on deal.

Since these are nearly always retrofits, installation details will vary...

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by livesoft » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:35 am

Our electric attic fans in the roof are controlled by thermostats, so they turn on only if the air at the thermostat gets hot enough. They never turn on in the winter like a ridge vent which is always on.

I could do anything I wanted with the on/off switches when its cold and our attic fans would not turn on.
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jimb_fromATL
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by jimb_fromATL » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:43 am

knightrider wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 8:57 am
We have one in our attic in a condo we bought last year . The condo was built in the 80s. I have never heard the fan go on, so I am assuming it does not work. Anyone know how I can test it out? Is there a switch for it somewhere?

It is also in a very inaccessible place. I would somehow need to lug a ladder up in the attic. Then I would somehow need to walk over all the insulation material which resembles 2ft deep snow ( but gray colored ). Sounds like a recipe for a disaster..
Assuming you're talking about an exhaust fan for the attic alone, it is controlled by a thermostatic switch which is typically set to turn on at perhaps 100-110 degrees. By that time the attic is likely to get a lot hotter, so the only time you would be likely to hear it run is when it is not really healthy to even be in the attic.

A big caution:

It sounds like your attic is well insulated if the insulation is two feet deep … although the grey color suggests that it may cellulose -- which is not necessarily the best or safest insulation.

That also means that you cannot easily see where it is safe to step.

Be aware that if you do try to walk through the attic you must carefully feel through the insulation and step only on the wood rafters, which can support your weight.

This is important! I have known of several people who are not familiar with construction who did not realize that the sheetrock ceiling panels alone cannot support their weight --or who were just not careful enough -- and literally feel through the ceiling with great harm to their person as well as to the ceiling because they did NOT step on the rafters alone.

jimb

NeverGiveUP
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by NeverGiveUP » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:57 am

Our house has one way up in the attic rafters - it was there when we bought the house. It has an easily accessible on/off switch . The problem is that it is controlled by a thermostat which is next to the fan and we don't know the temperature setting that causes it to go on. I have read that some people have them set to go on at 100 degrees (which could waste electricity since that is a temperature that is easy to reach in an attic). Others set them as high as 110-115 degrees. I guess the setting could be dependent on where a person lives. I have a wireless thermometer in my attic which monitors my attic temperature and in the summer it routinely gets to 115 degrees in the summer (the highest is 125 degrees). Although the fan's switch is on, I have not seen/heard the fan being on. And I don't go up there when it is real hot up there so I don't know if it works or not.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by neilpilot » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:03 am

BeerTooth wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:27 am
powered attic ventilator fans are generally considered to be a net drain on energy savings, so a broken one is better than a working one: https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ar ... -they-hurt
While I'm generally in agreement with the linked article, they do miss one important point that is mentioned in several of the comments that follow the article. The article states "A hot attic isn’t necessarily a problem. If you don’t have any ductwork or HVAC equipment up there, who cares how hot it gets?".

In the south the typical asphalt roof has only about half the life expectancy of the same type roof in the cooler north. This is due to hot attic temperatures. If an attic space isn't ventilated by some means the roof will fail much sooner.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by neilpilot » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:09 am

NeverGiveUP wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:57 am
Our house has one way up in the attic rafters - it was there when we bought the house. It has an easily accessible on/off switch . The problem is that it is controlled by a thermostat which is next to the fan and we don't know the temperature setting that causes it to go on. I have read that some people have them set to go on at 100 degrees (which could waste electricity since that is a temperature that is easy to reach in an attic). Others set them as high as 110-115 degrees. I guess the setting could be dependent on where a person lives. I have a wireless thermometer in my attic which monitors my attic temperature and in the summer it routinely gets to 115 degrees in the summer (the highest is 125 degrees). Although the fan's switch is on, I have not seen/heard the fan being on. And I don't go up there when it is real hot up there so I don't know if it works or not.
Wait for a reasonably cool day or go up in the early morning, and then adjust the thermostat all the way down. The fan should run, and if it doesn't then it's likely the fan motor is shot. If it does run, I'd suggest a set point of 110-115, or possibly 115-120 if you live in the SE. In the SW all bets are off.

