I’ve been intrigued for some time by the concept of cooling a home with a whole house fan.
Now that I own a home with no air conditioning, I’ve installed a whole house fan of my own, and I must say I’ve become quite the fan of the product. Pun intended.
There are certain times a year that a whole house fan won’t do you much good, but if you live in a place where the days are warm and the overnight low temperatures drop into the 60s or below at some point in the year, which is true nearly everywhere in North America, your house may very well be a good candidate for a whole house fan, a money-saving, electricity-sparing wonder of an appliance.
Read on to learn how a whole house fan works, how much money a single fan can save you, how to install it yourself, and how to best use it to maximally cool your home for the lowest cost and smallest effort.
Why I Purchased a Whole House Fan
We recently bought a 1960s home with no air conditioning (A/C). In northern Michigan, it’s not as uncommon as you might think to have a house without A/C.
Furthermore, the home we purchased has no air ducts or ventilation system of any kind. The heat comes from baseboard units throughout the perimeter of the home, all of which are fed by a boiler. There’s no forced air furnace.
While adding central A/C would be quite costly and complicated given the fact that the basement ceiling is mostly finished and extensive ductwork would have to be installed, we do have other options for air conditioning.
We could put in a few window A/C units, focusing on the bedrooms for a couple hundred dollars apiece. For a few dollars more, we could go for the floor-standing portable models. Note that some of the links on this page are Amazon Associate links. Making a purchase after clicking on a link from this site could result in a commission, supporting our charitable mission.
If we wanted a more permanent A/C solution, we could drop a few thousand dollars for a multi-zone ductless air conditioning system, also known as the “mini split.” I’d probably have to factor in an installation charge, as the setup of such a system may be beyond my DIY capabilities.
As you may have guessed, I opted for none of these.
Instead, I purchased and installed a whole house fan, and we put it to the test during a serious early-June heat wave where the daytime highs reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the overnight lows dipped just below 70.
Thus far, I’ve been very impressed. I have no plans to add air conditioning to this home.
How a Whole House Fan Works
The original whole house fan design was a metal box that sat between your ceiling joists that separate your living space from your attic. The metal box contained a fan or two that were situated just above a hole cut in your celing, which was covered by a decorative grille.
The more recent designs, from companies like QA-Deluxe, QuietCool, and Centric Air, have a smaller sheet metal damper box that sits between the joists, a large circular duct of up to about 10 feet in length, and a large round fan that lives in the attic, suspended from the roof joists.
This upgraded design substantially reduces the noise transmitted into the house below, and allows for a single, more powerful fan to be used.
With either setup, the whole house fan’s job is to blow air from your living space into your attic. From there, the air exits your home through a properly ventilated attic via soffit vents, ridge vents, gable vents, and any other roof vents. You should have one square foot of ventilation space for every 500 to 1,000 CFM (cubic feet per minute) that your fan can handle.
Popular whole house fans can push 6,500 cubic feet of air out of your home every minute. A 3,000 square foot home with 9 foot ceilings has, when empty, 27,000 cubic feet. Since your stuff takes up space, all of the hot stale air in the home could be pushed out with such a fan in 4 minutes or less.
What takes all that air’s place? More air, thank goodness! Outside air, that is. Preferrably cooler outside air, which is why you typically only run the fan when the inside air is warmer than you’d like it to be, and the outside air is cooler.
When running, the fan pulls air through any opening to the outside, like any open windows and doors. You should always open a window or two before turning on your whole house fan.
Where and When to Use a Whole House Fan
Depending on where you live, a whole house fan will make sense to use at certain times a year. In northern climates, you’ll likely use it all summer long, and perhaps in the late spring and early fall.
If you live in an area where it doesn’t get cool enough at night in the summer to entice you to invite that cool outdoor air in, you might only use it in the spring and fall when the days are warm but the nights are reasonably cool. In the hottest climates, this may only be true in the winter.
