Are Bathroom Fan Motors Universal?


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Recently my bath fan started making a horrible noise that reminded me of the noise my high-school teacher made by dragging her nails over the chalkboard whenever the class didn’t behave. Goes without saying I wanted to stop that as soon as possible!

As I dislike throwing things away unless absolutely necessary, I decided to find out if it is possible to change only the motor. The first thing I had to find out was if bathroom fan motors are universal or not.

Bathroom exhaust fan motors are not universal because motor dimensions, power output, and mounting locations are different across different models. However, it is possible to change the motor.

Read on and I will share all I learned by replacing my own bathroom fan motor.

Can You Replace a Bathroom Fan Motor?

Most of the major manufacturers offer replacement parts for their units, and, depending on your model, it will probably only take between 5-60 minutes to change the motor.

If your fan motor is decades old, there is still a good chance you can find a replacement motor for it. Even if the original manufacturer has gone out of business, you can probably find some other company that offers aftermarket parts and has a similar motor that will fit.

Some brands offer more efficient brushless motors as an upgrade, and, as long as the part number matches, it should fit nicely in the old enclosure.

Is It Cheaper to Replace the Motor Than the Whole Fan?

When you research the price for the new motor you will quickly realize that you can buy a new fan for almost the same price as the motor.

However, while this can be tempting, you should carefully think about whether or not you can remove the whole assembly without damaging the finish on the ceiling.

Most often replacing the whole fan unit without attic access is close to impossible without damaging the drywall, which will further increase the cost of opting for a new fan instead of a new motor.

How to Find the Correct Motor

  • Turn off the power!
  • Remove the fan cover/grill.
  • Vacuum or sweep away the dust.
  • Look for the part number on the label or stamped on the housing as indicated in the picture below.

If you can’t find the model number on the housing, you will have to remove the motor. It is most likely printed on the side of the motor. Keep reading to find out how to remove it so that you can find the model number and replace the motor.

How Hard is it To Replace Bathroom Fan Motor?

How difficult it is to replace the motor depends on two factors:

  1. The construction of the fan unit.
  2. Your skill and confidence.

Fan Unit Construction

I was lucky with mine and it was a matter of unscrewing two bolts, unplugging the wire, and installing the new motor. It took me around 15 minutes for the whole job from start to finish. Most fan motors are similarly easy to replace.

However, before I began to change my bathroom fan motor, I did some research and found out that some models have motors that are close to impossible to remove while the whole fan unit is still in the ceiling.

On top of that, if the motor is hardwired, it is very difficult to connect the new wires since the connection has to be made in a very confined space. Not only is there is not much room to work, but you are also working up on a ladder.

After removing the grill you will see if the fan is connected with a regular wall plug or if it is hardwired.

Skill and Confidence

Your skill and confidence that you can replace the fan motor must be considered. What’s as easy as ABC for some people, can be very intimidating for others.

So I don’t want to say it is very easy since it will depend on your skill and experience. However, I feel confident that this is a doable project for everybody if you follow all safety precautions and take your time.

In the case of a hardwired fan, if you lack previous electrical experience, it is wise to turn to a licensed electrician, who can make sure that all connections are made securely. In some cases, this may be your only option as certain states require a licensed electrician to replace bathroom fans (or fan parts).

How do You Replace an Exhaust Fan Motor?

bathroom fan cover removed

If you have a fan similar to the one pictured above you can use the following steps to replace the motor:

The tools you need are an adjustable wrench or a socket set.

Method:

1. Turn the fan on and have someone watching it.

2. Go to your breaker box and turn off circuit breakers one by one until the fan stops working. Alternatively, you can turn off the main fuse, but then you will have the whole house without electricity for the duration of the job.

turn off circuit breaker

3. Remove the plastic grill/cover (as pictured below).

4. Use a circuit tester to confirm that the power is off.

5. Unplug the wire (proceed with caution if it is hardwired).

hand holding a us wall plug

6. Unscrew the motor from the housing. Note: For a plate type fan, you can’t unscrew the fan. You have to wiggle the whole plate off with a screwdriver as seen in the video below.

7. Now you should see the printed label or stamped product code. Try googling the product code, most likely you can find it on Amazon, so you can get it within 24 hours.

8. After the new motor has arrived, double-check that the new motor is identical to the old.

9. Install the new motor and tighten the nuts (it’s a good idea to use a little thread lock on those nuts since they can vibrate loose, which can cause your fan to buzz or hum).

10. Replace the plastic cover.

11. Turn on the power and test your new motor.

Does it Make Sense to Replace the Entire Bath Fan?

Before running out to your local home improvement store and buying a new fan consider if it makes sense to replace the whole unit. Wait…who am I kidding, you will most likely order it online while drinking coffee! Aren’t we getting lazy these days…or is it efficient? I can never decide.

It does not make sense because the labor costs for rewiring and drywall work make replacing the entire fan much more expensive. Besides, there is not much to gain from replacing the housing, since that does not wear out over time.

One reason you might want to replace the whole unit is that the plastic grille has yellowed over time. The good news is that you can buy the cover separately for most models. Just pop the cover off to find the model of your fan and google that + cover/grille. For most models, it will cost only 5-10 bucks.

Earlier we established that replacing only the motor is no big deal for most bathroom fan models.

If you still insist on changing the whole unit, think about how you can remove the entire housing without damaging the drywall or paint. Consider this, even if you damage the drywall a little from one corner you will have to repaint the whole ceiling to get a nice even finish!

Ultimately, replacing the whole unit should be the last option. It is recommended only when there is no replacement motor available or when you want to upgrade to a fan with more features, like a Bluetooth speaker. Furthermore, if your fan is not working and it is new, you can replace it for free under the warranty terms.

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