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Bathroom Design with Ventilation in Mind

By Lisa Loushin, CKD

In the kitchen, Americans have accepted giant vent hoods as a design element and, in some cases, a focal point. However, in bathrooms, we do our best to make ventilation equipment less conspicuous.

Homeowners and occupants seem to have a love/hate relationship with ventilation systems. They love them because they understand the benefits vents offer: They remove unwanted odors and pull moisture from the room to prevent mold and mildew growth. Mold and mildew are unsightly, do damage to homes and are hazardous to our health. Yet homeowners don’t like seeing ventilation fans because they have grown up with unattractive and loud fans hanging over their heads.

Although designers love an aesthetically pleasing bathroom, our job is to make sure the bathroom functions properly and doesn’t have a negative impact on health. Properly designed ventilation systems are key to meeting these goals, and today’s various product options ensure design is not sacrificed in the process.

Design Guidelines
Technical guidelines established by the Home Ventilating Institute, Wauconda, Ill., ensure ventilation systems pull the proper amount of moisture out of the room. For a typical 5- by 8-foot bathroom, one 40 CFM fan is required. If a bathroom is 100 square feet or larger, follow the guideline of 50 CFM for toilet, 50 CFM for shower, 50 CFM for bath and 100 CFM for jetted tub.

With that in mind, if a bathroom is larger than 100 square feet and it has a separate shower with a non-jetted tub and a toilet, you need a 150 CFM vent fan. In this situation, you could have one vent fan with the power of 150 CFM or a 50 CFM fan in the shower, one 50 CFM fan above the toilet and one 50 CFM fan above the tub.

Most homeowners don’t use their ventilation units because they are too loud. When considering ventilation options, look for the sone value. A sone is a measurement of sound in terms of comfortable hearing level for an average listener. Sones are not decibels or volume; they reflect how sound is sensed. One sone is half as loud as two sones and is equivalent to a quiet refrigerator. The lower the sone value, the more comfortable the environment. In some situations, you may consider a unit with a higher sone value to drown out noise, especially when a bathroom is located in close proximity to the entertaining areas in the home.

Vent Options
Once you determine what the bathroom needs for proper ventilation, you can decide which system is the best option. There are a number of ventilation options to consider, including the following:

  • Vent-only unit
  • Traditional vent/light combo unit
  • Vent/light/heat lamp combo unit
  • Humidity-sensing unit
  • Motion-detecting unit
  • Decorative vent/light combo unit

For example, for a teenager’s 5- by 8-foot bathroom, a motion-detecting and humidity-sensing vent fan would be the best option. Teens don’t always remember to turn the fan on and when they do, it’s never on long enough to properly pull moisture and odor out of the room. They also may not remember to turn it off, which isn’t very energy efficient, so an automatic system is the best fit. Those clients who spray perfume and hairspray into the air also may benefit from motion-detecting systems.

In a larger bathroom, you could specify a combination of ventilation units. Today’s product options don’t require a ceiling to look like ventilation heaven. You may consider a humidity-sensing fan/light combination in the shower, a motion-sensing unit (with or without light) above the toilet and a decorative light fixture/vent fan combo above the bathtub. Several manufacturers offer vent fans in semi-flush and flush-mount decorative fixtures and in recessed light fixtures. They are designed in traditional and contemporary options.

Ventilation is one of the most important drivers of health and hygiene in a bathroom. Using good-quality bathroom-ventilation fans ensures a bathroom is free from odors, mold and mildew. With today’s varied product options, design doesn’t have to be sacrificed to ensure your clients’ bathrooms are properly ventilated.

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