Smarter Than The Average Bear? Apparently Not…

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I thought I knew what I was doing.

12 years ago, we did a renovation of our 1810 cape home in order to accommodate my then 87 year old mother.  Having been the executive director of the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council for 8 years at that time, and having listened to many presentations and worked with professionals way more knowledgeable than I to develop best practice guidance for design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings, I thought I had a handle on simple ways to improve the indoor air quality in my home when doing this project.  With three kids and two adults taking baths and showers everyday, the most obvious choice was to install a bathroom fan vented to the outdoors.

So I informed our contractor and our electrician, that I not only wanted a bath fan in our upstairs bathroom, I wanted a quiet bath fan vented directly outdoors. I was so excited. Finally, we would be able to address the huge amounts of moisture we were generating on a daily basis.

Sadly, I failed to account for one factor.

I liked our electrician. I really did. He was pleasant. He had great ideas for where to place lights so we wouldn’t fall down the stairs in the dark and could actually see the dishes we were washing. He was creative on placement of outlets, and careful about safety of the panels. And apparently he was also very good a doing things the way he’s always done them.

So, instead of a nice quiet fan, I got the everyman’s fan that I bet was purchased on sale at Fans-R-Us. Instead of belaboring the point with the electrician, because, who knows, maybe to him it was quiet. I didn’t actually give him a sound rating after all, because I thought he knew what I meant. You know, quiet. With so many issues to juggle and my Mom moving in, I decided that a not so quiet bathroom fan was something I could live with. After all, the noise level wouldn’t impact the good I was doing for our IAQ. Right? Right?

Wrong. Much to my dismay, I apparently also got a fan that was vented into the soffit vent of our roof. And, silly me, I never noticed this until we had an unusual ice dam problem this past winter. Twelve years later. How is it possible that I never noticed that the upstairs bathroom didn’t have a fan exhaust on the outside of the wall? Just imagine, twelve years of 5-6 people taking 1-2 showers and baths daily, fastidiously using the fan, with all that moisture not quite making it to the outdoors.

The image attached to this article shows the sorry result of my mistake. It’s clear there’s damage to the soffit vent. There’s probably damage to the roof deck as well. And, gulp, there’as also a possible moisture disaster in my attic space. I’m almost too scared to look. But look I will, because after all, I’m smarter than the average bear. (Not.)

Contributed by Christy Crocker, executive director of the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council since 1999. Christy and her family reside in a retrofitted 1810 vintage home in Hallowell, Maine.