How To: Keep your Bath Fresh and Dry with a Fan Timer
August 3, 2014
Ever leave the fan on in the bathroom “just for a minute” and realize three hours later that it’s still running? Me too.
Thing is, that might be costing you more than you think…
You see, when you’re moving air from the bathroom to the outside, replacement air has to come from somewhere (otherwise you’d end up with a perfect vacuum in your house, which would be nifty but not exactly conducive to breathing.)
The replacement air comes from outside your house, through gaps in windows, doors, etc… and if you’re running your A/C (or heater) that air then needs to be cooled (or heated).
Long story short, when you leave the bathroom fan on you end up running your A/C more, which is the single biggest component of your electric bill.
So let’s fix that while giving you one less thing to remember to do!
Welcome to my first “Handyman Sunday” post
Seems like I’m always fixing or improving little things around the house… I’m a huge fan of those upgrades that pay for themselves while making life just a little bit better.
Sometimes it takes quite a bit of work to figure out what to do, source things, do the install (which always has at least one hiccup), etc… so in the interest of saving you time, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so that you don’t have to.
Today’s Project: Installing a bathroom fan timer
Why: Keep the bathroom fresh and dry while saving money
Time: 20 minutes or so
Skills: (a) know where your circuit breaker is (b) basic comfort with working with electrical wires
Sourcing: It took me a while to find these. The first few searches I tried only gave me rotary dial ones like at the top of this post. No way that would pass the wife test… those scream “rest stop toilet”. Fugly.
The only one I found that is reasonably attractive is the AKDT60 / AKDT63 from Air King. The model numbers were confusing at first… but as I interpret their spec sheet, you want the 63 model because that has a 3-position switch: that is, you can manually force “off” without waiting for the timer to expire. Better for home use.
The white ones are available on Amazon here; the ivory model is AKDT63i which is on Amazon here. These are also on Walmart.com.
So let’s dive right in!
You just need a few basic tools; I used a phillips & regular screwdriver, needle nose pliers, and a razor. If you have a pair of wire strippers that’s even better.
Oh, and this is definitely easier if you have a headlamp… I absolutely love my Petzl Tikka. Use it all the time.
Pro tip: if there is a furnace vent in the floor anywhere near your switches, cover it with a box… at some point you will drop a screw.
The switch is about 1.5 inches deep; take a look before ordering and make sure your wall box is sufficiently deep.
Once you’ve cut off the circuit breaker (test it! be sure!) it’s time to pop off the cover plate and unscrew the old fan switch.
After taking it out, I realize that I need to get at those bundles of wires in the back… so all three need to come out.
Go ahead and take the old fan switch off entirely… and grab the screws off that switch to use with the new AKD switch, because the screws they provided are crap.
Everything pulled out, old switch removed, ready to wire it up.
Here’s where the instructions that are included in the box fall short… they assume that you are probably using one switch to control *both* the light and the fan, and barely mention the other option (use this just for the fan; you already have a separate switch for your light, right??) They’re also a bit vague on exactly what wire goes where. I’ll clarify.
Blue: As long as you are indeed using this switch only for the fan, cap off the blue wire on the AKD63 — you don’t need it.
White: Find the big bundle of white wires in the back of your switch box; the white wire from the AKD63 goes there. Just unscrew the big wire nut, make sure enough wire is exposed on the new white wire, wrap it around the others, and re-secure the existing wire nut.
Red: This is where you need to look closely into your wall box. You took two black wires off the old switch when you took it out. One of them probably goes to a bundle of black wires inside your wall box; the other goes — by itself — to one of the “ports” on the wall box. The one that goes off by itself is the one that goes directly to your fan… and that’s the one you attach the red AKD63 wire to.
Black: The other black wire you took off the old switch, which probably runs to a bundle of wires inside the wall box — that’s your wire.
Note: if you *don’t* have a bundle of black wires inside the wall box, you might have to use trial and error to figure out which one should be connected to red and which should be connected to black.
One you have everything secured with wire nuts, make sure none of the switches are near to each other or anything else they could short out on, and have your toddler turn on the circuit breaker for you (kidding).
Test things out, before reinstalling, to make sure your connections are all good. Just handle very carefully while there are exposed wires!
If the “on” position works but the “timer” position does not, your white wire is probably loose. If that fails, try switching red and black (if you’re not positive that those were right). If all that fails, you may have a defective unit… I did, and had to ask for a replacement.
With everything verified as working, cut off the circuit breaker one more time and start reinstalling in the wall box.
Push existing wires as out of the way as possible to make room for the AKD63 — in my case, I pushed them to the left as much as I could. Reinstall the other switch(es) first, thread the wire nuts attached to the AKD63 into some free space, and then install the AKD63 itself.
Set the time you want the fan to run before putting on the wall plate, of course!
Some quick back of the envelope math tells me that these will pay for themselves within two years. Assuming they last much longer than that, it’s totally worth doing in my opinion.
One of my two units was defective; hopefully that is an anomaly. They did get pretty good reviews on Amazon.
I don’t know why they designed the switch to look different from the outside… it would be so much better if they made it look like every other switch on the planet. These will often be used right next to another switch in a multi-gang box; why make it stick out like a sore thumb?
So far, these rock! Just leave the bathroom after your shower, flip everything down, and the fan runs for ~20 minutes to dry out the bathroom, then cuts off. Pretty sweet!
So what do you think? Ready to install a couple and make your bathroom a wee bit better?
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