What to look for in a "Whole-House" Fan

I'm considering having a whole house fan installed (professionally), but I'm not quite up on the technology or the lingo. I'd to have some idea of what I'm talking about before I look for a contractor, etc.
What I've seen on the web is somewhat confusing in that the term "whole house fan" is sometimes used interchangably with "attic fan", but that sounds like a misuse of the term.
I want a device that can exchange the air in the house in a short period of time by exhausting the house air to the outside while fresh air comes in through open windows, etc. I'm hoping to reap the benefits during the summer months when the days are warm, but the nights are cooler and be less dependent on air-conditioning (North NJ).
I would like the unit to be quiet enough so it can be operated at night without disturbing peoples' sleep or during the day without the need to speak loudly to be heard.
I'd also like something that doesn't require much (any?) maintenance, though I could live with occasional belt replacement if the unit has one.
I understand that there would be some construction (framing) involved at one of the gable ends of the house (a Cape Cod). I assume I'd also have to have some attic work done to provide a passage for the air to travel.
In any event, any experiences, advice and/or recommendations would be appreciated.
Thanks much!
--
Regards,
blubluh
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You are going to get a bunch of messages from people that will discourage you from getting one. I posted a message about this about 8 months ago. Doesn't work, costly electric, loud, etc.
These fans are awesome. Yes it is called a whole house fan, not an attic fan. I was going to get one on the net from some company that said they make the quietest fan with a 10 year warranty, but one day I was walking through Loews in the winter and a 190 or 200 dollar fan was being clearance for 75 bucks. On days when the temp is like 75 to 85 they work great pulling in the cooler air. I live in central NJ. Go with a belt drive. I was going to send me your email but you are blocking it. I place mine on a timer. I have a traditional center hall colonial. The ceiling where the stairs are go up to the second floor so the hall way where the bedrooms and the stairway for a T. The fan is right above the first or second stair. So the fan is kind of around the corner from the bedrooms. Our fan has a high and low setting. Most days the fan is on low, sometimes high during the hottest part of the day, night on low. If it looks like it is going to be real cool during the night you set the timer so it will go off sooner. Not sure what you are talking about the work that has to be done but remember that this gets install between the living space and the attic. Also, not sure how much space you have between the living area and the roof but a rule of thumb is the distance from the top of the fan to anything should be more than the width of the fan. We really can't hear ours in the living areas but you can surely hear it when going up the stairs. At night it is kind of a white noise in the distance. I did it myself. It was a bit harder for me because it was two stories to the fan because it was over the stairs. Other than that it wasn't too bad. Framing and electric.
I'll try to check back let me know if you have any questions.

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Thanks for describing your experiences. It's very helpful.
While cost is always a factor, I have folks who visit and use the bedrooms where the fan will probably be installed and they're sensitive to noise. So, if I can find something that works well and also keeps the noise to a minimum (whatever that is), I'd be willing to pay more for it.
I found the products by Tamarack on the internet and asked a builder friend of mine who's attending the show in Baltimore today to see if he could get some info on their products. From what I've read, they keep the noise down and can do a good job. They cost between $500-$700 (not including installation, etc.), so I have to think about that.
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I have installed whole house fans in the two houses I have owned, and (as you might expect) I think they're great.
Fan placement: I have always put the fan in the upstairs ceiling, so that it was sucking air out of the house and blowing it into the attic. This has the advantage of ventilating both the house and attic. In a cape cod, you might not have enough attic space for that, I don't know. You need a certain amount of clearance above the fan so the flow is not restricted. Alternatively you could mount the fan in a gable so it blows directly outside, and just put the louvered vent in the ceiling. That would likely be quieter, but has some disadvantages -- any other vents in the attic will reduce the amount of air sucked out of the house. Also, the fan is more exposed to the elements. If clearance above the fan is a problem there may be some other clever solutions.
Venting: If you have the in-the-ceiling placement, the attic then has to have enough total square footage of venting (eave vents, gable end vents, ridge vents, mushroom vents, etc.) to accommodate the flow. Screening over the vents reduces the effective square footage so make sure the total is enough. (The fan should come with instructions about that). Your installer may need to add venting to the attic.
Size: Take a look at them in a home center, they have guidelines for size of house versus size of fan. Generally a 30 or 36 inch is what you want. The larger ones are usually belt driven, I believe it's a little easier on the motor.
Noise: If possible put the fan in the ceiling in the hall, above a stairway, or some such place so it's a little out of the way. They do make some noise. Personally I never found it to be a problem. Some people find the noise soothing for sleeping. A disadvantage of having it over the stairway is that the installer has to use a big ladder. Also, it is difficult to reach the louvers for cleaning.
Maintenance: They are pretty much maintenance-free. I think once I had to tighten the belt to stop squeaking. Once I had to replace the switch after it burned out.
Other things: Talk with your installer about how the fan will be covered or insulated in the winter. It should be mounted in such a way that you can through something over it easily in winter.
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I love mine. It does an incredible job of cooling off the house.
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blubluh wrote:

