Normal bathroom fan usage?
September 10, 2017 9:11 AM   Subscribe

My new downstairs neighbors run their bathroom fan for a total of two or three hours every day. We hardly run ours at all (maybe 20 minutes per day max, just while showering). What is normal bathroom fan usage?

The bathroom fans in our building are pretty loud, and our floor (their ceiling) transmits the vibration pretty well. I've asked them to avoid running the fan at night (it keeps us awake), and they've mostly obliged. But their fan running is a constant low-grade annoyance during the day.

I don't really intend to talk to them about it again, but I just want to get handle on what normal bathroom fan usage is. When and for how long do you run your bathroom fan?
posted by samw to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ours has a timer switch and we generally set it to 2 hours when we start a shower. Our bathroom doesn't have any ventilation other than the fan and it needs it to regularly dry out the shower & the towels and whatnot.

(That said we also replaced our old loud horrible fan with a new quiet one, but if it's a rental situation that's not an option, obviously)
posted by brainmouse at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I turn it on every time I'm in the bathroom, and I sometimes run it when I'm trying to help with air circulation through the apartment.
posted by lazuli at 9:17 AM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

My apartment complex is older and has a history of mould, so I run it for quite a long time (can be an hour or two) after showering along with leaving the door open to keep things nice and dry.
posted by Aranquis at 9:19 AM on September 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think this varies based on location. When I lived on the east coast we'd have it on only during and just after a shower. At my apartment here in OR, ours is on 24/7 and we can't actually turn it off...mold is a bigger concern here.
posted by FireFountain at 9:22 AM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assuming your bathroom fan is specced, installed, and vented properly and is in good working order (big assumptions, in my experience; they are frequently none of these things) you are supposed to run it for three times as long as your shower. In practice, this means that if you get up in the morning and shower first thing, by the time you've brushed your teeth and dressed and are ready to head downstairs for breakfast you should be fine to turn the fan off.

My source here is a residential electrician of excellent reputation and 40 years' experience who I talked to about this exact issue a while back.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:24 AM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is well within the range of normal tolerances. My bathroom has a dial timer which I can set for an hour to run the shower after I'm out. I find that even at the end of this, the towels will still make the bathroom humid. This is in a really humid location with mold issues and I wouldn't be surprised if longer than that was useful or necessary. Fans are noisy and can be annoying, especially if they are not your fans. Additionally anxious minds can sometimes get "sticky" with noises like this and they become even more annoying than a similar noise (car running outside, music) might be. Your best bet might be to find some replacement noise that you find pleasant while this is happening, or see if your neighbors could put the fan on a timer, it's possible they don't even notice it and just turn it off "whenever"
posted by jessamyn at 9:39 AM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know some folks who sit on the pot for a long time, playing games or whatever, and have the fan on the whole time, too, to block out any toilet noises and any toilet fumes.
posted by jillithd at 9:44 AM on September 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's also possible that their fan could use some service. At one point our downstairs neighbors' fan got noticeably more annoying, and it turned out that tightening some screws helped significantly.
posted by dfan at 9:45 AM on September 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

How old is this fan likely to be, anyway? When did these apartments last get a thorough remodel? I ask because newish bathroom fans are pretty quiet and wouldn't be audible through walls or floors unless maybe your apartment is pretty quiet to begin with and you were really listening for it. Old fans are generally much louder, especially when they start to wear out.

It's possible that your neighbors are running their fan so much because it's old and crappy and doesn't work very well, is what I'm saying.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:46 AM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't have a bathroom fan currently, but when I did I would run it while I was showering and then for about an hour after to dry out the room. So two people each showering once per day would indeed run the fan for 2-3 hours/day with normal usage.
posted by capricorn at 9:54 AM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to have a condo with windows on only one wall and I would run the bathroom fan pretty much all the time because it was the easiest way to get fresh air inside.
posted by HotToddy at 9:55 AM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Contact the building management and have them replace the fan. It's abnormal for there to be quite that much vibration, proceed from the position that the fan requires maintenance.
posted by jbenben at 10:11 AM on September 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

If maintenance balks, and it is really driving you crazy, getting a sub 100$ dehumidifier for them might work. It kept a bathroom in the Special Apartment dry
posted by Jacen at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2017

Yeah, I think their usage is totally normal. Our fan is not very effective and our bathroom is prone to mold, so we run it at least two or three hours a day, and more if it's particularly damp.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that they have noxious smells coming up from their drains?

That might cause longer than normal bathroom fan usage...
posted by Murderbot at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2017

Is the fan wired to turn on when you turn the light on?
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:09 AM on September 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think it depends on the bathroom. At my old place, the bathroom had a window and some good cross-flow. I'd only leave it on while I was actually in the shower. My wife left it on a little longer, while she brushed her teeth and stuff. But it was only on if one of us was in there.

At my current apartment, the bathroom is really small, and there's no window and no airflow at all. It gets super humid even after a tepid shower and stays that way a long time. I'll generally leave it on for two or three hours after showering. I've actually left it on all day before. (It's on right now, actually!)
posted by kevinbelt at 11:18 AM on September 10, 2017

Is the fan wired to turn on when you turn the light on?

