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House_Amuck 03-24-2007 01:51 PM

Broan Exhaust Fan Not Vented to Outside? Is there a model where this is not required?
We are at the tail end of a bathroom renovation. When we contracted for the job, we told the contractor we wanted a bathroom vent, since our circa 1920s bathroom did not have one (only a previously vented skylight that some previous owner sealed shut). The contractor added a vent to our list of specifications. After signing the contract I inquired re: the difficulties of venting through to a flat roof (we are in a rowhouse, center unit, so venting out the side of house not an option) since one of the other contractors we had dealt with had mentioned that flat roof installation would be tricky. Our contractor said, to our surprise, that he had no intention of venting through the roof. I immediately said "you aren't going to vent to our attic are you?" since I know enough to know that's a mold-inducing nightmare. He poo-pood my concerns saying "We install a heat-vent-a-light fan that recirculates the air, warming it, which encourage evaporation and doesn't require exterior ventilation. This didn't sound ideal, but it sounded better than having nothing. (And our bathroom also doesn't have a heat source since a previous owner had had the radiator removed.) So the idea of heated air sounded good to me, and I was satisfied. My husband and I weren't familiar with the product he was talking about (and he didn't mention a specific brand name) but assumed there was a fan that existed that did as he described and did not require ducting to the outside.

Yesterday we were told the job is over and to make a list of final points. We were surprised to note that the fan installed is the same Broan type my husband and I were looking at when we thought we were choosing a ducted fan. We got up on a ladder and got the model number and it is: 655-C/655F-C. We looked that up on the Broan site,
noting their installation instructions and from all that we can see this fan has a duct attachment and the installation is assuming ducting to the outside. (Or can it be installed, optionally, without outside ducting?)

Additionally, we have this long switch panel, three switches of which are supposed to operate the fan (the light, the fan, the heat). The switch for the heat does nothing (heat coils don't heat). The light switch did work, then stopped working mysteriously (not the bulb; we checked). The fan switch works fine, in that a fan sound is heard. However, no air is blowing out of it. We tested it using a peacock feather and the feather is sucked in lightly on one side, but is not blown at all from any vent opening, like we would expect if air was being circulated into the room, as our contractor told us it would be.

What's going on here with the controls is an electrical thread question, I realize, just mentioning it to see if others would agree it's looking like this contractor doesn't know what he is doing? We're concerned about this since A) we don't want to have mold in our attic, B) we don't want an improperly installed fan to set our ceiling/house on fire, and C) we feel like we may have had some BS thrown our way which makes us feel cheated and not very trusting of this contractor in general.

Any feedback? Below are pictures. Thanks!

rjordan392 03-24-2007 04:17 PM

Either I am missing something here or you are overlooking something.
Normally bathroom fans are designed to exhaust the air and this moisture laden or foul air is supposed to be directly exhausted to the outside via ducting.
I have seen these fans that also heat up and am not familiar on how they accomplish this task and still be able to exhaust foul odors and moisture which seems contrary.
I am surprised that the contractor did not duct the fan to the roof. I also suspect he wired it up wrong. When contractors do something like that; its time to remove them. Your thinking is right; the bathroom air should be exhausted to the outside.
It can be done but it also may be a bit time comsuming because an access hole must be cut out in the ceiling either in the bathroom or from a closet next to the bathroom and then repairing the access hole so that it can be used again in the future, if needed.
When I installed my exhaust fan, I was able to use a closet in the next room to make my access hole.
I used flexable duct from the fan to the underside of the roof with sufficient slack. Then I drilled a small hole through the roof from the underside, leaving the bit exposed on the outside. Then I went up on the roof and with a piece of chalk, I made a rough circle around the drill bit, slightly bigger then the pvc fittings that would sit on the roof and the underside of it. Using a hammer and cheisel, I dug out the tar down to the roof boards. Then with a hole saw, I cut out a hole big enough to accomodate my 4 inch pve pipe and fittings. I ran the pipe about 2-1/2 feet above the roof and then elbowed it down to about 1 foot away from the roof. This prevents backdraft. Your new fan should also have a backflow valve.
I used two fittings which I believed are called closet fittings. They are the same as the one's that toilets sit on. Then I used bolts, washers and nuts to secure both fittings to the roof after I drilled more holes.
I installed the bolts on the roof side and the nuts on the underside. Then I patched up any spaces around the topside roof fitting with roofing fabric and roof patch cement. That was over 18 years ago and I have had no leaks.
Now a good professional may be able to accomplish the job in a more convient way. So if you are not that handy, you will need to consult with one and not that guy you hired.

