How to Disconnect the Fan in Your Bathroom

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As a homeowner, you will probably find yourself having to disconnect and replace your bathroom fan sooner or later because they don’t last forever. A bathroom fan is a vital part of your home ventilation system, removing moisture and preventing mold formation, so how do you disconnect it?

To disconnect your bathroom fan, start by cutting off power from the breaker to avoid the risk of electrical shock. Then go back into the bathroom and remove the cover, disconnect the wiring, remove the housing, and detach the vent pipe.

It’s worth doing some preparation and research to make sure you do the job safely and meet all legal requirements in your area. Read on to find out how to disconnect and remove your bathroom exhaust fan.

Preparation Is Key

They say that any job worth doing is worth doing well, and this certainly applies to electrical repairs, which can be dangerous and extremely costly if not done right. 

Launching into this job unprepared late on a Sunday afternoon is only going to leave you frustrated. Maybe you don’t have the right tools, and the shops are closed, leaving you with an unusable bathroom because live wires are hanging from your ceiling. 

Take the appropriate time to do your research, and make sure you have all the tools you will need before you start.

Meet Legal Requirements

Depending on your location, it may be illegal to perform electrical repairs without a permit or a professional electrician’s license. 

So before you get your screwdrivers out, check whether the law in your region allows you to perform electrical repairs on your own home as an unqualified layperson. You may need to call your local council for information.

Related article: Permit Requirements for Installing a Bathroom Fan

A Matter of Safety

Safety is not an issue that should be taken lightly. Undertaking electrical repairs without expert knowledge can leave your wiring in a dangerous state. 

There’s the immediate risk of electrocuting yourself while undertaking the repairs, but also the longer-term danger to other people in the house if you accidentally leave wires exposed (source)

Incorrect electrical repairs are also a fire hazard. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, between 2012 and 2016, electrical failures and faults were the second-highest cause of domestic fires (source).

They caused 18% of civilian deaths, as well as 20% of property damage.

Cost Implications

Performing electrical repairs yourself can also lead to a hefty fine if it is illegal in your area.

Undertaking repairs without the expertise of a qualified electrician can also lead to your home failing an annual or pre-sale inspection, which will only cause future headaches and expense.

The bottom line? If in doubt, call an electrician. It may be less expensive and save you plenty of trouble in the long run.  But, if you do decide that this is a job you can take on yourself, there is a way to do it safely and effectively.  

Equip Yourself for the Job

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a job and finding you don’t have the right tool at a critical moment. So gather everything you think you’ll need ahead of time and keep it within arm’s reach.

Tools you may need:

  • Ladder
  • Set of screwdrivers
  • Voltage tester
  • Knife to cut old caulking
  • Goggles
  • Overalls (there will be a lot of dust coming down, possibly old insulation which is very itchy)

Once you have everything you need prepared, you’ll start by turning off your power supply and setting up your workstation.

Find out how bathroom exhaust fans work

Turn off the Power Supply

Begin by shutting the power to the bathroom fan off at your home’s breaker panel.

If there isn’t a switch clearly marked for the fan or the bathroom power supply, it’s best to err on the side of caution and turn off all your electricity at the main switch, remember to bring a flashlight with you when turning off the main switch.

Set Up Your Workstation

If your bathroom is very dark without the electrical light, set up a portable work light to illuminate your workspace. You don’t want to be holding a torch and operating a drill at the same time. 

There will likely be lots of dust and debris in your ceiling, so lay a cloth or a plastic sheet on the floor to catch it and make cleanup easier. You might also want to consider protecting other surfaces, such as vanity, bathtub, etc.

Make sure you can easily reach the fan to work on it safely. Bathroom exhaust fans are usually installed in the ceiling or high on the wall, out of easy reach. 

It is dangerous to attempt to disconnect wires when you’re balanced on the edge of the bathtub or stretching to reach them without being able to see what you are doing.

So, set up a stepladder underneath the fan, making sure it is stable and that you can clearly see and easily reach the fan housing and the wires inside.

How to Disconnect a Bathroom Fan

Once you’ve performed all the necessary preparations, actually disconnecting and removing the bathroom exhaust fan is probably the easy part. You can do so in four simple steps.

