Return to Bathroom Exhaust Fan Question List

Clear the Air With A Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Q:   My bathroom fan is getting very noisy. Is it difficult to replace or repair it?

A:  Think of repair first, replacement last...

Most bathroom fans disassemble easily with the removal of a few bolts, screws or nuts. The motor frames also usually come out without a lot of persuasion. Many of them even plug into a standard electrical outlet built into the fan box so you may not even need electrical skills to perform this repair. Getting replacement parts often becomes the greatest challenge in this sort of job!

Replacing the motor assembly has the advantage of leaving the old fan housing installed. This way, you will not have to be concerned about electrical connections, venting, and possible repair to the ceiling. Replacement should only become an option if 1) you totally hate your fan's guts, its looks, and its attitude, or 2) you've searched every back alley chop shop and can't get your hands on the right parts.


Depending on the manufacturer, there are various cover designs with different removal methods. If you have ever replaced a bulb you probably have half of the disassembly figured out. If not, there are a few common ways the covers are removed.

1) Some covers, such as the larger Nutone units (the cover looks like a UFO flying upside-down), have screws which are recessed within the vent grills of the cover. You may need to use a flashlight to see them.  Loosen these screws enough so that the cover does not scrape on the ceiling.  Then, turn the cover slightly counterclockwise to release it from the screws.

2) Another cover type, common on lower and middle price range fans, is held in place by a nut (or screw) located behind the bulb.  Take down the translucent bulb cover and remove the bulb to expose the screw (or nut).  Doing this with the bulb hot is not a good plan. When the nut is removed, the cover and the light assembly will come down together, exposing the fan motor.

3) The final common cover type is held up by means of metal springs. These springs have long protrusions that engage into slots in the body of the fan. Simply pulling down of the cover will expose the springs. Squeezing together the protrusions will release the springs from the fan body, giving clear access to the motor.

Occasionally, the cover may be inadvertently glued to the ceiling by a sloppy (or lazy) painter who decided to paint around it instead of removing it.  Be careful when trying to loosen the cover... or you may tear the wallboard!   This will make you very unhappy. Yes, it will.  Deft use of a putty knife or even a sharp utility knife should help you to fend off an unwanted paint job.

Once you are inside the bowels of your fan, you should find a specification label or plate within the fan case. Write down all the information, get on the phone, and let your fingers do the walking until you find a store that will order you a replacement.    If there is no identification label on the fan, don't despair just yet.   Most homes today have more than one bathroom featuring the same fan.  Open up another... maybe you'll get lucky, sailor!

After all these years, I still make mistakes copying  40 digit numbers from appliances.  So if you want a little extra security, do as I do... remove the motor and it's mounting frame and take the whole shebang to the store so there are no misunderstandings or hand-wringing later.  The clerk may still order the wrong fan motor but at least it won't be your fault.  A real 90's sort of thing to do, eh?

Most fan motors last for many years.  By the time the motor fails, the outside cover is usually nothing to write home about! If that is the case, my recommendation is to purchase the entire fan unit, not just the motor. If you comparison shop them, you will probably be surprised how little more it will cost to buy the complete unit.  You may then use the empty fan box as a planter, paperweight or gerbil cage.

A special note about combination exhaust fans...

There are some large combination light/heater/exhaust fan units that cost hundreds of dollars. However, a cottage industry of sorts has developed around the repair of these expensive units. Rather than even thinking of replacement, first out try to find a shop that will repair the fan for you first.


Print out this article, turn it upside down, and read it backwards.

Return to Bathroom Exhaust Fan Question List