UALflyer
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by UALflyer » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:24 am

BeerTooth wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:27 am
powered attic ventilator fans are generally considered to be a net drain on energy savings, so a broken one is better than a working one: https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ar ... -they-hurt
Yes and no. Whether or not it is a net energy drain depends very heavily on the design of the building and its insulation.

Something that the article does not address, however, is the most important reason for attic ventilation (whether through passive ridge vents, or through powered attic fans), which is the longevity of your roof. Every shingle manufacturer out there warns that the longevity of your roof is going to be significantly and adversely affected by insufficient ventilation, and voids its warranty for it. This is the reason that properly installed roofs require sufficient ventilation (whether passive or active) and is the primary reason that these fans were installed in the first place. Without proper ventilation, thermal expansion causes roof nails to start popping out, which causes you to lose shingles and/or to end up with leaks. Hot and humid air builds up in the attic, which can cause mildew and warping in the summer. In the winter, it can cause snow to melt and refreeze as ice, which leads to leaks and further damage.

Most cheap attic fans have motors and thermostats that crap out on you in about 5-7 years and have to be replaced. This and the energy drain is the reason that newer roofs are typically built with passive ridge vents. Until and unless you replace the roof though, you should be replacing these attic fan motors and ensuring that they do work.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by Mike Scott » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:38 am

If you have a condo manager or maintanence person, you could ask them about it.

Thegame14
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by Thegame14 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:22 am

I have one, some people also refer to it as a whole house fan. Mine the motor works, but the belt was warped and needs to be replaced. We had someone take the belt off to try to get us a new belt. That person hired for another job, didn't ever get us a replacement belt, and we have since lost the old belt, and we cant find anyone willing to come to the house, take a look at it, (it is in the attic not in an easy to get to place) then see what belt is needed and then get it and install it for anything reasonable. It would be nice to have, but just to replace and install a belt, I don't want to pay more than $100,

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by jimb_fromATL » Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:40 am

Thegame14 wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 11:22 am
I have one, some people also refer to it as a whole house fan.


Attic vent fans and whole house fans are two different animals.

An attic vent fan is a small fan that pulls in air through the gable vents and pushes it out through the fan opening in the roof. It turns on automatically when the temperature of the air in the attic goes over about 100-120 degrees. Its purpose is to keep the attic cooler and to reduce humidity in the attic.

A "whole house fan" is a much larger fan that pulls cooler air in through the windows of the house and pushes the hotter air out into the attic. Its purpose is to cool the living space and the people in it with the air movement.

jimb

FootballFan5548
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by FootballFan5548 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 12:13 pm

My attic fan runs often. My ventilation is a constant issue/concern in my attic and I've seen traces of mold up there from back when the attic fan wasn't working. The humidty in the attic is an issue, more so in the winter than the summer.

Despite insulation and air sealing, the warm air from the living area seeps into the cold winter air in the attic. That causes condensation and crazy high humidty. The condensation and humidity causes mold growth.

Our new attic fan has a thermostat for temperature to turn on at 100 degrees, but it also has a humidistat to turn on and ventilate if the humidty gets above 50%. I live in the northeast and have wild swings in temperature throughout the year.

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queso
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by queso » Thu Aug 09, 2018 1:44 pm

I have three of them. When I moved in I heard an awful noise from the attic the first really hot day of summer. Went up there and one had a broken blade that was the source of the racket. I figured while I was up there I'd look at the other 2 and they were both dead. I removed all three of them and installed brand new ones. They were cheap (sub $100) at any big box store and relatively plug and play as long as you get the same size. I had to remove the shroud on them since apparently the new ones come with a different style shroud than my old ones so I just installed the old shrouds on the new fans and installed them. Like others have pointed out, they work on a thermostatically controlled switch that you can set to whatever temp range you want. To test them either go into the attic on a hot day and make sure they are all running, go on the roof/outside and see if they are running or climb up there on any day and turn the thermostat all the way down and they should come on. I don't know how essential they are to my roof ventilation strategy, but I saw something that was broken and fixed it.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by Hockey10 » Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:50 pm

jimb_fromATL wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:43 am

Be aware that if you do try to walk through the attic you must carefully feel through the insulation and step only on the wood rafters, which can support your weight.