Additionally, unlike A/C, a whole house fan can’t do anything about the humidity. When the outside air is thick and sticky, you’re not going to want to fire up your whole house fan.
I’ve used ours thus far in May and June in northern Michigan, and I envision using it every evening to provide acceptable summer comfort daily as long as the next day’s high temperature is forecasted to be in the 70s or above.
QuietCool, one of the popular modern whole house fan manufacturers, has this handy climate zone map of the United States on their site.
In Zone 1 (Hawaii and the tip of Florida), they claim a fan can be used year-round to save up to 75% on A/C related costs, with the exception of 4 to 6 weeks where it is simply too humid.
In Zones 2,3, and 5, they estimate cost savings on A/C to be 50% to 75%. They give Zone 4 a 60% to 75% savings range, and Zones 6 and 7 a 70% to 75% savings estimate on A/C.
Energy Savings with a Whole House Fan
Fans are simple motors with blades attached. They don’t cost much to operate.
The QC Guys estimate that a modern whole house fan in California at a rate of 16.7 cents per kWh (I pay 14.3 cents per kWh in MI) will cost 6.5 cents per hour on high and 1.8 cents per hour on low.
By comparison, a 40,000 BTU central air conditioning unit will cost 67 cents per hour to operate at that 16.7 cent per kWh rate. The traditional air conditioner costs more than 10 times what it costs to run a whole house fan on high and 37 times as costly as running the fan on the low setting.
The monthly cost of running the whole house fan 8 hours per day is in the range of $5 to $15 a month. You may not need to run it for that length of time, though. I opted for the upgraded remote control that allows the user to set an indoor temperature at which the fan stops blowing.
Compare an average of $10 a month for a whole house fan going 8 hours a day to running central air 8 hours a day, which would add over $150 to the electric bill of an average home. Quietcool’s estimate of 75% savings seems to be an underestimate to me. I’m getting something in the 90% and up range when you run a whole house fan as opposed to A/C.
Additional Benefits of a Whole House Fan
A Gentle Breeze
When you open a few windows and start up the fan, you can generate an impressive “cross breeze” in any room. Just as you feel cooler when sitting in front of a desk fan or beneath a ceiling fan, the airflow generated by your whole house fan will make a room feel cooler than it would at the same temperature in a room with still, stagnant air.
Men only want one thing and it’s to open both windows so we can get a cross-breeze going
— Christina Catherine Martinez (@xtina_catherine) May 3, 2021
With a whole house fan, we can get a magnificent cross-breeze going with only one window!
A whole house fan continually replaces the air inside your home with fresh, outside air, improving your indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency and American Lung Association estimate that the concentration of some pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher indoors as compared to the air outside.
It is important to always have a door or window open when operating a whole house fan. The air has to be pulled from somewhere, and if you have gas appliances with the potential to create carbon monoxide that is normally vented out, you could pull that dangerous air back in.
Whether or not you choose to use a whole house fan, you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. If you have a whole house fan, a functioning carbon monoxide detector is a must. I use a plug-in version with battery backup.
Cooling the Attic
An attic can get to be very hot — unbearably hot — especially when the sun beats down directly. Running the whole house fan for just a few minutes can expel the heat from the attic, fully replacing it with air from your living space and the outdoors.
Eliminating that heat sink towards the end of the day can help keep your house cool, especially if the insulation between your ceiling and attic is not what it should be.
Ooh, That Smell. Can’t You Smell That Smell?
Did you burn popcorn in the microwave again? Or leave that pizza in the oven way too long?
Does the Uncle Larry smell linger long after Uncle Larry has left the premises?
Did you help yourself to a second serving of refried beans?
Whatever it is that’s causing that smell, your whole house fan will clear it out in no time fast.
Your whole house fan uses much less electricity than air conditioning, making it a frugal option as we’ve already established. It also uses no coolants, obviously.
If you’re into green living, using a whole house fan is a great option to help lower your carbon footprint.
