Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer. Long afternoons sitting in a lounge chair, sipping a tall glass of iced lemonade as you enjoy the latest novel, a gentle breeze caressing your face…is there anything like it?
No, there most certainly is not.
Because while you may be fantasizing about the perfect summer day, it’s time for a reality check. More often than not, summer temperatures tend towards sweltering and unless we are of the blessed few who has a pool (or better yet, has a close friend or family member with a pool), we generally spend a significant portion of our summer holed up inside enjoying the air conditioning because it is so beastly hot outside. And while running the air conditioning may be a great way to beat the heat, one fine day the mailman is going to bring that dreaded electric bill, and you may find yourself totally losing your cool when you discover how much it costs to keep your home at a pleasant temperature.
Fear not. I am not going to suggest you set your thermostat at a balmy 80 degrees, avoid turning on your oven and keep a fan blowing on a bowl of ice cubes to save money and stay cool. But I am going to clue you in to possibly the best home improvement we have ever made in our humble abode: installing a whole house fan.
Not to be confused with an attic fan, which does nothing, more than pull hot air out of your attic, a whole house fan can be a gift from heaven if you know how to use it and when. Generally installed in the attic, a whole house fan is an exhaust system that pulls the hot air out of the house, drawing it into the attic and completely out of your house by way of an attic vent, while at the same time bringing the outside air into the house through open windows. It is the perfect solution for beating the heat when the days are hot but the mornings and nights are cool and pleasant. It will cool off an entire house quickly, and considerably more economically than an air conditioner by replacing the air in your house with the cooler outsider air. If your house is well insulated, keep your windows closed during the heat of the day and run your whole house fan in the cooler hours of morning, late evening and nighttime, giving you the ability to beat the heat for just a fraction of the price of running your air conditioner.
There are a few things to remember about a whole house fan. For starters, if it is humid out, running your whole house fan is a very bad idea. After all, do you really want to fill your house with uncomfortably moist, humid air? Also, make sure you have screens on any windows that are open while the fan is running or every bug in a two block radius is likely to get sucked into your house by the fan’s powerful motor. Closing windows in unused rooms will give you even better airflow in rooms that you really want to cool, but most importantly, make sure that you never, ever, turn on a whole house fan with all of your windows closed or the backdraft created by the fan can blow out any pilot lights you might have in your house (think gas hot water heater, dryer or oven), creating potentially dangerous carbon monoxide situations.
The most common place to mount a whole house fan is in a hallway ceiling. Ceiling mounted whole house fans fall into two different categories: those with direct drive motors, where the fan blades are attached directly to the shaft of the fan motor, and those with belt driven motors which are larger diameter fans with four or more blades. Because direct drive motors operate at higher speeds than their belt driven counterparts, they tend to be noisier and while the noise level is one of the negatives associated with whole house fans, in recent years, and with proper installation, fans have become considerably quieter and, thankfully, no longer sound like a jetliner taking off in the middle of your hallway. Ducted whole house fans, which are mounted in the attic, away from the actual living space of the house, are the new kids on the block and operate at much lower noise levels that ceiling mounted fans. With flexible ductwork running from the attic to individual rooms, ducted whole house fans vent the air directly out of the house instead of through attic vents and tend to be more expensive than ceiling mounted units.
If you are feeling thrifty and are particularly handy, you might want to contemplate installing a whole house fan on your own. No matter who is doing the installation, be sure that your fan is well insulated so that you don’t have attic air (hot in the summer and cold in the winter, obviously) seeping into your house and consider installing a removable cover over the fan during the off season. While putting in your fan, you might want to think about using a timer in place of an on/off switch, which gives you the ability to cool off your house without having to turn it off – a great idea if you want to use your fan either at bedtime or before Shabbos.
Whole house fans are sized in CFMs (Cubic Feet of air per Minute). To determine the right size fan for your house, either check with the retailer, your installer or consider using this formula: multiply square footage of your house by the height of your ceilings (typically eight feet) and multiply that number by 0.5. Make sure to have adequate ventilation in your attic for the air to be discharged to the outside, allowing one square foot of screen-free vent area per 750 CFM of fan airflow. Expect to pay anywhere from $200 on up for a whole house fan, but even allowing for the cost of professional installation, given that the cost of operating a whole house fan is approximately one tenth that of running the air conditioning, buying one is a move that will pay back big dividends for many years to come.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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