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4 Common Bath Vent Code Violations

The IRC (International Residential Code) is the accepted building code that prevents defects and promotes safety for occupants in homes. It is safe to say (no pun intended) that compliance with these codes is in every resident’s best interest. However, while everyone wants their home to be as safe as possible, many violate the code without knowing it.


The 4 most common bath vent code violations are:
  • Indoor venting
  • Venting too far
  • Placing the exit vent too close to openings and air intakes
  • Venting with a dryer

1. Indoor Venting

It goes almost without the IRC saying that you should not be breathing in air that was meant to be expelled outside. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in homes. 

While it is safe to say that violating building codes will not put you in jail, it may result in a fine, forced correction of the violation, increase your insurance premium, decrease the price at which you can sell your house, and usually does mean living in your house is not as safe as it could be. 

Section M1501.1 states that:

“The air removed by every mechanical exhaust system shall be discharged to the outdoors….”

The only rare exception to this is whole-house attic fans that discharge into a dwelling unit’s private attic. However, this exception does not apply here.

Section M1505.2 more specifically states that

“Exhaust air from bathrooms and toilet rooms shall not be recirculated within a residence… and shall be exhausted directly to the outdoors.” 

Problems Arising From This Code Violation

Failure to vent air outdoors will inevitably cause problems; some only annoying, but others very serious.

High moisture levels will create mold and mildew growth all over your house, not only in your bathroom.

bathroom vent

The moisture will also cause costly damage to your home, particularly to the room that the air is venting into. Its walls, floors, and ceilings will suffer cosmetic damage, like peeling paint or eroded grouting.

But more concerning is the structural damage that can result. After extensive periods of exposure, moisture can rot the beams in your home. In cooler temperatures, water will condensate onto the metal fasteners of your home and rust them.

The increased humidity due to indoor venting will spread throughout your house. Depending on where you live, this will make your house hotter or colder than it should be, and the HVAC system will have to work harder to regulate the increased heat or coolness of your home. Thus, indoor venting will increase your power bill.

There are also the problems that are just irksome:

  • Lack of ventilation doesn’t help prevent the annoying foggy mirror.
  • The temperatures in your bathroom will also be noticeably warmer and more humid. If you live in a place that is cold, your bathroom will be more cold and wet.

Venting outdoors is obviously better than indoor venting. But there is a correct and incorrect way to do it, and often people do not realize they are doing it incorrectly.

2. Venting Too Far

Another mistake is making the air travel too far before it reaches the terminal vent. The table under Section 1504.2 of the IRC tells you what length your supply duct should be. When looking at this table, it is important to keep in mind that the use of elbows will decrease the allowable length.

A bath vent that is too long will weaken airflow, which is sure to lessen the vent’s efficacy, and might even make it useless. As you can imagine bends and elbows further impeded airflow, which is why they reduce the allowable venting distance.

venting too far

You can read all about this and find some very helpful tables in my article dedicated to bathroom fan duct length and dimensions.

Problems Arising From This Code Violation

Once again, an excess of moisture is the main problem that will arise from failure to follow the code. In this case, however, the bathroom will be most affected.

A vent with weak airflow behind it will not intake as much air and moisture as it should, making your bathroom a place of refuge for mold and mildew.

Since there will be an excess of moisture in your bathroom, making it feel humid, fogging up your mirrors, and causing damage to walls, floors, and ceilings.

The bathroom fan will also be less effective in alleviating odors, if effective at all. Venting too far means more bacteria in your bathroom.

3. Placing Exit Vent Too Near Openings/Intakes

In Section M1504.3 of the IRC, it says that the exhaust must be:

  • No less than 10 feet away from mechanical air intakes if the exhaust vent is located below or to the side of these intakes.
  • No less than 3 feet away from mechanical air intakes if the exhaust vent is located above these intakes.
  • No less than 3 feet away from non-mechanical openings into the house (windows, doors, etc.).

Yet, there are many instances where this code is violated. Either people do not consider the openings when installing their own bathroom fan ventilation system, or there are alterations to the house and these openings are installed without thought after the fan ventilation is in place.

If you hired an HVAC contractor and they installed the bathroom fan ventilation system too near an opening into your home, steer clear of them for future projects!

Problems Arising From This Code Violation

Placing an intake vent too near a bathroom’s exit vent (or vice versa) results in recirculation of bathroom air into the house. It is easy to see why this is unsanitary and hazardous.

Bathroom air is full of bacteria. It follows that recirculation of this air will make an extra room or your entire house full of bacteria. More importantly than just being off-putting, this bacteria is harmful to health.

Being that the bathroom is usually the room with the highest moisture levels, recirculating its air will make your entire house more humid. This will make your house less comfortable and will promote mold and mildew growth.

4. Venting With the Dryer

Combining a dryer exhaust with a bathroom exhaust might be the perfect solution to your venting troubles. However, this is against building codes, and for a good reason. 

The IRC’s Section M1502.2 clearly states that

“Dryer exhaust systems shall be independent of all other systems….”

This rule stands with the exception of listed and labeled condensing dryers. This is not because they are allowed to be vented with fans, but rather because they require no venting at all.

vent

Exhaust system regulations are governed by the exhaust system’s objectives, which in bathrooms and dryers are different, making them incompatible. Ignoring this inherent difference and trying to combine them anyway will undoubtedly cause problems.

Problems Arising From This Code Violation

Air exhausted from a dryer is extremely moist. Sharing the exhaust system with the bathroom can push the moist air from the dryer into the bathroom. And as discussed above, moisture promotes mold and mildew growth, especially in the bathroom, which already has high moisture levels.                  

The dryer is also likely to push lint onto the bathroom fan and into the bathroom. This will make your bathroom fan less effective and might even yield it useless over extended periods of time.

Dryer vents have strict cleaning requirements because they accumulate lint, which can develop mold and be a fire hazard. Adding the waste from a bathroom fan into the dryer vent will make cleaning even more work.

This article goes more in-depth into the problems arising from venting with a dryer.

Sources

https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2021P1/chapter-15-exhaust-systems#IRC2021P1_Pt05_Ch15_SecM1505.2

http://www.floridabuilding.org/Upload/Courses_trp/421-2-MATERIAL-Adv%20FL%20Bldg%20Code%20-%20Course%20PDF%20version%207.0.pdf

https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/cooling-whole-house-fan

https://www.industrialfansdirect.com/blogs/info-center/do-bathroom-exhaust-fans-need-to-vent-air-outside#:~:text=Venting%20to%20the%20Outside%20is%20Typically%20Considered%20Mandatory&text=One%20of%20the%20main%20ones,and%20otherwise%20cause%20serious%20problems.

https://www.amca.org/about/

https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/information-sheets/information-sheet-placement-of-intake-and-exhaust-vents

https://qz.com/1207418/using-an-air-dryer-after-you-wash-your-hands-may-just-make-them-dirtier/

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