Warm up the Basement Quickly
When we installed our whole house fan late in the spring, our home’s finished basement was pretty darned cold — like 58 degrees cold, even though it was quite warm outside. Not wanting to turn on the heat in the basement since heat rises anyway, I just ran the whole house fan during the daytime with only one window open at the far end of the basement.
The warm outside air rushed through the basement, up the stairs, and into the attic, warming the basement up a good 10 degrees in a matter of minutes!
Help with Allergies?
The manufacturers of whole house fans like to tout the improvement of symptoms in allergy sufferers after installing a whole house fan. The fans are good at expelling dust, dander, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), smoke, and other allergens.
On the other hand, your whole house fan will bring outside air in. If that air is full of pollen, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.
You may be able to have the best of both worlds if you use a whole house fan to bring in fresh air while pairing it with either an indoor air purifier, Pollentec nano screens (which keep out 99.9% of pollutants), or both.
Downsides of a Whole House Fan
Unlike an air conditioner, using a whole house fan is not a set-it-and-forget-it operation. You must manually open windows before turning it on, closing them in the morning when the outside temperature meets or exceeds the indoor temperature you’ve achieved.
It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity. When the dew point hits the 70s, a whole house fan isn’t going to deliver air that’s any drier. You’d be better off using A/C.
Also, there is an initial cost to purchasing and installing the fan. A legacy ductless design might set you back $650 and modern, high-efficiency fans with ducts and wireless operation can cost $1,000 to $1,800. Add another $400 to $800 if you hire out the installation.
How Much Does a Whole House Fan Cost?
You can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a window model to about $2,000 for a top of the line attic-mount whole house fan. I did a fair amount of research before choosing the fan four our home. I settled on the QA-Deluxe 5500 Energy Efficient Whole House Fan with Insulated Damper plus 2-Speed Remote with Timer & Temp Control.
I’d consider the QA-Deluxe to be a mid-range fan, but it does have some nice features that the competition QuietCool whole house fans don’t have, at least according to the folks at QA-Deluxe.
QA-Deluxe 5500 & 6500
- Heavy Duty Spun Aluminum Fan Housing
- Heavy Duty Fan Guard For Rigidity and Safety
- R-5 Insulated Damper
- Motor Brackets With Rubber Bushings Reduces Noise & Vibration
- Support Brackets Keep Damper Off Drywall
- QA-Deluxe 5500 (3945 CFM) HVI-916
- QA-Deluxe 6500 (4478 CFM) HVI-916
- Light Weight Riveted Sheet Metal Fan Housing
- Light Duty Fan Guard
- Sheetmetal Damper
- Motor Mounting Brackets Do Not Include Rubber Bushings
- Damper Box Sits On Drywall, No Support Brackets
- Trident Pro 5.5X (3940 CFM) HVI-916
- Trident Pro 6.0X (4150 CFM) HVI-916
The Cadillac of whole house fans is the Centric Air fan. It’s got the highest quality components and a price tag to match. If we were planning on our current home being our forever home, I would have spent the extra $500 or so on a Centric Air model.
A third popular option are the line of fans from QuietCool. They are priced similarly to the QA-Deluxe fans, get similarly positive reviews, and may be a viable alternative. They also make a roof mount whole house fan that can bypass the attic. This might be the best option for a house with a flat roof or cathedral roof.
When shopping for a whole house fan, you’ll find that the cost rises right along with the fan’s CFM, a number that is usually part of the fan’s model number. For example, the QA-Deluxe 3300 model is capable of moving **surprise** 3300 cubic feet of air per minute.
You generally want 2 to 3 CFM per foot of living space.
If you have a smaller home, don’t want to bother dealing with the attic or cutting holes in your ceiling, you can opt for a window version. It won’t clear the heat from the attic, but it will expel your interior air out one window while pulling fresh air in through all the others.
Air King makes a 20″ window whole house fan that moves 3,560 CFM on its high setting, and it currently sells for under $200. Install 2 of these and you should be able to cool a large home nicely. It would not be inappropriate to say that the fan really blows.