This is important! I have known of several people who are not familiar with construction who did not realize that the sheetrock ceiling panels alone cannot support their weight --or who were just not careful enough -- and literally feel through the ceiling with great harm to their person as well as to the ceiling because they did NOT step on the rafters alone.

jimb

That was me about 40 years ago when I was not very bright. Fortunately, I had one leg on a rafter when the other one went clear through the sheetrock. :oops: :shock: :confused

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by lazydavid » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:11 pm

Hockey10 wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:50 pm
jimb_fromATL wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:43 am

Be aware that if you do try to walk through the attic you must carefully feel through the insulation and step only on the wood rafters, which can support your weight.

This is important! I have known of several people who are not familiar with construction who did not realize that the sheetrock ceiling panels alone cannot support their weight --or who were just not careful enough -- and literally feel through the ceiling with great harm to their person as well as to the ceiling because they did NOT step on the rafters alone.

jimb

That was me about 40 years ago when I was not very bright. Fortunately, I had one leg on a rafter when the other one went clear through the sheetrock. :oops: :shock: :confused
In my previous house, I laid narrow (2-3 ft wide) sheets of 5/8" plywood across the rafters in the paths I would be most likely to take (to the attic fan, the wiring/switch for the satellite TV, etc). That almost completely eliminated the risk of mis-stepping.

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UpsetRaptor
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by UpsetRaptor » Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:39 pm

lazydavid wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 4:11 pm
Hockey10 wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:50 pm
jimb_fromATL wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:43 am

Be aware that if you do try to walk through the attic you must carefully feel through the insulation and step only on the wood rafters, which can support your weight.

This is important! I have known of several people who are not familiar with construction who did not realize that the sheetrock ceiling panels alone cannot support their weight --or who were just not careful enough -- and literally feel through the ceiling with great harm to their person as well as to the ceiling because they did NOT step on the rafters alone.

jimb

That was me about 40 years ago when I was not very bright. Fortunately, I had one leg on a rafter when the other one went clear through the sheetrock. :oops: :shock: :confused
In my previous house, I laid narrow (2-3 ft wide) sheets of 5/8" plywood across the rafters in the paths I would be most likely to take (to the attic fan, the wiring/switch for the satellite TV, etc). That almost completely eliminated the risk of mis-stepping.

Image

I had one of those whole-house attic fans at my old house. Loved it. Nothing like the feeling of crisp air flowing through the house on a nice spring or fall day.

If it's one of those other ones, the powered attic ventilators, then I just wouldn't worry about it OP.

retiredjg
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by retiredjg » Thu Aug 09, 2018 5:11 pm

knightrider, you may (or may not) have realized you are getting answers about 2 different things.

An "attic fan" is a whole house fan that pulls air in open doors and windows to cool the house at night when it is cooler outside than inside. This is what people used before air conditioning.

I think you are talking about a fan to exhaust hot air from your attic. I don't know what it is called, attic exhaust fan perhaps, but I think that is not called an "attic fan".

Good luck!

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by Finridge » Thu Aug 09, 2018 7:51 pm

I was just reading about attic fans (attic fans, NOT whole-house fans) this morning, and some of the web pages I googled up said that they were a total waste--that the heat came into the house by radiative means and that the hot air was irrelevant. One web site compared using an attic fan to try to keep the inside of your house cool to using a fan blowing air over you to avoid getting a sunburn... And apparently, Georgia has prohibited the installation of new attic fans connected to power grid (solar is OK). Anyone know if these concerns are valid?

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by montanagirl » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:41 pm

My husband installed attic fans in both our houses. Both draw from a vent on the cool side of the house and exhaust out the sunny side. They come on at abt 93° and keep the living area from building up unbearable heat in the evening.

The effect was more dramatic in the first house, my little starter home with a high pitched roof and perfect north facing gable with a louvred vent. The second house has a lower roof so the effect was not so noticeable.

Now we have a/c but use it only in extreme weather because neither of likes the chill and like open windows at night.

And then we need to use it in fire season, which is now upon us. 🙁

MathWizard
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by MathWizard » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:34 pm

I have both.

The attic ventilation fan runs only on the hottest days.
We have large shade trees on the south of our house, which helps with keeping the attic at a reasonable temp.

