Kate researches the best bathroom exhaust fan — plus, a video of “the toilet paper test”

With prices ranging from $13 up to $250+… a laundry list of features to choose from… and deciphering CFMs required for your space, selecting the right exhaust fan for your bathroom can be a dizzying task. I recently did extensive research to select bath fans for both my new pink bathroom and as a replacement fan for my hall bathroom. My ultimate choice: the NuTone UltraSilent 110 CFM bathroom exhaust fan. In this story, I share my research into the whys and wherefores. And in the one-minute video above, I try reader MattS’s toilet paper test. Yup, my new fan works great.

nutone-bath-fanKates-bathroom-graphic3The starting point was to decide what features were desired in a new bath fan — by making a list of all my priorities:

  • Must be able to move a lot of air — moisture problems in both bathrooms necessitate this.
  • Must be UL-rated for use over a shower or tub, since it would be installed directly over the shower in my master bath as well as partially over the tub in the hall bath.
  • Must have a bright light. In the master, the fan/light combo would be the sole lighting for the shower and in the other bath, the fan/light also provided most of the light for the tub/shower combo.
  • No heater fan. Both existing original fans were heater fans. Personally my husband and I do not like heater fans and we’ve had guests accidentally turn on the heater fan instead of exhaust fan when not showering (if you get my drift). Not exactly a good idea.
  • Must be simply designed and easy to clean.
  • Must be relatively quiet. Both of my old bath fans were so loud it sounded like an airplane was taking off in the bathroom. (Although one reader, in our last story, commented that she and her husband liked noisy fans, because they provide white noise [if you get their drift.])
  • Made in USA is a plus — I like to buy American whenever possible.

Listing the priorities greatly helped me narrow down the field. Then it was time to understand the cubic feet per minute (CFM) ratings, making sure to select a fan that was rated for the size of each bathroom.

Some quick searching led me to this fan selector information from the Home Depot website:

Sizing Your Fan
More is better; the larger the CFM the more quickly humidity is removed. You can estimate the minimum number of CFMs your bathroom requires using the rules of thumb guidelines below. These estimates are for bathrooms with 8′ ceilings.

Rules of Thumb
Bathrooms under 50 SF = 50 CFM fan
Bathrooms over 50 SF = Select a fan that can move at least 1 CFM per square foot of bathroom area. For example, an 80 square foot bathroom will need a fan rated at 80 CFM.

To calculate the minimum CFMs required for larger bathrooms, use this formula:

Length X Width X Height X 0.13 = Minimum CFM rating  

Your bathroom is 6’ long by 8’ wide with a 10’ high ceiling:
6 X 8 X 10 = 480 X 0.13 = 63
The minimum CFM rating for your bath fan is 63 CFMs.

This calculation assumes that you have one sink and one shower head. More shower heads, for example, would increase the need for a stronger air flow.

Applying this calculation to my own bathrooms told me that a 70-80 CFM fan would work in either space. However, since both bathrooms had moisture problems and taking into consideration the “more is better” advice from the Home Depot website, finding a fan with more than 80 CFM seemed like the best option.


After narrowing the fan options down to just a few that met all my specifications, taking the reviews into account produced a clear winner in my mind. The NuTone Ultra Silent 110 CFM Ceiling Exhaust Bath fan with Light and Nightlight, which I purchased through Home Depot, had a lot of positive feedback. The only non-five star review was from a homeowner who had issues installing it as a replacement fan. Since both fans were being professionally installed by an electrician, I wasn’t concerned about the install difficulty, and our electrician ended up having no issues.  At $219, this fan is a bit on the pricey side, but is one of their higher-end models, and spending a bit more for a better product that will hopefully last longer didn’t bother me. An added bonus — NuTone products are made in the USA.

nutone-bath-fan-installedThe fan has been in regular use for a few weeks now, and in that time my husband and I have been very pleased. It is extremely quiet. You can see the steam from the shower being sucked into the fan and out of the room. The mirror has ceased to fog. Our towels dry. There has been no new moisture related “funk” appearing in the bathroom since the post-install deep clean. We aren’t using the nightlight feature currently, but the main light gives off much more light than our old fan did. Of course it is also nice to have the fan vent to the outside instead of just into the attic too — so far I would give this fan an A+.

Now all I need to do is finish patching the drywall and give the ceiling a fresh coat of paint. Always something to tackle around here.

Read all of the stories related to my pink bathroom remodel project here.