Installing the Whole House Fan
Installing my QA-Deluxe fan was not particularly challenging. I was able to get the job done in about 4 or 5 hours as a solo DIY task.
If you do not have a power outlet in your attic, you will also need to install a regular 110v outlet if you’re up to the task or have an electrician add one for you. You’ll likely have numerous power cords running through the attic, so it should not be difficult to find a power source.
Centric Air put together a quality installation video that walks you through the steps.
Tools suggested are as follows:
- Drywall hand saw
- Drill bits
- Ratchet with 7/16 deep socket (a crescent wrench could also work)
- Tape Measure
- Quarter-inch hex nut driver bit
The first step is identifying a place for the opening in your ceiling. It’s best to use a hallway far from the bedrooms so that air is moved from the bedrooms through most of the house before exiting through the ceiling.
I’d also caution against locating the opening for the fan in a living room. Although the newer models aren’t as loud as the original style, they’re still noticeably audible, and, when on the high setting, could interfere with conversation, television, music, etc…
Once you’ve chosen a place to put it, drill a hole somewhere where you’d like the grill to be. This drywall (or in my case, plaster) will be cut out, so don’t worry about doing damage. The video shows making pilot holes from above, but I made one hole from below first, poked something long through the hole so I would see it in the attic, and then made my pilot holes from above.
Next, you draw the outline of the grille, cut your hole, pass up your fan, duct, and damper box. Head up to the attic with adequate lighting (a headlamp and/or work light will help) and your tools.
You attach the bracket to a roof truss in the attic with a supplied lag bolt plus screws and hang the fan from the bracket. Mine had a spring-snap carabiner pre-attached. Install the damper box brackets on the joists just over the drywall, set the damper box on them, and attach the duct to both the fan and the damper box with self-starting screws.
The last step is to wrap a strap underneath the ducting to support it and put a couple of screws with washers through the strap and into joists on either side.
Plug in the fan and it should automatically communicate with your remote control within a minute. I used adhesive velcro strips to secure mine to the wall next to a light switch by the fan opening.
I highly recommend getting the job done in the morning, and if you can time it right, doing so on a cloudy day. That sun can heat your attic up in a hurry.
Whole House Fan Tips
Open Windows Strategically
In the evening, open windows only in rooms you want to start cooling first. For example, our kids go to bed before we do, so before turning on the fan, I open their bedroom windows exclusively.
After they’ve gone to bed, we open our bedroom windows and perhaps living room and kitchen windows.
If you open a large window or door close to the fan, you won’t be pulling nearly as much air from the far reaches of the house, so save any windows or doors near your fan and its ceiling opening last if you choose to open them at all, which you probably won’t need to do.
Close Up in the Morning
If you’ve been pulling in cool air throughout the evening, you clearly want to trap that air in when it starts to warm up outside. If you forget to close up before heading out for the day, you’ll undo all the good you did overnight.
I’ve found that our home will heat up at a rate of 0.5 to 1 degree per hour, depending on the temperature differential and how much sun we’re getting. I wish we had a good shade tree, but at least we have a good amount of thermal mass with plaster rather than drywall throughout the home.
Still, even when we had daytime temperatures in the 90s, the warmest the house got was 80 degrees, and that was in the early evening when the outside temperature was starting to drop into the low 80s. We just opened up the house and fired up the fan at that point for the airflow cooling effect, and by nighttime, the house was reasonably cool again.
Use as an Exhaust Fan
If your kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans are inadequate or non-existent, and it’s not crazy hot outside, you can turn your whole house fan on for the time that you’re cooking or showering to evacuate all that moisture, smells, or smoke.
A downside is that it’s going to work much better for the bathroom if the door is open, so be sure to close that shower curtain if you value your privacy.
The whole house fan will make quick work of any foul kitchen air, and you may want to consider proximity to the kitchen when choosing a place for your fan.
