Maintaining or replacing the bathroom fan

The exhaust fan in the bathroom is one of the overlooked workhorses of the home. By turning it on during a shower and letting it run while you dry off, you can ventilate the steam which would otherwise cause mold and mildew to form on the walls and ceilings.

It's easy to forget that the fan needs some regular maintenance, however. Hidden away behind a panel on the ceiling, you won't see the dust and grime that builds up on the fan blades and other parts of the assembly. If this is not cleaned off, the fan will become noisier, less effective, and more likely to burn out.

Bathroom fans will benefit from cleanings on an annual basis. The home improvement professional Danny Lipford recommends cleaning the fan every six months.

Before working on the fan, make sure you have shut off the power to the device. The easiest way to stay safe is to turn off the circuit breaker for your bathroom while you work. Jill Nystul, writing for the home design site One Good Thing by Jillee, says some fans can also simply be unplugged once their cover is removed.

Use gloves and safety goggles when working on the fan. The magazine Family Handyman says you can encounter sharp edges or dislodge debris when working on the components.

Carefully remove the cover from the fan. Many covers are held in place by spring loaded pins, which should be squeezed together before taking the cover down.

The cover should be cleaned separately. Lipford says a vacuum with a bristle brush is a good way to remove the dust from the vents in the cover.

You might be able to clean the fan and its housing while they are still in place in the ceiling. Simply use a bristle brush and crevice attachment on your vacuum to suck out any dust you see.

Sometimes, however, the dust will be caked on or difficult to access. If you can still see a lot of dust after vacuuming, you can get better results by removing the fan assembly.

Before you take this step, snap a picture of the assembled fan. Nystul says this can be a useful guide for putting the fan back in place after you have finished cleaning it.

Remove the screws or other fasteners holding the fan and its motor in place. A damp microfiber cloth is useful for cleaning off these parts. Once you have done so, you can put the fan back in place and replace the cover.

If your fan isn't working well even after a cleaning, you may need to replace the entire assembly. The home improvement site HomeAdvisor says small fans are suitable for ventilating up to 70 square feet, while larger fans will be necessary if the bathroom is more spacious. You can also choose from a number of different styles.

As with the cleaning process, you'll want to make sure the power is off before starting the work. You can also use a voltage meter to test the electrical connections in the fan and make sure no current is flowing through them.

If the new fan is larger than the old one, you'll need to trace the area for the new fan's housing and widen the hole in the ceiling. Family Handyman says you'll also need to attach the ductwork and reconnect the wiring after installing the new fan.

Much of this work can be completed on your own if you are reasonably handy, but others should only be done by a professional. You'll want to hire a licensed electrician if you aren't comfortable working with your home's wiring.

You may also need a professional if you need to extend the ductwork for the fan out of the home. HomeAdvisor says bathroom fans might be ventilated into the attic for simplicity's sake, but this arrangement can also simply redirect humid air into this part of the home and cause mold and mildew to form there.

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