Benefits of Attic Fans and Ventilation

attic fans and proper attic ventilationHeat rises by nature and the highest hottest spot in your home is the attic.  Even on a relatively warm, 80-degree day, your attic can reach upwards of 100 degrees. These extreme temperatures can be damaging to the major components in your home such as insulation, venting, plumbing and electrical wiring that are often located in the home’s attic space. The good news is, attic fans can make a significant difference in energy costs and in the lifespan of major components mentioned above. Because of this, new homes are being built with whole house fan systems which prevent heat from building up in the dead air spaces of the house.

Benefits of Improved Attic Ventilation

Energy.gov reports that ventilation is the least expensive and most energy-efficient way to cool buildings. Ventilation works best when combined with other methods that avoid heat build up in your home.

Attic fans are now integrated with the roof shingles and use very little energy (less than 300 Watts each). The attic essentially acts as a “buffer zone” between the interior of your home and the outside world, so its important to regulate the temperature in this zone, therefore maintaining a consistent temperature in your living space. Attic fans can:

  • Reduce upper floor room temperatures by an average of 10 degrees
  • Lengthen the life of roofing materials and major home components
  • Save up to 30% on home air-conditioning costs

Another layer of protection from the heat and cold for your home is  attic insulation. Attic insulation works by hindering the upward movement of heat, keeping cooler air in during the summer months and warm air in during the winter months. It also contains built in paper or aluminum foil that is forward facing on the insulation panels. These are air-vapor barriers keep moisture that rises up from inside the home from penetrating the insulation.

Attic and roof ventilation are important components to regulating temperature and moisture levels in the home as the weather conditions and seasons change. When it’s cold outside, air can leak in around attic access panels, ceiling light fixtures, exhaust fans, etc., which brings outside moisture into your home’s attic space. Even just going into the attic to get something from storage can significantly increase the moisture level in your home as warm moist air is allowed in through the open access panel.

Types of Attic Ventilation

  1. Non-Mechanical Attic Ventilation – Also called “gable vents”, this type of ventilation is found in many older homes (pre-1980). They are screened and louvered vents that are located up near the roof peak in the side walls of the attic. They are quite efficient at keeping the highest airspace in the attic cooler; however, in areas where there is no air movement, they can often cause hot spots. If your home is equipped with gable vents, you’ll want to consider installing a fan as well which will eliminate the hot spots and keep things cooler. The other option is to use soffit vents and ridge vents, both of which provide adequate non-mechanical venting. Unfortunately, most roof designs do not allow for adequate non-mechanical ventilation alone for optimal performance.
  2. Solar and Electric Attic Fans – Solar powered attic fan or roof vent does significantly improve air flow in the attic space but is not as powerful as an electric fan. Without an attic fan, temperatures in your attic can reach upwards of 150 degrees during the hottest seasons. The fan creates steady air-flow through the attic space; however, if too much air flow is exchanged between outside and the attic, moisture from rain and snow can permeate. In areas of the county with high humidity/wetness, a humidity control system in your attic is recommended as well to prevent moisture issues. The two most common types of electrical/solar attic fans are roof top and gable end. Electric fans are more powerful and cost efficient while solar powered models are most costly but leverage green electric power. Whichever you choose, the attic fan(s) you install should have a programmable thermostat and a firestat, which shuts the fan off in case of fire. Avoid plastic options and go for all metal as well as models that that have solid screens to keep pests out of your attic.
  3. Whole House Fan Systems – Whole house systems keep dead spaces from heating up and pull cool air throughout the home. For those that live in milder climates where the temperature stays below 82 degrees, they can being used as an alternative to traditional home air conditioning. This is also the case for older homes where its too expensive or difficult to install a central air. One potential downfall for whole house fan systems is noise but the system should run quietly and efficiently if it is engineered correctly. Fans with more blades will be quieter than those with fewer blades and the fan should be mounted with foam or rubber strips to reduce vibration and sound.

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