Whole house fans have been used to cool indoor spaces for decades, but technological advancements have made them more efficient, stylish, and quieter than ever before. Whole house fans cool homes using a source of fresh, cool air from the outside, pulling the air through every level of the home and expelling hot air through the attic ventilation.
But what is the best whole house fan? QuietCool whole house fans and Centric Air, two well-established brands with great reputations for quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction, are the most popular according to Popular Mechanics. But which whole house fan is best for you actually depends on your home, what kind of results you're looking for in a whole house fan, and a few other factors.
With a wide variety of makes, models, sizes and added features available, this whole house fan buying guide will help you choose the best whole house fan for your home.
What to consider when buying a whole house fan
• The different types of whole house fans • How your home plays a role • The importance of attic ventilation • Your desired results
• Choosing the right contractor • Total cost of fan and installation
What is a whole house fan?
Whole house fans, often mistaken for "attic fans," are a 2-in-1 home cooling and ventilation systems. Though they are installed inside the attic, whole house fans are connected to your living space and powerful enough to cool and ventilate every level of the home. Attic fans are installed on top of the roof or inside an existing attic vents — not connected to your living space — and provide only enough airflow to ventilate the attic.
Whole house fans come in ducted and ductless models. Ductless whole house fans, often called "traditional" whole house fans, have been in use for decades. The fan body is installed between the joists inside your attic, with automatic shutter doors or a damper box installed in the ceiling above the living space.
Ductless whole house fans are:
More powerful than smaller ducted systems, providing maximum airflow
Great for larger homes and for those looking for more powerful cooling effects
Louder than their ducted counterparts
Ducted whole house fans are the product of technological advancements in the industry, making them more efficient and less noisy than traditional whole house fans. Rather than being installed between the attic joists, the fan head and motor are suspended from the rafters in the attic. A damper box is installed in the ceiling above your living space and connected to the fan head via an insulated duct.
Ducted whole house fans are:
Quieter and more efficient than traditional whole house fans
Better for smaller homes or homes with existing home cooling systems
More convenient, with variable speed and control settings
How your home plays a roll
One of the biggest factors in choosing the best whole house fan for your home is the size of your home in above ground square-footage. The size of your home, in most cases, will determine the size of fan (and amount of airflow) you'll need, especially if the whole house fan is the primary cooling system. If you already have an existing home cooling system, like an air conditioner or evaporative cooler, a smaller, less powerful whole house fan may be an option to increase the efficiency of your AC, but a larger fan can replace the need to run your AC altogether.
Whole house fan systems are designed to work in nearly any residential home, but there are times when installation doesn't make sense. One such case is when a home is "sealed" with a thermal barrier, meaning the home is completely insulated and does not have any attic ventilation. Because whole house fans draw fresh air from the outside and push it out of the attic, the thermal barrier would have to be broken for the fan to operate correctly. If your home has a thermal barrier, weigh the pros and cons of breaking the barrier before installing any kind of exhaust fan.
Other times, a whole house fan installation doesn't make sense simply because, it's not possible. A whole house fan may not be able to be installed if your home has:
A very tight attic space, or no attic space at all
High vaulted ceilings
Ductwork or other appliances inside the attic
Existing structural damage
Vertical adapters, smaller fans or even roof mounted whole house fans may be an option for homes with limited attic space, but these solutions can add to the total cost and may provide less-than-desired results. If your home has any unique features, or you don't know, it's best to get an on-site estimate from a professional installer.
Attic ventilation is more important than you may think
A whole house fan can only move as much air as it can exhaust, meaning the amount of available attic ventilation directly impacts the performance of a whole house fan system. Attics are ventilated in a number of ways, both passively and actively.
Passive attic ventilation includes:
Active attic ventilation includes:
Powered vents (also known as attic fans)
Solar powered fans
Passive vents allow hot air to escape your attic naturally while active vents and fans create airflow to forcibly push the air out of the attic, which also prevents moisture buildup and maintains cooler attic temperatures.
Sufficient attic ventilation is an important factor in any whole house fan installation because the fan relies on the vents to release the air it's moving through the home. QuietCool, the leading manufacturer of whole house fans, recommends a minimum of 1 square-foot of net free area venting for every 750 CFM provided by the whole house fan. If the whole house fan provides 4,700 CFM of airflow, for example, a minimum of 6.32 square-feet of attic ventilation is required to properly ventilate all the air the fan is pulling in. Whole house fans move a tremendous amount of air in order to efficiently cool and ventilate a home, but the fan will not be able to work properly without sufficient attic ventilation, resulting in lackluster performance and damage to the fan motor. Prospective installers should make sure you have enough attic ventilation to support the properly-sized fan for your home, or offer solutions if you need more.
Believe it or not, the amount of attic ventilation you have can actually change over time. Roof and insulation replacements often result in the removal or cover up of existing ventilation, limiting the amount of air able to escape from the attic. If you are planning on having your roof or insulation replaced, it's best to do so before installing a whole house fan. If the fan is already installed, ask the technician to meet or maintain the amount of ventilation your fan needs to operate efficiently.
Your desired results
What you hope to get out of your whole house fan system is another factor in selecting the best whole house fan for your home. Do you want to create as much airflow as possible to maximize cooling effects? Do you want to reduce your AC usage and energy costs? Maybe cooling a particular room or level of your home is your goal, or you want to lower your home's overall carbon footprint. There's a whole house fan for that. While most whole house fans offer many of the same home cooling and ventilation benefits, additional features and upgraded models may better serve your needs.
