When bathroom fans break or reach the age at which replacement is necessary, then most homeowners are faced with a similar dilemma. The job seems simple enough to do it yourself, however, there are electrics involved, which always need to be treated with care, and often it is the better option to hire a professional to handle the job.
Electricians, HVAC contractors, handypersons, and DIY-ers can all replace bathroom fans. Let’s look at when each of these options is appropriate.
Electricians can replace bathroom fans. They are ideal new installs. Some states require licensed electricians to do the job. HVAC contractors can do fan replacements but may not be suitable for minor jobs. A skilled handyperson with electrical experience can do it. You can do a simple replacement yourself.
Do You Need an Electrician to Replace a Bathroom Fan?
As with any home improvement project, before starting work, you should consult your local zoning officer and code enforcement websites. Familiarise yourself with any applicable state and local laws, ordinances, and covenants. Does your state require you to hire licensed contractors for work like this?
It’s far better to check ahead of time than be faced with a certificate of non-compliance when you have your home inspected! Not only do you incur the expense of hiring an expert, but you may also be fined or red-tagged because of the code violations.
If your replacement fan is more complicated—i.e., the fan has more features and more wires than the old fan—then the best person to call will be a licensed electrician. They have all the experience, training, knowledge, licenses, and insurance to do the job well and give you peace of mind.
However, you should note that an electrician will do only the electrical work. You will have to arrange for someone else to handle any ductwork, plastering, drywall repair, or other structural and cosmetic issues related to the replacement. Alternatively, you will have to do this yourself.
This is why it’s important when replacing an existing fan to choose a similar size unit. This makes everything much easier.
HVAC Contractors Can Replace Bathroom Fans
Usually, upgrading a bathroom fan is a relatively straightforward project, even if you have to adjust the size of the installation cut-out. This means that hiring an HVAC contractor for the replacement would be considered an “over-kill”.
However, in some cases, what you believed to be a simple fan replacement can uncover hidden problems that require attention. If this is the first time the bathroom fan is being replaced, and your house meets one or more of the below criteria, then it might be more worth your while to hire the HVAC contractor:
- Your house is really old.
- Your house was built by the original owner.
- You have built the house yourself (unless you consulted a professional for the original fan installation).
- Your fan clearly does not exhaust outside (it must vent to the outside of the residence).
- Although your fan exhausts outside, you still struggle with damp or mold in the attic, crawl space, etc.
- There is leaking or dripping associated with the bathroom fan exhaust system.
Another situation in which an HVAC contractor could be the best option for you is if you are doing more than just replacing your bathroom fan. In other words, you are changing its location or you are replacing it with a more feature-rich model.
Even if your state requires a licensed electrician to handle bathroom fan replacements, an HVAC consultant can still be hired. They will either have an in-house licensed electrician, or they will handle the outsourcing (so you don’t have to get involved in that).
Furthermore, an HVAC contractor will not only handle the replacement, but they will also do any repair or patch jobs that are necessary as a result of the replacement.
Consider a Reputable Handyperson for the Job
You can hire a skilled handyperson for the job. However, remember that this is only an option if your state does not require a licensed professional to do the replacement.
The person you hire should preferably be someone you have previously used, and who you are confident in their ability to do good electrical work. Alternatively, you can ask around for a good recommendation from friends or family.
Hiring a handyperson will be cheaper than an electrician or HVAC contractor, and they’ll also do any necessary trim, patch, or paintwork that is required.
Another factor to consider before hiring a handyperson for the job is the complexity of your new fan. If it has added features such as programmability, Bluetooth connectivity, and humidity-sensing capabilities, it might be worthwhile to pay the extra cost of hiring a licensed electrician or HVAC contractor.
On the other hand, if your neighborhood handyperson is a retired licensed electrician or HVAC contractor who stays busy doing odd jobs, then they can add the wires or circuits necessary to safely and properly install that new, high-tech bathroom fan.
Simple Replacements Could Be Done by Pro DIYers
You might be that person who feels undressed without their tool belt. If you think you can do this job, and laws permit you to do so, go for it! For one thing, nobody will do it more cheaply than you. This is especially true if your project is a simple upgrade.
New fans come with detailed instructions in multiple languages and, if you’ve done this before, you’ll do it again easily. However, before you begin, read the instructions and know your limitations. If you’re in over your head, rather hire a pro to ensure that you do not waste your time and possibly create new problems, which are more costly to fix.
Contact the Super if You Live in an Apartment
For those living in a multi-unit building, your super may not be very pleased to hear that you have attempted to replace the bathroom fan yourself!
