QUALITY CONTROL

In addition to being quiet, Energy Star-rated bathroom fans must push at least 1.4 cfm/watt for small products (80 cfm or less) and 2.8 cfm/watt for larger units (90 to 500 cfm); and all lighted fans must employ energy-efficient compact fluorescent lighting.

Nevertheless, Energy Star-approved units are pricier than their louder and less-efficient counterparts. Such fans cost $100 to $150 (retail) on average, while non-rated units can be had for much less.

“The lowest-cost fans, which are typically three times louder than Energy Star-qualified fans, can go as low as $30,” comments David Shiller, Energy Star marketing manager.

Experts estimate that qualified products accounted for about 13 percent of bathroom ventilation fans installed in new houses and remodeling projects in 2003, but Energy Star officials hope that those numbers will swell as utilities offer pros incentives for installing qualified fans.

According to Shiller, the EPA hopes to see more programs like Northeast Energy Star, a consortium of utilities in New England that are including bathroom vent fans with lighting in their energy-efficient lighting programs. Under the program, rebates and advertising incentives are available to pro, manufacturer, and retail partners who promote Energy Star-qualified products.

Even though homeowners don't save big bucks on energy costs with an Energy Star-approved bath fan alone (Nielsen estimates that a typical family saves about $50 over five years), it's necessary to install rated products for other reasons.

“To make sure that moisture generated from the bathroom is exhausted from the house, the vent fan needs to run longer, but nobody wants to listen to a noisy fan,” Shiller says. “A quieter [Energy Star-qualified] fan means it will more likely be used more frequently and for longer periods, which means there will be less chance of mold buildup in the bathroom.”

And fewer opportunities for mold growth mean less worrying about liability for the pro, notes Hershkowitz.

OTHER ROOMS

Although nearly all ventilation fans are used in bathroom applications, experts predict that other-room applications will grow in tightly built homes.

“Indoor air quality is a big issue now and people need ventilation throughout the home. We're seeing [fans] in craft and utility rooms and basements and just being used to get rid of odors,” says Nielsen.