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Bathroom exhaust fans can include extras such as lights or humidity sensors.

The humble bathroom exhaust fan might not occupy your mind very often, except maybe when you flip the switch by accident while fumbling around for the lights. But an exhaust fan plays a vital role in your bathroom, and it sometimes requires attention and care.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A FAN?

The fan provides multiple benefits to your bathroom. First up, and most obviously, it improves air quality and quickly removes unpleasant odors. By removing moisture from the air after a bath or shower, it also works to prevent mold and mildew. This also protects your fixtures, paint and wall boards - all of which suffer damage over the long term from excess air moisture.

An exhaust fan needs to vent the air outdoors. If it feeds into an attic, ridge vent, or crawlspace, the moist air is out of sight but not out of mind. Mold can grow undetected if the moisture remains in an indoor enclosed space. Your installer will have several options for venting out air, including wall mounts that vent the air directly outside or ceiling-mounted fans that send the air out through roofs or ducts. Ceiling mounts provide the most efficient operation, since they remove hot, damp air as it rises.

HOW SHOULD I INSTALL AN EXHAUST FAN?

If you'd like to add a new exhaust fan, most handymen and electricians can handle this work. Installing a bathroom exhaust fan usually takes three to four hours and costs between $165 and $350. It can take longer and cost more if it's a first-floor installation on a multi-level home, or if you choose an upscale silent fan, which can run $200 on its own. Some states require a licensed electrician to do this kind of work. If you hire an electrician, you may also need to hire a handyman or other provider to patch up drywall or do other finishing work.

You'll pay more for a brand-new installation as compared to a replacement, which won't involve cutting new holes or running connections to ducts.

HOW TO CARE FOR AN EXHAUST FAN

Once your exhaust fan is installed, don't just forget about it. Dirt on the fan can slow down the works and shorten its usable lifespan. In rare occasions, a lint-filled exhaust fan can pose a fire hazard. Plus, a dirty vent just doesn't look nice. Regularly dust the outside cover and vents, and occasionally remove the cover and clean out accumulated dirt and debris.

After a bath or shower, try to run the fan for 10 or 15 minutes to draw out all the humidity. You can pay a little extra to add a timer switch to your fan to run it longer, or even a humidistat that automatically turns the fan on and off as the humidity changes. Avoid fans that turn on and off with the light switch. They often turn off before the fan has time to complete its work,

One tip: Try to leave the bathroom door or window open at least a little while the fan is running. This promotes air movement and saves wear and tear on the fan motor.

Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie's List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.

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