Don’t forget that the ventilation system of an apartment is going to be designed differently from that of a free-standing house. So, any alterations you make could affect the other units. Furthermore, if there is an underlying problem, then it can be quite a lot more extensive than for a house, and you do not want to be paying for everyone’s ventilation system to be upgraded.
In these cases, the proper course would be to contact your super and inform them that the fan needs to be replaced.
Do You Really Need to Replace Your Bathroom Fan?
Sometimes, your fan might not actually need to be replaced, so first, take the time to do some troubleshooting with your existing fan before you buy a new fan or hire a contractor.
If you are just tired of looking at a worn or discolored grille, then you don’t have to replace the whole fan. The grille can be removed and replaced, often with a decent universal one(Amazon). If you are struggling to source a new grille, or you want a cheaper option, then you can refurbish your old one.
If your fan does not seem to be removing steam efficiently, this may be the result of a number of factors, including improper ducting and or venting, wrong CFM rating for the size of your bathroom, and turning it off too soon.
Alternatively, the fan may be working sub-optimally because of a build-up of dirt. Fans draw and collect dust, lint, and other particulates, so they need to be cleaned regularly.
Remove the fan cover (it will either snap off or is held in place by screws which you’ll unscrew to remove the housing) and look at what’s underneath.
You can safely vacuum the fan area without shutting off electricity to the fan. Of course, if you plan to do any component removal and replacement or install new wiring, first disconnect the bathroom fan.
Other issues include damaged motors or wiring or loose or damaged parts. Sometimes, in multiunit buildings, from duplexes to high-rises, the problem isn’t even with your own fan! This article goes through several different causes of buzzing or humming in a bathroom fan, as well as the solutions to each scenario.
If you are looking for a quiet fan to replace your existing unit then check out my list of the quietest fans on the market today. All of them are under 0.5 sones and are whisper quiet.
Choosing the Best Replacement Fan
Let’s start with some basics. A fan’s ability to move air is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). The larger the area of your bathroom, the more CFM you’ll want your fan to provide.
A fan’s CFM rating should replace bathroom air at the rate of eight times per hour. You can usually increase the CFM without increasing the vent shaft (i.e., making a bigger hole) simply by replacing your existing fan with a more efficient, more powerful new unit.
If you want to automate your bathroom fan to help ensure the best protection of your home against excess moisture, consider a humidity-sensing fan, which switches on when it detects room moisture at the programmed level, which you can select.
Timers offer another method of automation. Note that the best practice for protecting your bathroom and home infrastructure from mold and mildew is to run the fan for no less than 30 minutes after stopping the shower or other water source.
For more information, read my article on the 6 Easy Steps to Find the Right Bathroom Exhaust Fan. This article even offers a calculator so you can determine an exact CFM measurement for your space.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Bathroom Fan?
No matter which route you take for replacing your bathroom fan, you will have to pay for the new unit. This can cost well under $50 for a smaller capacity fan, but if you have a larger bathroom, you may be looking at figures of $70-$100 for a sufficiently powerful fan.
If you are opting for a more high-tech or feature-rich fan, you will have to budget at least an additional $50-$100 on top of the cost of a regular fan.
If you hire a licensed electrician to install the bathroom fan, you will likely pay between $50-$100 per hour. If it’s a simple replacement, then it will probably take an hour or less, but if you are installing a fancier fan, which requires additional wiring, then it may take 2-3 hours.
Furthermore, you may then need to hire a handyperson to do some patch-up repairs. Depending on who you hire, this may cost you $40-$85 per hour.
HVAC contractors typically charge between $75 and $150 per hour, but you will not have the additional cost of post-replacement repairs should they be necessary. As I mentioned previously, they are the best option if there are any additional ventilation problems that need to be addressed.
If you can get a “free estimate” from an electrician or HVAC contractor, great! Then you are able to get a second opinion from another reputable firm before making any commitments or signing any contracts.
With the DIY route, then you only need to pay for the fan unit and any items that you may need for patch-ups.
You can use the table to compare the minimum and maximum costs of bathroom fan replacement (including the cost of the fan itself) depending on who you hire or if you do it yourself.
|Licensed Electrician||They know what they’re doing and are licensed to work with wiring.||$100-$585|
|HVAC Contractor||Call them if the venting needs work.||$125-$650|
|Handyman||If you have a favorite, and it’s legal to use them, they can do all facets of this job.||$90-$455|
|Do-It-Yourself||If permitted by law, codes, your skills, and your skeptical partner, you can also do this job.||$50-$200|