Bathroom and Kitchen Exhaust Fans

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Description

Exhaust fans are typically installed in bathroom ceilings and in kitchen range hoods, or sometimes kitchen ceilings or walls, to provide spot ventilation. Generous holes are often cut in the ceiling drywall for installation of bath exhaust fans and kitchen exhaust fan ducts, leaving gaps where the fan box or duct is installed. While these gaps may be covered by decorative trim in the case of the exhaust fan box or be hidden in cabinets in the case of range hood exhaust fan ducts, those coverings will not stop air leaks. When the drywall is not sealed to the edges of the exhaust fan box or ducting, a considerable amount of conditioned air can leak through these gaps and into unconditioned attic space. The boxes themselves can also be leaky. Pressure and temperature differences between conditioned and unconditioned spaces encourage this air flow. These air leaks represent energy losses; they could also potentially allow warm, moisture-laden air into unconditioned attics where it can condense on cold surfaces, creating moisture problems. Air barriers need to be continuous to be effective; this means sealing all penetrations in exterior walls, ceilings, and floors adjoining unconditioned spaces.

Be sure to schedule sealing around exhaust fans and ducts after fans and drywall have been installed. Responsibility for sealing air leaks around exhaust fans and ducts should be included in the contract for the appropriate trade, depending on the workflow at a specific job site.

The gap around this kitchen exhaust duct represents a significant source of air leakage to the unconditioned attic

Figure 1 - The gap around this kitchen exhaust duct represents a significant source of air leakage to the unconditioned attic Reference

How to Air Seal Holes around the Kitchen Exhaust Duct

  1. Cut openings for the duct that are no bigger than needed to fit the exhaust duct through the ceiling or top of the kitchen cabinet. Make clean, even cuts.
  2. After the exhaust duct is installed, air seal with caulk between the duct and drywall from the room side. If gaps are larger than a ¼ inch, use canned spray foam that is carefully applied. Do not use pieces of fibrous insulation; this insulation does not air seal. If gaps are larger than one inch, they can be sealed from the attic side with air-blocking material such as rigid foam that is cut to fit and sealed in place with caulk or spray foam. 
  3. Use caulk or pre-made exterior wall gaskets to air seal the exterior fan duct vent to the exterior wall. Ensure that exterior gaskets are properly integrated with the housewrap.

Caulk or foam seal between the exhaust fan housing and the ceiling gypsum; install a gasket or caulk around the exterior exhaust duct ventFigure 2 - How to air seal around the kitchen exhaust. Reference

How to Air Seal the Bathroom Fan Housing

  1. Cut openings in the ceiling that are no bigger than needed to fit the fan box. Make clean, even cuts in the drywall.
  2. After the fan is installed, air seal with caulk between the fan housing and drywall from the room side before installing trim. 
  3. If gaps are larger than a ¼ inch, use canned spray foam carefully applied so that trim will fit over it.
  4. If gaps are larger than a half inch, they can be sealed from the attic side with air blocking material such as rigid foam that is cut to fit and sealed in place with caulk or spray foam.  Do not use pieces of fibrous insulation; this does not air seal. 
  5. Seal holes in the fan housing with caulk or metal tape.
  6. Use caulk or premade exterior wall gaskets to air seal the exterior fan duct vent to the exterior wall. Ensure that exterior gaskets are properly integrated with housewrap.

How to Create an Insulation Shield for the Exhaust Fan

The bathroom exhaust fan box may have air leaks and holes in the casing. You may want to cover the fan to stop air leaks and to allow you to install insulation over it.

The exhaust fan housing may have holes that allow conditioned air to leak into the attic

Figure 3 - uninsulated bath exhaust fan. Reference

  1. Create a 5-sided box from a solid air barrier material such as rigid foam, gypsum board, or plywood. Tape the seams of the box with housewrap tape (not duct tape) or seal with mastic. Cut an access in the box for the exhaust duct.
  2. Seal the box to the ceiling gypsum board and seal around the exhaust duct with caulk or canned spray foam.

    Build an air-tight rigid box to cover the exhaust fanFigure 4 - Bath exhaust fan with rigid foam box. Reference

  3. Cover the box with attic insulation.

    Cover the box with insulationFigure 5 - Fully insulated bath exhaust fan. Reference

Ensuring Success

Holes cut in the ceiling or wall for bathroom exhaust fan boxes and kitchen exhaust fan ducts should be visually checked to ensure that the opening around the fan box or exhaust duct is sealed with caulk or canned spray foam. An experienced technician can also check for air leaks with a smoke pencil or by feeling with the back of the hand. Air barrier effectiveness is measured at the whole-house level. Blower door testing, which is conducted as part of the whole-house energy performance test, may help indicate whether holes for exhaust fans in exterior walls or ceilings have been successfully sealed.

Scope

Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans

Air Sealing

 

Bathroom and Kitchen Exhaust Fans

  1. Using a saw or drill, cleanly cut all penetrating holes no more than 1 inch larger in diameter than the penetrating object to allow for proper air sealing.
  2. Seal all gaps and holes to unconditioned space with caulk or foam. Fibrous insulation is not an air barrier and cannot be used for sealing gaps.

Training

Right and Wrong Images

Presentations

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Videos

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CAD Images

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Compliance

ENERGY STAR Version 3, (Rev. 07)

Thermal Enclosure Checklist, Air Sealing. Penetrations to unconditioned space fully sealed with solid blocking or flashing as needed and gaps sealed with caulk or foam.

DOE Challenge Home

Exhibit 1: Mandatory Requirements. Certified under ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Version 3.

2009 IECC

Table 402.4.2 Air Barrier and insulation Inspection Component Criteria, Shafts, penetrations: Duct shafts, utility penetrations, and flue shafts opening to exterior or unconditioned spare are air sealed.*

2012 IECC

Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Shafts/penetrations: Duct shafts, utility penetrations, and flue shafts opening to exterior or unconditioned space are air sealed.

*Due to copyright restrictions, exact code text is not provided.  For specific code text, refer to the applicable code.

More Info.

Case Studies

None Available

References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): Baechler, Gilbride, Hefty, Cole, Love
    Organization(s): PNNL, ORNL
    Publication Date: February 2011

    Guide describing measures that builders in the cold and very cold climates can take to build homes that have whole-house energy savings of 40% over the Building America benchmark with no added overall costs for consumers.

  2. Author(s): DOE
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard requirements for DOE's Challenge Home national program certification.

  3. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard document containing the rater checklists and national program requirements for ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3 (Rev. 7).

  4. Author(s): Lstiburek
    Organization(s): BSC
    Publication Date: January 2010

    Fact sheet providing detailed information about air sealing attics.

  5. Author(s): Southface Energy Institute, ORNL
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: November 1999

    Brochure with information for homeowners about the benefits of air sealing.

  6. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October 2011

    Guide describing details that serve as a visual reference for each of the line items in the Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist.

Last Updated: 08/15/2013

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