How many among us have not, at one time or another, climbed into the oppressive heat of a summertime attic? Open that door or ceiling access and enter a stuffy, often musty, space heated 20 degrees or more above the cooler living spaces below.
That heat trapped above your ceilings is costing you money and comfort.
As with most cost estimates in the home-improvement field, the phrase "it depends" crops up immediately before any numbers are quoted. And attic-fan installation costs do depend on a wide variety of variables, such as attic volume, roof configuration, fan capacity (cubic feet per minute or CFM) and so on.
That said, if you're looking at something like a 17-inch electrical fan with an automatic thermostat, wiring by a licensed electrician and an exterior vent shutter, you'll probably wind up paying around $600 or so.
You should, however, seriously consider a solar-powered fan. Less complicated to install with zero power costs and proven reliability — and eco-conscious, to boot — there's no downside to this option other than a bit more initial investment. "A bit more" means you'll likely fork out less than $100 more than with a comparable 17-inch electric fan.
Experts suggest that an attic-vent fan should pay for itself in reduced air-conditioning costs in two to three years. After that, the investment returns go up and up as that hot, attic air goes out the door ... well, out the vent actually.
Long before modern insulation and green-building techniques grew common in residential construction, commercial and agricultural operations understood the efficiencies of exhausting those pockets of hot air that collected beneath their building roofs. Take a close look at warehouses, barns and other industrial structures, and you'll find many exhaust-fan applications.
Now, take a look around your neighborhood and count the attic exhaust fans. Chances are you won't find many, and that's a curiosity.
"An attic-ventilation fan can reduce the temperature of your attic 20 to 30 degrees in the summer, which will lower the temperature in the house by 5 to 10 degrees," says contractor Simon Winkler, a partner with Mark Sommerauer, in Medford's Bavaria Home Improvement.
Attic fans even help in winter, Winkler notes, providing year-round humidity and moisture reduction.
That's impressive, and it's attainable for a relatively modest investment. Although many variables affect installation costs, most residential bids come in well under $1,000 for what Winkler describes as, "usually a 16- to 24-inch fan that you would install through the outside wall. We can add a nice decorative louver system under the eave that looks much like the octagon-shaped wood vents you see in the gables of many houses."
While installation of an attic-ventilation fan (or "gable" fan) isn't usually complicated, do-it-yourselfers will need a licensed electrician for the wiring.
In most retrofit installations, Winkler and his partner subcontract a licensed electrician to wire the fan and an automatic thermostatic switch. This is included in their bid price. Many homeowners elect to pay a bit more to have an override switch installed inside the house. Fire hazards are minimal, as the fans feature one or more fusible links. It's safe, quiet, efficient; you'll forget it's there until the power bill takes a smaller divot out of your checkbook.
Winkler says he's finding growing interest in solar-powered attic fans in both residential and industrial applications. He mentions King Solar out of Portland (www.kingsolar.com) as a favorite supplier of turn-key solar-fan kits, complete with a solar battery pack for nighttime or cloudy-day operation. Though a little more expensive than electric fans, solar-powered products do not require the services of a licensed electrician. They also reduce your power bills even more.
Winkler suggests Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply of Medford as a good source for products, how-to advice and contractor referrals. The "big-box" home-improvement stores also carry a variety of fans and referrals.
In theory and in applications proven over decades of usage, attic-ventilation fans work. It's a mystery why more homes don't have one or more installed already. They're a reliable, cost-effective way to minimize your carbon footprint without sacrificing the creature comforts you fully expect from the place you call "home."
And you can say goodbye to musty, stuffy attic visits, too.