rjordan392 03-25-2007 09:44 AM

This is an addedum to my post:

The rated output of the bathroom fan is important. The cubic area to be ventilated and the amount of time needed to do this will determine which output you should choose.
First we have to come up with an average time that a person spends in the bathroom using the john. I figure it to be about 6 minutes.
Using my own bathroom as an example, It measures 262 cubic feet divided by 6 minutes give me a fan rating 43.7 cubic feet per minute. But this is just a basic output to go by. We have to get a much higher rating fan because when a fan operates, it is pulling in fresh air from under the bathroom door and DILUTING the odors in the room and that is what is being exhausted (fresh air & odors). So now we realize it will take more then 6 minutes in order to remove all or most traces of a prior visit to a bathroom.
I reccommend a fan that has an output of 80 to 90 cubic feet per minute as a guide. This will pull in enough fresh air to dilute the odors to a point where they are either undetectable or unobjectable by the next person.

If you go through with installing duct to the roof, do not under any circumstances use ductwork or pipe that is smaller then the square area of the fan discharge or it will cut back drastically the rated output of the fan.
Some people do object to fan noise even when its noise rating is comparable. Fans with blower wheels usually create more noise. This is something we have to accept. Other fans with less noise may probally be propeller type and these are only recommended for through the wall installations.
I also recommend that if you use pvc like I did, that you use a 4 inch female slip to 4 inch male thread on the roof side closet fitting. Then using a 4 inch female thread to 4 inch slip to the roof piping will allow you to remove the vent in case future work requires it.
You will need to do something simular to the underside to be able connect your flexable duct to the pvc pipe. Use pvc pipe cleaner and cement on all slip joints.
Go to your nearest home center to check how all the components fit to be sure you have everything that will work together.
The thickness of the roof boards and fittings will determine length of the bolts needed to secure both closet fittings.

It's best to make up a drawing showing how each part of the assembly will look. This may save you another trip back to the home center for more parts. Make sure you elbow the assembly back towards the roof. If you don't do this, cold air and rain will drop down through the pipe vent and the fans backflow valve does not seal very well.

Good luck.

House_Amuck 03-26-2007 07:29 AM

Thanks for your very informative posts, but if we do decide to keep this fan that has been installed incorrectly, my husband and I won't personally be installing the ductwork, or poking a hole in our flat tarred roof, ourselves. There isn't an attic to stand up in and it will require someone to crawl through and do this--not something anyone (including us) is going to be eager to do.

What I was hoping to find out from my posting is if it is every acceptable to install a fan that has a duct attachment without installing the ductwork, but I'm pretty sure myself the answer is "no." I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it seems our contractor told us a bold-faced lie.

Our current plan is to have the fan removed, cap the wires, repair the ceiling and just make do with the passive vent in our skylight for ventilation, which is what most people in this neighborhood do. We haven't had a huge problem with moisture so far so we are hoping that will be okay. Might be easier than finding someone who is willing to crawl into our 3 1/2 foot tall attic space to install ductwork and we worry that the hole in the roof will leak.

So if anyone has feedback about vent pipe installation through flat roofs with tar coverings (i.e. "don't do it!" or "we did it and had no leaks") that would be great. Or if anyone knows of an "exhaust fan" product that recirculates air, warming it so to encourage evaporation rather than venting it, please post that too so I can hope that is what the contractor intended his sub to install (rather than believing he was just BS-ing us.)



elementx440 03-26-2007 04:42 PM

heating the air will not do much to eliminate the moisture... unless you run the heat/fan 24/7 and leave the bathroom door open. you need to vent it.

if the unit is installed, why not just pay someone to ad the vent instead of ripping it out???

House_Amuck 03-27-2007 10:32 AM

We came around to that way of thinking (just leaving it there and not use it until we can get someone in to duct it to the outside.) We're assuming it is installed correctly other than not being ducted. We hope this is the case at least.

I still can't believe the contractor told us this didn't need external ventilation. I mean, if I hadn't expressly said "this won't vent to the attic, will it? Because that wouldn't be acceptable to us" then I wouldn't be so flabbergasted. But he said "no it doesn't; it recirculates the air." Unbelievable. And him a member of the BBB, up on state licensures and insurance etc., seemed on the up and up.