I use the whole house fan only a little bit. It is quite noisy.
I used it more often in the past, but allergies have gotten worse. So keeping the house closed and using A/C works better.

MathWizard
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by MathWizard » Thu Aug 09, 2018 10:34 pm

I have both.

The attic ventilation fan runs only on the hottest days.
We have large shade trees on the south of our house, which helps with keeping the attic at a reasonable temp.

I use the whole house fan only a little bit. It is quite noisy.
I used it more often in the past, but allergies have gotten worse. So keeping the house closed and using A/C works better.

UALflyer
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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by UALflyer » Fri Aug 10, 2018 7:29 am

Finridge wrote:
Thu Aug 09, 2018 7:51 pm
I was just reading about attic fans (attic fans, NOT whole-house fans) this morning, and some of the web pages I googled up said that they were a total waste--that the heat came into the house by radiative means and that the hot air was irrelevant. One web site compared using an attic fan to try to keep the inside of your house cool to using a fan blowing air over you to avoid getting a sunburn... And apparently, Georgia has prohibited the installation of new attic fans connected to power grid (solar is OK). Anyone know if these concerns are valid?
I addressed these exact points above. Whether the energy concerns are valid depend on the type of construction that you have, how air tight it is, etc...

You don't need to resolve the above energy concerns though, as the reason that you need working attic fans (on newer roofs, you'll have passive ridge vents instead) is to provide proper ventilation to the roof. This is a structural and a shingle longevity issue and is required by every single shingle manufacturer.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by carolinaman » Fri Aug 10, 2018 7:56 am

I have an attic fan for house built in 70s. They have a typical life of 10 years or so. I have replaced mine 3 times in 40 years. Mine have all had setting on unit for temp to run the fan. I believe mine is set at 95 degrees which is easily attained on a day when outside temp is in the 80s. You should be able to hear the fan running if you are in the attic. You do not have to get that close. Try this on a hot day and that will tell you if it is working or not.

I live in the South with very hot summers. Our house is well insulated and cooled by AC. However, the fan keeps the attic temp to a manageable level. When our fans quit working, we first noticed it in evening as AC seemed to run constantly to keep house cool. IMO, attic fans are very useful in hot climates and reduce your overall utility bills.

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Re: Anyone familiar with attic fans?

Post by JBTX » Fri Aug 10, 2018 7:59 am

I'd start with a roofer to replace an attic fan. They may or may not be interested in such a small job.

We have 2 attic fans. We replaced both 2 years ago and one died within a year. Opinions are all over the place.on them, but I suspect the conclusion that they are energy inefficient is true. Also if your ceiling is not well sealed they could actually be pulling ac out of your living area.

I think I read that in Georgia they were actually outlawed in New construction due to their inefficiency.

In spite of all that I still let the one run when it gets 110. Also have one turtle vent. Most new roofs now use either multiple turtle vents or ridge vents. The last roofer was going to do ridge vents but I wasn't a big fan due to previously having rats in attic.

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Re: Anyone familiar wit attic fans?

Post by A440 » Fri Aug 10, 2018 8:08 am

I told myself the venting from the soffit to the new ridge vent was fine enough and I didn't really need to worry about the attic fan. :sharebeer

When we had a new roof installed along with an addition, the roofing contractor added ridge vents and advised against attic fan, as it would not allow the ridge vents to do what they are supposed to. The contractor who built the addition suggested adding an attic fan.
I followed the advice of the roofing contractor and have no regrets.

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Re: Anyone familiar wit attic fans?

Post by neilpilot » Fri Aug 10, 2018 8:22 am

A440 wrote:
Fri Aug 10, 2018 8:08 am
I told myself the venting from the soffit to the new ridge vent was fine enough and I didn't really need to worry about the attic fan. :sharebeer

When we had a new roof installed along with an addition, the roofing contractor added ridge vents and advised against attic fan, as it would not allow the ridge vents to do what they are supposed to. The contractor who built the addition suggested adding an attic fan.
I followed the advice of the roofing contractor and have no regrets.
Nothing new here. Either you install an adequate ridge vent or provide powered attic ventilation. One or the other, but not both. Way more important here in TN than up in NJ.

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