Attic Fans vs. Whole House Fans - Pros, Cons & Differences

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Attic and whole house fans are great systems for ventilating hot or warm air and it can be difficult to determine which one is best for you. The goals of both are similar: a cooler home and lower energy bills. However, the two systems work differently to accomplish those goals. Here, we discuss the pros and cons of each.

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Attic Exhaust Ventilators

Attic fans remove hot air from an attic through the roof or a gable wall. When the space reaches a preset temperature, a thermostat-controlled ventilator turns on automatically. These units only ventilate that upper space, not the rest of the home. However, when this space is cooler, the temperature of the rooms below can drop by as much as 10 degrees.

Gable vs. Roof Vents

Gable and roof styles are the most common. The gable option is in the wall while the roof option is in the roof. Both serve their purpose in the same way and will cost about the same to install. In the case of the gable style, you may need to have carpentry performed and some siding replaced. For the roof style, you will need to hire a roofer and have new roofing tiles and flashing installed around the equipment.

Solar Attic Fans Pros & Cons

Experts heavily debate the pros and cons of solar fans.

Pros

  • They are supposed to have an operating cost of zero.
  • They are also supposed to make a home more energy efficient.

Cons

  • Experts argue that they don’t operate at the time of day when they could be most useful and, therefore, that they are useless.
  • They cost more to purchase and install and aren’t likely to pay for themselves in a sufficient amount of time compared to other residential solar products.
  • For example, solar fans are said to pay for themselves after 20 years while solar panels pay for themselves after as few as 4 years.

Whole House

These systems cool the home at night when outdoor temperatures are colder. Depending on climate and a homeowner’s comfort level, the fan turns on when the outdoor temperature reaches between 70 and 80 degrees. It pulls warm air from the top level of the home and blows it into the attic. Cooler air from open downstairs windows then reduces indoor temperatures. This type of system cools the entire home, versus only cooling the upper space. It also requires extra ventilation in the form of roof or gable vents.

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Pros, Cons & Difference between Whole House and Attic Fans

Cost of Fan & Installation

Attic
  • Equipment – $80 – $400
  • Equipment + Installation – $350 – $800
Whole House
  • Equipment – $150 – $550
  • Equipment + Installation – $300 – $1,400
  • Require extra ventilation to release collected warm air away from the home. Installation of ventilation adds to overall costs.
Lower-Cost Option: Attic Fan

Climate

Attic
Pros

  • They operate well in most temperatures and in humidity.
  • Can cool space by as much as 50 degrees.

Cons

  • They can only lower the in-home temperature of the spaces immediately below, and only by as much as 10 degrees.
  • For hotter climates, they work best paired with an AC.

Whole House
Pros

  • When used in cool and dry climates, they perform well and can drastically reduce the need for an air conditioner.

Cons

  • They do not perform well in warm, humid environments.
  • They can work against an AC unit by releasing the cool air up and out of the home.

Most Adaptive to Any Climate: Attic
Best for cool Climates: Whole House

DIY Installation

Attic options are easier to install and are more DIY-friendly. However, you may prefer to hire an electrician when the time comes to connect the electrical components.

Easiest to DIY: Attic

Repairs & Maintenance

Title
  • The cost of repairs for attic fans ranges from $200-$400.
  • Failed motors, broken thermostats and faulty wiring are the most common issues.
  • Low maintenance but benefits from a simple blade and shutter cleaning every 2 to 3 years.

Whole House
  • Cost of repairs ranges from $100 to $500.
  • Blown fuses and faulty wiring are lower-cost repairs, while the more expensive ones involve motor failure and thermostat issues.
  • Requires lubrication of the oil ports and blade cleaning every 2 to 3 years for optimal performance.

Requires the Least Maintenance: Tie

Energy Efficiency

Attic

These reduce AC run time by combating heat gain from hot ceilings below. This process saves energy. One issue which could reduce such energy savings is the potential for the fan to pull cooled indoor air up into the upper space. Also, these fans take a lot of energy to operate, which could counteract their cost benefit.

Whole House

These Eco-friendly systems utilize 85% – 90% less power than central AC units. When outside is temperate enough, this method of cooling is also faster. In fact, these units can cool a home in less than one hour.

Most Energy Efficient: Whole House

ROI & Resale Value

Attic
  • These actually have a high operating cost and do not present a return on investment (ROI).
  • They also do not influence resale value in any direction.

Whole House
  • In the right climates, these have a significant ROI as they can pay for themselves in as few as 3 years.
  • They will also increase the resale value of the home in areas like the northwest because they are an energy-efficient alternative to an AC system.

Best for Added Value: Whole House
Consult with a pro to select a fan for your home

Which is More Worth It for You and Your Home?

The best fan for your home depends on your budget and climate, as well as the importance of resale value.

Attic Fans are Best For…
  • In homes with air conditioners
  • In warm, humid climates
  • For lower budgets
  • As a DIY project

Whole House Fans are Best For…
  • Cool, dry climates like the northwest
  • In place of an air conditioner in the right environment
  • To raise home value
  • To increase energy efficiency

Attic & Whole House Fans vs. Air Conditioners

Attic fans can work well with air conditioners to lower their run time by lowering temperatures within the home. Whole house fans can eliminate the need for an air conditioner in certain environments. If this style doesn’t eliminate the need for it entirely, you can use the AC during the hotter times of day and the fan in the evenings when the outside temperature is lower than the inside temperature.

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