Let the Fan Pay For Itself
This isn’t so much a tip as it is a reality. If you can use the fan for 3 to 6 months of the year, saving $100 to $200 a month on air conditioning, you’ll save $2,000 in anywhere from about 2 to 5 years. That’s more than enough to buy a high-end Centric Air whole house fan or a QA-Deluxe fan and pay someone else to do the installation.
After it’s paid for itself, the energy savings will continue to pile up for years to come.
Have you used a whole house fan? Share your experiences in the comment box below!
28 thoughts on “Whole House Fan Cost: Is the Energy Savings Worth It?”
We inherited a tiny 70 year old lakefront cabin in Canada. It’s in excellent shape built on solid Canadian Shield. We’re planning on keeping it as a guest cabin. But we’re planning on also building a bigger new cabin with all the modern conveniences. I had been reading about the whole house fans and our architect has told us, it’s just what we need. We’re planning on building a two story house and the architect also suggested putting in an attic fan too as well as the whole house fan, to help get the heat out quicker. But it sounds like you’re doing fine without the attic fan. We are planning to build a large two story in a very sunny location with huge west facing windows. Is your house two story? And do you have west facing windows?
I would think that as long as the attic is well-vented, the whole house fan would have no trouble pushing the air out. With vented soffit and ridge vents, I would think there would be plenty of square footage to accommodate the airflow.
The house we’re living in, where I installed this, is one story with a full basement. We do have a fair number of windows facing WSW, and we pull shades in the afternoon to keep the hot afternoon sun from beating down on us.
I hope that helps!
Thank you for the article. It (and the heat) got me to get off the fence and get one on order. I’m in southern california, and we routinely open up windows at night and run a couple box fans blowing air out a window to bring in more elsewhere, but they move the air slowly.
You’ll be impressed with what these things are capable of! The best “cross-breeeze” you’ve ever experienced.
I installed it about 2 weeks ago, starting out in the morning but not finishing until it was oppressively hot in the attic. I went with the QuietCool ES-7000, as my house is fairly large and wanted a big unit. Most of it I could do myself, but had my son help me wrestle the fan and duct into place in the attic. I attached mine to a smart plug for Alexa-based control (single speed on/off only).
It exchanges the air in the house pretty quickly, cooling it down fast. The biggest challenge is training the whole family to always have sufficient windows open before turning it on.
Our family (4 houses in PA) has always used the ventilate at night then close up for the day protocol, to varying degrees (no pun intended), but…), so I’m sold on the idea. My house has no attic, so we just use the open the windows on opposite sides of the house version. No question, it saves a lot of AC effort. However, when I saw how much was being invested in a fan system, I have say that my 16kBTU, single-head mini-split heat pump doesn’t look so bad at a good bit less than twice the price (installed). When it’s beastly hot, it easily cools the 800 sq ft main space (kitchen, dining, living), but the ace in the hole is that during the parts of the heating season when it’s above 30 F or so outside, it’s my heat source–cheaper than natural gas. As the outside temperature drops it becomes less efficient, so I use natural gas when it’s below 30F. Unless you’re using coal or wood, it’s hard to beat (cost-wise) an efficient heat pump and natural gas for heat. Convenience-wise, it’s no contest!
I’m curious about the photo showing the indoor and outdoor temps — how did the house get to 69° when it was 77° outside around 3:30pm when it was most likely > 77° earlier?
Love our whole house fan – highly recommend purchasing a cover for the winter/non-use months. Our bedroom was always much colder in winter compared to downstairs. We noticed a considerable difference when we finally installed the cover. Search it on amazon and follow comments – purchase higher quality velcro!
Does the range hood do the same thing? Why not just run that instead?
There are some reports of mold issues with whole house fans, and validity to this? Is there anything to do at time of install to avoid this or is it associated with any particular climate?
Mold thrives on humid, stagnant air. I would think the whole house fan would be great at reducing mold.
Sounds like it may work for your climate, but for many of us, the humidity makes it a no-go.
Like most things in life, the devil is in the details. There are a number of building science experts out there who find the benefits debatable depending on how well you have sealed your attic.
