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Stay cool the classic way – with a whole house fan

A cross section of a house features a red whole house fan in the attic, highlighted by a gold magnifying glass

Many of us remember hot summer afternoons spent watching streamers ripple out of the window A/C unit or fighting with our siblings to hold “concerts” in front of the rotating fan. While they made for fond memories, there’s a lesser-known agent of cool in our mi(d)st – the whole house fan. With the information below, you can find out if your home already has a whole house fan, and if using one is right for you.

The backstory of the whole house fan

Whole house fans were invented in the early 1900s, though they did not become a regular addition to homes until the ‘50s and ‘60s. Air conditioners had a similar rise to fame, but they quickly became more popular, as they were seen as the more luxurious choice. So, if the whole house fan is air conditioning’s less famous, less glamorous cousin, why is it making a comeback?

There are three main reasons this home cooling device is seeing another heyday:

  • It’s more environmentally friendly
  • It’s a more economical option
  • Newer versions are much quieter than in previous generations

According to the US Department of Energy, whole house fans take the air coming in through open windows and push it out through your attic and roof, simultaneously ventilating your attic and cooling your home.

Imagine if you had a whole house fan installed in your home, with a fresh batch of air making its way through your home as often as every 5 minutes; you’d have all that cool air circulating indoors and less money circulating out of your wallet.

Whole house fan vs. attic fan: What’s the difference?

Though whole house fans are typically installed in attics (for the best circulation), a few facts separate them from their sister, the attic fan.

  • Attic fans are mostly run during the hottest part of the day
  • Attic fans cool the attic, not the whole house
  • Attic fans reduce energy bills by keeping the attic cool
  • Whole house fans reduce energy bills by keeping the entire home cool with less cost than A/C

Should you get a whole house fan?

Now that you’re gotten acquainted with what this appliance does, it’s time to decide: To whole house fan, or not to whole house fan? Let the pros and cons below be your guide.

Whole house fan pros

  • It’s less expensive than air conditioning
  • Typically quieter than air conditioning
  • In temperate zones, it can keep you cool all summer long
  • It’s often easily converted to do double duty as whole-house ventilation

Whole house fan cons

  • Whole house fans cannot be installed in homes without attics
  • It’s not the ideal choice for homes in areas with very high heat or humidity
  • Two or more windows must be kept open for the whole house fan to work well

Pro Tip: Already have a whole house fan? Learn the best way to use and maintain it here!

How much does it cost to install a whole house fan?

Now that you’ve determined the whole house fan is the right choice for you and your household, let’s run the numbers to get one installed in your home.

Whole house fan installation

Whole house fan installation typically runs homeowners just over $1,700, according to Depending on size of the fan your home needs, the appliance itself could range from $200 to $1,500 (depending on the CFM, or cubic feet/minute rating), and labor can require about $75 an hour, on average.

What size fan do I need?

To find a fan with a CFM that works well for your home, use an online CFM calculator, which factors in components like room dimensions and ceiling height. Though it may be tempting to get one a bit smaller, the best whole house fan is the one that keeps your home cool without working too hard.

Purchasing a whole house fan may come with additional costs, which could include:

  • Permits
  • Inspections
  • A ridge vent installation in your roof
  • Carpentry work to move joints in the attic to accommodate the whole house fan

All told, getting your home outfitted with a whole house fan could be anywhere from $500 to around $4,000, but with a life expectancy of 15-20 years, it can be much less expensive than air conditioning costs, proving to be a worthwhile investment.

Can I DIY?

For such an important process, working with a professional is best. Doing so can prevent your whole house fan from running improperly or making unnecessary noise, which can happen if it’s poorly dampened or installed.

Now you’re equipped with another great way to keep warm days comfortable for your household. Happy cooling!

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