Remove the Fan Cover

Take a close look at the fan housing and assess how it is attached to the ceiling. It may be screwed on, in which case, simply choose the right screwdriver and unscrew it. If you don’t see any screws, the cover may be a clip-on. 

If it is, you will either see a tab that you can push to unclip the cover or use a flat-head screwdriver to gently lever it off.

Disconnect the Wiring

Before touching any wiring, use your voltage tester to make sure that there is no power going to the fan.

An important thing to keep in mind every time you use a voltage tester is to test the voltage tester on a known electricity source to make sure it is functional before you trust it.

A standard extension cord powers some fans and plug such as you will find on other appliances. If this is the case, it’s a simple matter to unplug the fan from the outlet, which may be attached to a roof truss.

If you don’t see a plug and outlet, you will have to undo the plastic connectors that join the fan’s wiring to your house’s wiring, which emerges from the ceiling.

These connectors may be hidden inside a junction box, which you will have to unscrew. 

Remove the Fan Housing

According to specifications, the space between your fan’s housing and the hole cut to fit it into the ceiling or wall should be sealed with caulking or foam (source).

You may need to cut through this seal and any other fastenings with a knife.

Once you have detached the housing from the ceiling, remember that you will have to support its weight while you disconnect the vent pipe.

Detach the Vent Pipe

The vent pipe is the exhaust for your bathroom fan; it runs to a vent on one of the outside walls of your house or through the roof.

The replacement fan will need to connect to this same vent pipe, so be careful not to damage or shorten the pipe when removing your old fan.

The fan may be connected to the vent pipe by HVAC tape. If so, cut it carefully with a craft knife or peel it away.

Alternatively, it may be attached by a clamp that you can unscrew and remove. Once detached, gently pull the fan away from the pipe, keeping clear of dust that may fall.  

If you’ve carefully followed the above steps, you will have safely and easily disconnected your bathroom ventilation fan.  

Three Reasons to Remove and Replace Your Bathroom Fan

Disconnecting your bathroom fan is a time-consuming process, but not necessarily a difficult one once you’ve covered the legalities, if applicable, and ensured that you have set up a safe work area.

There are also several good reasons to remove and replace your fan.  

Bathroom fans play an important role in ventilating your home, preventing the growth of damaging mold and mildew, and ensuring the high quality of the air you breathe. In my previous article, I have listed the bathroom fan as the best way to prevent mold in the bathroom.

So if one or more of the following three situations apply to you, you may want to disconnect and replace your bathroom exhaust fan.

Situation 1: The Fan is Past Its Expiration Date

Bathroom fans are relatively long-lived, but they don’t last forever. In fact, the average bathroom fan has a lifespan of ten years (source).

If you have recently moved into a home that has been occupied for several years, there’s a good chance that your bathroom fan is nearing the end of its useful life.

If your bathroom seems extremely foggy during and after a shower, and moisture accumulates on surfaces such as the mirror and the top of the vanity instead of dissipating, your fan may be clogged or need replacing (source). 

If you notice the noise of the fan changing over time (for example, an old, noisy fan may become quiet, or a newer quiet fan may develop a rattle), this is also a good sign that it needs replacing. Read my article about why bathroom fans get noisy if you want to learn more.

Before going to the trouble and expense of a replacement, check that the vent is not blocked and replace the filter to check whether that improves the fan’s performance.

Situation 2: The Fan was Badly Installed

A poorly installed bathroom exhaust fan does not remove the moisture from your bathroom effectively and leads to poor ventilation in the bathroom.

Over time, long-term exposure to warm, damp air and residual moisture causes damage to the surfaces in your bathroom.

Signs of poor ventilation include black mold growth or mildew on the ceiling and walls of your bathroom, as well as the edges of your shower. These may also appear on your window sill and edges and any sealed edges such as around your sink. If you have mold problems check out my guide on how to easily remove mold with vinegar.

The paint on the ceilings and walls may also peel or blister, and you may notice a musty or pungent smell.

Your old fan may also not be rated for the size of your bathroom. Many cheaper fans are rated for small spaces, so if a previous owner was trying to save money, he might have chosen a fan that is not up to the job of properly ventilating the bathroom. 