Here is a quick article with some good comments going back and forth.
If you’ve got high humidity year round, you’ll want to dehumidify your indoor air. That can be done with an air conditioner or dehumidifier.
I read the linked article, and what she’s saying about attic fans makes sense. If your attic is not well-ventilated, an attic fan may pull some air from the house when the ceiling’s not well-sealed.
She’s obviously not talking about whole house fans, the subject of my article, where the purpose of the fan is to pull air through the house through a very large intentionally created “leak” between the house and the attic via a hole that is several square feet in area.
Question, I have central AC already but my attic gets really hot and Im sure it makes my AC work harder. Is there a way to just use it as an exhaust fan in the attic and not allow it to communicate with the living area directly since we run AC for he living area? Is there still a benefit to this?
There are attic fans designed to do precisely that.
Thanks so much for writing this article. I live in Phoenix and have been cooling and warming our house by opening windows/doors and using regular floor fans.
Installing a central fan will make the task much easier and effective! I can’t believe this is the first time I hear about these. Super excited, thanks again!
You’re very welcome, although I know it won’t do much for you when the overnight low is 91 in the peak summer heat, as it was the other day. But it should work well, especially in a dry climate, when the temps drop into the 60s and 70s (or below).
Whoa, I had no idea whole house fans was a thing. Coming to the United States, I was shocked at how common it is for people to have A/C in their homes that regulates the temperature throughout the entire house.
With a whole house fan, now I feel more in-line from where I came from, haha. Maybe I should look into this as a viable option.
I love the way the poor old attic fan of my youth has been transmogrified into the “whole house fan” of today! Its kind of amusing the way things move in and out of favor. My dad was so happy when he was able to replace that attic fan with a central heat and air unit. He was also happy when he had the genuine hardwood floors covered with carpet. And today my house has a concrete floor in our family/great room, that would have been considered almost like a dirt floor back then, terribly primitive. But those things were popular once for a reason and there is no doubt an attic fan has some great properties. However stuck here in the deep South with another 109 degree heat index forecast for today, I’ll have to stick to my two central heat and air systems and my one mini-split air and heat pump. They’ll all be running today for sure. Michigan sounds like a wonderful place to spend the summer and there is nothing like a fresh breeze in the evening for some good sleeping!
No kidding — we were delighted to peel back the carpet in this house to find over 1,000 square feet of beautiful natural red oak flooring that’s been hidden now for decades.
The concrete floor sounds like it could be cool on the feet — a must with a 109 degree heat index!
I woke up to 61 degrees in our house this morning. With a forecasted high of 70, I may have overdone the overnight cooling, even though the fan was only on low throughout the night.
I’ll also add that attic fans still exist and are very different from whole house fans. They’re designed to circulate air through your attic. In some vents and out another.
They don’t do anything for the air in your living space, though. That’s a big, big difference. Now, some people may refer to whole house fans as attic fans, because the fan that pulls air into your whole house resides in the attic, but true attic fans are a separate category that is designed to do a different thing.
Have had whole house fans for years in NCAL. Would never dream of DIY. Nice article, would add one observation. In my former house there was a tiny insect that would get pulled in somehow for a month or two. It was never enough of a bother to figure it out but it might have been small enough to get through our screens. That was the only problem, the fans are definitely worth while, we use ours even though we have solar panels and basically free electricity for the A.C. as my wife prefers the whole house fan fresh air at night.
I can see where northern California would be a great place to use a whole house fan, especially if you’ve got some elevation, but even at sea level, you get some cool nights with that Pacific air.
I found out early on when I left a bathroom light on overnight that there had been a hatch of some harmless flying bug that could get through our screens, too. Those Pollentec screens would keep them out, but I shudder at the cost of replacing all the screens. I just bought four custom screens and shipping alone cost $150 (exceeding the cost of the screens). One can always DIY and make their own screens, too, but I chose to spend the money on that one.
Enjoy the fresh air!