Large ducted whole house fans and traditional whole house fans are designed to create a tremendous amount of airflow for faster and more powerful home cooling effects. These fans are capable of cooling larger homes more quickly and efficiently than other home cooling systems like air conditioners or evaporative coolers, but more powerful motors means more noise when the fan is running. Traditional fans are often the loudest due to their powerful, belt-driven motors, and how the fans must be installed — fans installed between the joists of your attic can cause more noise from vibration. But for homeowners with larger properties, or those that don't mind a few decibels of noise when the fan is running, larger fans are the most economical way to maximize your home cooling system.
Other fans are designed with more home comfort in mind, with upgraded features for better noise-reduction, energy efficiency and variable speed options for more convenient home cooling. The QuietCool Stealth Pro, for example, is the most energy efficient whole house fan available, with models capable of cooling an entire home, a single level or a bedroom. Stealth Pro fans are powered by an ultra-efficient ECM motor for better noise reduction and come with an additional low-speed setting designed for overnight use and whisper quiet operation.
No matter what whole house fan you choose for you home, energy and cost savings abound. Unlike traditional AC, which can cost five-dollars or more per hour to run, whole house fans operate for pennies an hour and deliver a positive ROI faster than any other home cooling system available. Using a fraction of the energy AC units demand, whole house fans also help reduce your home's overall carbon footprint and bring your home closer to net zero.
Choosing the right contractor
Whole house fans can be installed by most HVAC and electrician companies, as well as handy-men and DIYers with more advanced electrical experience, but that doesn't mean you can rely on just anyone to install your whole house fan. The contractor you choose to install your fan can dictate how the entire process goes — for better or worse. The best installers are fully licensed and insured, and up-to-date on all local code requirements. These companies have a dedicated staff of project managers and technicians to complete the work.
Purchasing a whole house fan, or any other kind of home upgrade, is a big decision. The best whole house fan installers will walk you through the entire installation process and answer all your questions without using pushy sales tactics. They will be recognized by product manufacturers for their knowledge and expertise in the products they sell, and able to optimize your whole house fan system according to manufacturer and code requirements. Other companies are only interested in making a sale, offering bias suggestions without considering the unique aspects of their customers' homes, and even hire someone else to complete the installs for them. At worst, your whole house fan could be installed incorrectly which may void manufacturer warranties and lead to more costly repairs. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with a particular contractor, follow your instincts and find another installer.
Whole house fans can be installed in less than one day by a reputable contractor, though installations can be prolonged due to the age of the building, special building materials, weather, and other things the technician may encounter when after they get started.
Before work begins on the day of your install, the technicians should:
Review the scope of work with you to confirm the fan is sized correctly
Confirm attic ventilation is adequate or will be installed
Determine the location of the fan and control panel
The technician installs the whole house fan head, duct and motor inside your attic, with the blades pointed appropriately to optimize noise reduction and ventilation. If your installation includes attic ventilation, the attic fans and vents will be installed in or on your roof accordingly. Finally, a hole is cut in the ceiling of your living space to instal the damper box and intake grate, finished with a stylish trim.
Your installer will be able to tell you where they pulled power for the whole house fan and change any necessary breakers. On that note, make sure your installer has any electrical licenses required in your area. There are a variety of control panel available, depending on the manufacturer, from timers and switches to smart switches and remote controllers. No matter which you choose, your installers will either replace an existing switch panel, or install another panel in a convenient location on a wall near the intake grate.
Once the installation is completed and the jobsite cleaned, your technician should:
Test other switches and power sources to ensure there are no issues with the electrical work
Explain how to operate the fan, including controls, best practices, and troubleshooting
Test the fan to make sure it is operating efficiently
Maintenance and Repair
Whole house fans require little to no maintenance, depending on the age and model of the fan, and tout a very long lifespan. Keeping the intake grate clear of dust and debris, and removing any obstructions near the fan head and intake grate are the only maintenance needed. Older whole house fans may need a little more attention from a professional to tighten or replace pulleys, adjust fan blades, or service the motor. In the colder fall and winter months, winterizing your whole house fan with an insulated insert or custom damper door will prevent heat loss and noise on windy days.
Sometimes, small issues such as a detached ducts, bent fan blade or disconnected remote, arise causing an increase in noise or preventing your fan from running at all. If you notice anything wrong with your whole house fan, turn it off and contact your installer. While one of the most reliable appliances available on the market, operating a damaged or malfunctioning whole house fan can cause even more damage to the system.
Your bottom line
Whole house fans are an excellent cost-saving measure in a time of rising utility costs and home energy demand, but the upfront cost of having one installed can vary anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000+. The size of the fan, any additional attic fans or vents needed, accessories and the cost of labor are the bulk of the total price of your install. Other factors that impact the scope of labor can add to the total cost, including building materials, fan replacements and safety equipment.
When shopping for the best whole house fan for your home, make sure to gather quotes from 2-3 reputable installers to compare pricing before making your decision. Pay close attention to your quotes when comparing them, and ask each contractor about any additional fees or services charges you should be aware of. Whole house fans are among the most affordable home cooling systems available, with manufacturer rebates, incentives, and credits widely available.
The best rebates are often offered in the offseason (fall and winter), but many manufacturers have year-round offers. Some whole house fan systems also qualify for federal tax credits or additional rebates from local utility companies. When combined, rebates, credits and other incentives can offset the upfront cost of a whole house fan installation greatly, one of the reasons whole house fans have one of the fastest ROIs among other home energy upgrades.
There's a reason homeowners have been cooling their homes with whole house fans for decades — they are affordable, energy efficient, easy to install and, most of all, they work really well. Like any home appliance, shopping for a whole house fan shouldn't be a split-second decision. Taking the time to understand how different fans work, the characteristics of your home and existing ventilation, your desired results, and a reputable contractor will help you find the best whole house fan for your home.
Colorado Home Cooling & Daylighting is Colorado's top-rated home ventilation and daylighting providers, offering unmatched customer service, quality and craftsmanship since 2003.