This is a lot of the places I've lived in, and if they're just going about their morning routine and getting ready but leaving the bathroom light on as they go in and out, that could all add up to 2 hours.
posted by LionIndex at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2017

Do they have a timer switch, or are they just turning it off whenever they happen to think of it? A timer switch might help, especially for the night running. That said, turning it off right when your shower is done is too early. I press the 60-minutes button when I start taking a shower.
posted by ctmf at 12:29 PM on September 10, 2017

N-thing the fan might not be on a separate switch from the overhead bathroom light. Ours isn't, although there's a separate switch for a light over the mirror in ours.
posted by emelenjr at 2:26 PM on September 10, 2017

California fire code now requires that bathroom fans be triggered by humidity rather than having an on/off switch. As a result, our newly installed fan runs at least 2-3 hours per day and likely more like 6-7 (and this is in a warm, dry area of the state).

I'd lean towards offering to replace the fan with an upgraded version myself, with a heavy dose of "apartments, amirite??" and maybe a nice plate of cookies for the neighbor.
posted by arnicae at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree that this is within normal usage. I live in San Francisco, which is super humid, and I'm assuming Seattle is too. Between morning showers, evening showers, pooping, etc., our fan is on a lot.
posted by radioamy at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2017

I turn mine OFF while I'm at work. I keep it ON the rest of the day and throughout the night as I live in a condo and like the white noise it provides.

If you can hear their bathroom fan, your neighbors can probably hear you in your home. I can hear my upstairs neighbors. I really, really don't want to hear my upstairs neighbors at night. I recently replaced my bathroom fan and had a hell of a time finding one to match the noise level of the old one (modern ones tend to be whisper quiet).

If it bothers you that much, offer to replace it? They're not particularly expensive and you'll directly benefit from it.
posted by halogen at 3:36 PM on September 10, 2017

When and for how long do you run your bathroom fan?

Just when I'm in the shower and only in the summer, when a breeze is necessary. But if I lived in a dense apartment building with thin walls, I might run fans of all kinds all the time to drown out the ambient noise of stamp stamp boots across the ceiling or the neighbors Doing It.

Have you considered if you can't beat them, join them? There are a lot of white noise solutions and while they're annoying of themselves (someone calls from another room going mumbmblembubbblemmmm) you can make a rule of 'do not yell from other rooms to talk to each other'.

I don't think there's really a normal because housing situations and sound vulnerabilities are so different.

Also rugs.

But I'd submit if the floors are so thin you're really actually annoyed by this as opposed to someone cranking up the bass on their sound system, there's an overall problem to be addressed, not just the weirdos and the bathroom fan.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Normal bathroom fan usage is to have it on whenever anyone is using the bathroom.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 3:59 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live alone and keep the fan on for at least an hour after showering. My bathroom doesn't have a window and I don't want mildew.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 4:04 PM on September 10, 2017

As others have said above, this sounds like more of a maintenance issue than a usage issue. Their bathroom fan shouldn't be keeping you awake.

I've successfully remedied an obnoxiously vibratory bathroom fan by opening the housing and vacuuming out all of the accumulated dust on the fan blades and in and around the motor and vent and tightening all of the screws holding the blade/motor apparatus.

Bathroom fans are in the unenviable position of sucking in damp air - household dust is going to stick to the blades/grille much easier as a result, and get caked on. The fan motor is going to work a lot harder, and if it's not as firmly secured as it needs to be, more vibration will result.

So if you're comfortable chatting the neighbours about this it may be worth saying "I bet that fan's annoying for you too. If you want to put in a maintenance request, I can back you up by saying we can hear it." This kind of takes away the "Hey, let's talk about your fan usage habits" angle and just says, "Hey, I think we just have a mutual issue that's the building management's issue that they need to fix." Even better, if that's the problem, the fan will do its job better.

tl;dr: property management needs to service or replace.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:26 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Literally 24/7.
posted by so fucking future at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2017

Are they maybe using it for white noise?
posted by vrakatar at 6:27 PM on September 10, 2017

I used to run my bathroom fan whenever I was not in the bathroom. If was so noisy I turned it off when I went in and turned it off when I came out, and shut the door so the noise wouldn't disturb me in the house.

I assumed that it wouldn't disturb the upstairs people, having grown up in apartment buildings with kids, so thinking anything less than drunken parties and fire engines that stop instead of howling past the building were an acceptable level of noise. Eight kids elephant charging up or down the stairs was considered standard. I hope I didn't disturb my upstairs neighbours... But the only times anyone complained was if the party was later than midnight on a week night, or if a flood was coming through the ceiling.

However the apartment building I grew up in was built about 1910 and each apartment had three bedrooms because there was a maid's bedroom with tiny bathroom off the kitchen, so likely the construction in your building is a little less solid...
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:21 AM on September 11, 2017

My bathroom fan doesn't have an independent control: it comes on when I put the light on and goes off shortly after I turn it off again. I always have it on when I'm in the bathroom. If I want to dry the room out properly after a shower, I have to walk away leaving the light on - and then I have to remember to go back later and turn it off. Sometimes I get home from work and realise I left it on all day.

I also sometimes put it on for hours on purpose because I'm drying clothes on an airer in there, but I imagine that's unlikely to apply in the US, where (AFAICT) chances are you either have a dryer of your own or use shared laundry facilities including a dryer.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2017

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