I live in a "raised ranch" in Sussex County NJ. It has a "triangular" space between the living quarters ceiling and the roof which has vents at each end. It also has a "hatch" to access the space by using a step ladder.
I bought a "whole house" fan and used some 3/4 inch lumber to build a frame which would span the hatchway. In the spring I open the hatch and drag the fan over the space; in the fall I push it to one side and put back the hatch cover.
My wife hates air conditioning, so we don't have it.
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I rigged up a simple AC wall thermostat to control the fan using a generic furnace fan relay box. It shuts off around 2 am when it cools down outside and inside. Be sure to screen the opening to keep the bats out while the fan is off, as they love the looks of louvers.
--
Rick

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The terminology I've always heard is that a fan in the gable, at the peak, is a gable-end fan or an attic fan, a monster fan on the roof is a roof fan, and a large fan in the ceiling to the attic is a whole-house fan. The point being that you need decent airflow to the living space to actually ventilate the house, and attic or roof fans generally don't have that.

Our whole house fan does that, and like others have said, it works great. Two exceptions: we've always air conditioned the office, because of the computers (we were up to four systems at one time). And this summer, for the first time in fifteen years in the house, the humidity was so bad that we broke down and got an air conditioner for the bedroom (actually, we moved the old one to the bedroom and put the new one in the office). But this has truly been an exceptional summer (paperback books left out would curl up over night), which combined with my chronic allergies, made it necessary.

I agree with the comment about white noise, though frankly, since we're in northern Massachusetts, we usually don't find a need to run it at night. Instead, we'll just run a much quieter window fan in the bedroom.

Ours has gone for fifteen years with no trouble, and probably a year or two more for the previous owners. I don't recall ever having to change the belt. As I indicated, we don't need to run it all the time. Also, some models may require oil (easily done with a small can of oil from a hardware store).

And here's the catch. As indicated, don't get the gable version. I don't think they're even made in a model that's strong enough, nor do they have enough surface area. Ours is about two or two and a half feet square (four to six square feet), and is much larger than anything I've ever seen in a gable end fan.
Our house is a cape with full rear dormer, which gives us two stories but still leaves plenty of clearance above the fan. A traditionial cape (they're rarely called Cape Cods in Massachusetts, I suppose not to be confused with a vacation home really on the cape) will have a tall attic and again, no problem with clearance above the fan.

One more thing that I haven't seen mentioned: Go to an electrical supply house (not a hardware store or Home Depot) and try to find a thermal cutout switch. This is something that will turn off the fan in the event of high temperatures, specifically fires. If a fire occurs, a whole house fan will fan the fire, making it grow rapidly. Hence the need for something to turn it off, and even then, that's not enough if the fire is far from the fan. For that reason, we don't have a thermostat, and we never run the fan if we're out for an extended period.
Good luck,
Gary
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blubluh wrote:

First a note about terminology. When I was a boy in the 1940s we lived for a couple of years in a house with an attic fan. And that was what is now called a whole house fan. I don't know when the terminology changed, but I still think of my whole house fan as an attic fan and always have to stop and translate.
Next point. I expect it is more expensive, but on a recent "Home Time" I saw them putting in a whole house fan with automatic insulating shutters on top of the fan. The shutters were heavily insulated and opened and closed electrically when the fan was turned on and off. I expect they really need well insulated fans, they are in either Minnesota or Wisconsin, and it gets cold up there. The fan didn't look much like the traditional whole house fan, it had 2 direct drive fans that looked quite a bit smaller than the one I have. Of course the one I have is 40 years old.
As far as maintenance is concerned, in the past 5 years I have had to replace the belt and the motor. Probably the first time for the motor.
Bill Gill
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That's the Tamarack whole house fan product line and it is intriguing, though pricier than the type usually sold in home center-type stores.
I like the closing doors which provide insulation when the unit is off.
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blubluh wrote:

Insulation, or lack of insulation, is the biggest problem with whole house fans. I assume that newer one have better insulation than mine, but I don't expect it is very much even then.
I have lived in this house for 5 years and that big leak in the hall ceiling has bothered me all this time. Late this summer I finally built a shutter to slide over it when I'm not using it. It is a panel with 1 inch of foam insulation in it that I can slide over the fan during hot or cold weather. I figure it will be worth a few dollars a year during the heating and cooling seasons.
Bill Gill
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