The worst thing is that once we got suspicious about things we started doubting everything he had told us. For example he told us that our remodel didn't require any permits. That's turned out not to be the case and now we don't know what to do. It's amazing how just one person can totally screw you over. We feel like fools.

rjordan392 03-27-2007 08:03 PM

I would not worry about the permit as that was the contractors responsibility. I don't believe permits are required for interior replacement work with some exceptions. Like when a contractor needs to cut into the building framing or supports, then a permit will probally be required. I doubt a home buyer will ask for the permit for your new bathroom. But they may ask for one if you have had any outdoor construction.
If you are going to keep that fan, check what type it is. Does it have a blower wheel or a propeller blade? What is the cubic foot area of the bathroom? You should have the installation instructions for the fan. Check to see if it gives the amount of free air in CFM.

Ron6519 03-28-2007 04:01 PM

The contractor is incompetant. The vent fan needs to be in an insulated duct and vented to the exterior. It could be through a wall or a roof.
The electrical needs to be corrected. If he can't do it, or won't, I would report him to every oversight organization your locale has. BBB, Consumer Affairs, licensing board..etc..
A tight flat roof is no place for a fan spewing warm moist air.

House_Amuck 03-28-2007 05:38 PM

Ron, I agree with you. It may come to us reporting him. What he wants to do now is remove the combination fan unit (heat, fan, light) and replace it with a light/heat unit. Only problem is that we wanted a solution for our ventilation problem (with having a warmer bathroom only being a "wouldn't it be nice" secondary consideration.) And it bothers me that he routinely installs the ducted combo fans without ducting. I know he has done it at least once since one of his references mentioned she had one of those "recirculating fans" too. Good Lord. What a fool I've been.

He doesn't have any response to my complaints his installation was not manufacturer-recommended nor codes compliant. I don't know what to do with someone like this. He promised something that doesn't exist. What he installed isn't codes compliant or appropriately installed so we, understandably, complained. What he wants to give us now is something else (a heater/light), that is not a product that assists with ventilation (there is no fan). He refuses to reduce his installation fee for the fan in order to help us offset what duct installation would cost. He made no offer to have a sub duct this for us (not that we would trust them now). So there is no way out of this for us that doesn't leave us feeling like we've been cheated. Personally, if I were a contractor it would be worth a couple of hundred dollars to mollify a customer and make right a wrong I did. Especially since we paid him thousands for the project, have paid each installment on time, etc. We've faithfully held up our end of the deal, but feel he hasn't and then also won't meet us halfway. Very frustrating.

This certainly has not been a good first experience with hiring a GC but I guess it could be worse.

mnp13 03-29-2007 10:42 AM

Have you made your final payment yet? If not, don't.

I have serious mold problems in my current home. I have been sick for the entire 5 years I have lived there. When I leave for a week, my problems disappear after about 4 days.

The warm, moist air is going somewhere when you turn that fan on - and the only logical place is above the fan... to your attic. This will create mold, and that mold may affect your health as it has mine.

Personally, I wouldn't continue to pay him and would take him to small claims over the amount of money that it will cost to have it done correctly. He promised you something that didn't exist, and you paid for it once, and now you will have to pay for it a second time? No way.

Mike Finley 04-23-2007 08:12 PM

The lower or lowest bidder is usually not the best deal if the scope of work they are doing is also less.

Regardless, the long and the short is 99.99% chance you needed a building permit, I don't know what you remodeled exactly, but anyways 99.99% sure your code is going to require some sort of ventilation in the bathroom if you remodel, the grandfather is a window that can be opened, no window, you must ventilate. If your sky light can be opened that would qualify, but if it can't then you need to ventilate.

There maybe some space age moisture eliminator fan on the market like he is telling you, (I've never seen one) but that Broan certainly isn't one by any stretch of the imagination. It sounds like your contractor doesn't like to breach roofs (and maybe you are lucky he doesn't) and he simply didn't count on breaching your roof right from the beginning. I'd probably have included another $500-$800 in the estimate to you for breaching your flat roof, maybe more. You almost always get what you pay for, so it sounds like you got a cheaper job by choosing the lower contractor, but he also is pretty much lieing to you about this fan.

Call your building dept and ask them the requirements for when to permit and when not to for a bathroom remodel, and also ask them the requirements for what qualifies as ventilation.

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