It’s important to check the fan’s rating and match it to the volume of the bathroom — that includes the ceiling height as well as the floor area. 

In my article about how bathroom fans are rated, you can find out which one will be optimal for your bathroom.

Situation 3: The Luxury Decision

Maybe the fan in your bathroom does its job, but so loudly that it turns your morning shower into a rude awakening that you could do without.

Or maybe you don’t like having to flick a switch at the wall or pull a cord to turn on the fan — you’d rather the process was seamless and automatic.

Perhaps your fan is connected to the light and turns off when you leave the room before it has fully cleared the moisture generated by your steaming hot bath.

Or, perhaps it is an energy-hungry old model, not suitable for your eco-friendly lifestyle.

Bathroom fans may be a necessity required by building law in most places, but you have plenty of options as to the model and operation. If you are remodeling your home, making different and more modern design choices in your bathroom can be a great way to update and freshen up the space.

If you’ve decided that the time has come to replace the noisy, ineffectual old fan that simply doesn’t clear the fog from your bathroom, and you’re keen to take on the job yourself, use the steps above to disconnect and remove your old bathroom fan.

Then, read on for some tips when it comes to choosing the right new fan for you.

Choosing the Right Replacement

Of course, removing the old fan is only the first stage in the process. You should make sure you take the time to choose a new fan that meets your needs and satisfies regulatory requirements.

If you’re replacing your old bathroom fan because it wasn’t keeping your bathroom dry enough, it’s essential to make sure the new one is up to the job. The most important step is choosing a fan that is correctly rated for the size of your bathroom. 

Here I have a list of 8 super quiet bathroom fans. They are truly the quietest on the market today and I will keep this list updated.

Bathroom fan size

The most important thing is the actual physical size of the fan. By replacing it with a fan that is similar to the one you have now you save yourself a lot trouble.

It is best to measure the opening and find a fan with a similar size housing. Bathroom fans are not standard size as I discuss in my previous article.

Calculating CFM

The airflow rating of a fan is measured in CFM (cubic feet per minute), which you will then need to match to the volume of air in your bathroom.

You can do a rough calculation to estimate what CFM you will need. Measure the length and width of your bathroom and multiply these dimensions together to calculate the floor area.  

You will require at least one CFM per square foot of floor area, but most experts recommend adding 50 CFM per toilet, shower, or basin (source).

You will also need a higher CFM if your bathroom has very high ceilings because this increases the volume of air in the room (source).

If in doubt, consult a good salesperson or even the website you’re using to buy the new fan. There are many resources available to help you make the right choice. 

But don’t skimp and buy a fan with a CFM rating that is too low. You may save money in the short term, but it will cost you long term in damages and repairs.

Check the Regulations

There are also recommendations and regulations that you will need to bear in mind when installing your new fan.

These include how the venting runs from your bathroom to the outside of your house. Consult your local council for ventilation regulations, which are often published online.

Choose a Design that Suits You

You may also want to consider the options open to you in choosing how and when the fan runs. For example, some fans run continuously, whether the bathroom light is on or off. 

Alternatively, you can connect the fan directly to the light switch. This means when you turn the light on, the fan turns on too, and when the light is turned off, so is the fan.

Some fans run via a timer so that the fan turns on with the light and then runs for a few minutes after you turn the light off.

Some models can also be connected to a humidity meter and will turn on when the moisture in the air exceeds a set level. 

A humidity meter will help you avoid wasting electricity by leaving the fan on when it’s not needed, but will also help protect your bathroom from mold and dampness by switching the fan on whenever the air in the bathroom is moist. 

Final Thoughts

Disconnecting and replacing a bathroom fan may seem like a simple task, which is why many people leave it for late on a Sunday afternoon when there isn’t much time for adequate preparation or room for error. 

But the bathroom fan is integral to your home’s proper ventilation. Remember that it is also essential to keep legal regulations and safety in the front of your mind when dealing with electrical fittings to avoid fines or risk injury. 

The bottom line is that research and preparation are key. Take your time and make sure you have the right tools. Doing so will provide you with the safest and best outcome for your bathroom.

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