MOST OF YOU REMEMBER THE bad old days when you outfitted your bathrooms with the cheapest ventilation fan you could get your hands on. The fans made as much noise as a DC-9 and were ineffective at pulling moisture out of a steamy bath.

Times have changed: Ventilation fans are playing a bigger role in the home. Buyers no longer settle for loud, obnoxious fans, and manufacturers have significantly improved the products' ability to suck moisture out of a room in near silence.

“Ventilation is becoming more important because homes are tighter and because bathrooms are getting bigger,” says Patrick J. Nielsen, ventilation product manager at Hartford, Wis.–based Broan-NuTone. Because of the mold scare, says Nielsen, home buyers are demanding exhaust fans that work efficiently. “Bigger baths and elaborate shower systems also mean that buyers will need units to move more moisture,” he adds.

The Home Ventilating Institute (HVI), a nonprofit association of home ventilating product manufacturers based in Wauconda, Ill., says fans do more than remove moisture: They remove dust particles, smoke, and other combustion products to help promote cleaner indoor air.

Air Apparent Given their importance, ventilation fans are no longer the loud and unsightly products they used to be. The average unit is ago because manufacturers lowered their sone ratings, units of measurement that signify how quiet the fan will be; the lower the sones, the quieter the module. Some units have ratings as low as 0.3 sones, which is nearly impossible to hear.

Another performance feature that has improved is how much air a fan can move. Measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm), the rating tells buyers how much moisture they can expect that unit to move out of a typical bath. The higher the cfm, the better the unit should perform. How much cfm you need is based on the size of the room, and manufacturers say builders need to make sure they choose the correct rating for optimum performance. For example, HVI recommends 1 cfm per square foot for bathrooms up to 100 square feet—in other words, a fan with a 100 cfm rating.

Units are more energy efficient, too. “Energy efficiency is the hot topic,” says Kevin Zepp, product manager at West Chester, Pa.–based Air King. “More products are Energy Star–rated,” which means they use less energy than products without an Energy Star rating. Energy Star–rated products are among the quietest models, too. In some jurisdictions, builders receive rebates if they use Energy Star–rated products in their homes.

Sound Off Air King recently introduced two Energy Star–rated fans in its Deluxe Quiet series that have low sound levels and an integrated light. The units also have a low profile so they sit flush with the ceiling and can be installed over a tub or shower.

Broan boasts that the company's new QT Series of bath fans have sone levels up to 40 percent lower than the industry standard.

Secaucus, N.J.–based Panasonic has introduced Whisper series models that satisfy a variety of needs such as units that need less installation space in the ceiling. The company says all of the units are Energy Star–rated, ultraquiet, and easy to install. Soon, the company plans to introduce the WhisperSmart ventilation fan, which runs continuously on low speed but features motion-sensing technology that automatically boosts the fan to 100 percent when someone enters the bath.

Ventilation fans are no longer just for pulling air out of the bath; they can be installed anywhere moisture or stale air can build up. Consumers and builders know this and, consequently, are no longer content with the cheapest product or installing a fan just in the bathroom.

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