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  1. Diane says

    How right you are about the importance of a strong a quiet exhaust fan! We’ve replaced or added new ones in two homes, and have been so relieved not to have the airplane engine rumbling overhead. A few extra tips. Be sure to compare the sone ratings and pick the lowest number for the quietist fan. You really should vent the fan directly outside. Moisture, even in a vented attic, is bad for the structure of your home. Vent to the outside and that moisture won’t get near your rafters or ceiling joists, etc. How the fan and venting are installed can change the volume/noisiness of the fan, so try for as straight a run to the outside as possible. Finally, enjoy your new fan!

    • Kate says

      Yes Diane — very true. My fans were both previously vented into the attic, but I remedied that and now they both vent out of the roof. The electrician said part of the problem with the old green bathroom fan was that the baffle didn’t open, that’s why it was not working well/loud. It is so nice to have two working and quiet fans now!

  2. Mary Elizabeth says

    Great choice and great information, Kate. Isn’t it amazing that there are all those NuTone bath fans, range hoods, doorbells, etc. in our mid-century houses that are still working? And they are still made in the USA! What you spent is nothing when you think your fan may last 25-50 years and prevent moisture problems that are difficult and expensive to repair. Every time I go to purchase something for my home, my grandpa’s voice sticks in my head, saying, “You get what you pay for, Dear.” With only the sheetrock repair and painting left to do, does that mean you get to actually use your pink bathroom now? Woo-hoo! 🙂

    • Kate says

      Yes Mary Elizabeth, I always hear my parents/grandparents echoing that “you get what you pay for” mantra as well. I try to buy things I think will last longest, even if they are a little more expensive than the alternatives!

      This fan is in the green bathroom. The pink bathroom still needs a vanity, countertop and final plumbing install before I can start using it. Plan is to work on the vanity/countertop this weekend…so we will see! Not long now I hope!

  3. Edwin says

    Haven’t posted in a LONG time. But felt like I had something of value to add to this conversation today. A very cool way to exhaust a bathroom is by using an “in-line” fan. The motor and fan are not in the actual housing, but are placed further up the exhaust ducting. What’s cool about it is you can attach your ducting to retro cover grilles. They are more powerful AND you basically hear no noise.

  4. Jmb says

    The fan in my 1951 bathroom was also installed whereby the baffle couldn’t open and if it had it would vent to the attic which is a no no. I’m not sure that the nutone fan I installed was made in the USA, have you confirmed all the fans are made here, or just the high end one you purchased? The quality of the nutone fan I installed is lacking a quality finish, and they had to send me three light kits before one worked for both light bulbs. My fan is noisy and the finish is already rusty, but I didn’t spend more than 100 bucks for mine.

    Again, are you sure all NuTone fans are made in America?

  5. Scott says

    LOL, getting to see the TP test in action was both educational and entertaining. I also got a giggle on the very good reason why a heater combo might not be the best idea.

    On family vacations I used to think the combo bathroom heater/fan/lights at the motels on the beach were the living end, especially when they included one of those orange infra-red hamburger warmer lights. It’s probably a good thing they don’t make these anymore as I have a feeling nostalgia might win out over practicality. And the bathroom fan is one place practicality really needs to rule.

  6. lynda says

    Great choice! Looks very nice. I always think that by purchasing a high end product you are saving labor costs for future replacement and saving a little more room in the landfill since the item should last longer.
    As always, you have probably helped others make a good choice.

  7. Joe Felice says

    And don’t forget the laundry room. UBC now requires an exhaust fan in there. Any fan older-than-20 years should be replaced, because fans back then were not thermally protected against overheating, whereas new fans are. As a property manager, I have seen many fires that were started by older fans that had been left on too long and overheated, igniting the gunk inside the fan housing, as well as the insulation surrounding it.

  8. Andy A says

    Thanks for this article on bathroom exhaust fans. We have 3 full and 1 half bath, and only one–the powder room–has an exhaust fan. Two have Nutone heaters and outside windows, (which doesn’t really help when it’s very cold or hot outside), and the other is a Jack and Jill bathroom with a Nutone heater/light/fan that doesn’t exhaust, it just blows room temperature air down from the ceiling. What is the point of that? Air movement is better than nothing at all?

    Thankfully, two of the bathrooms do have central heat/air registers in them, so moisture/mold is not a problem. I do want to install new exhaust fans over the tubs/showers someday, and it’s nice to know the new units are quiet yet still able to pull moisture out of the room.

  9. MR Lapin says

    Most of the higher end Nutone-Broan fans I saw at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago were marked “Made in China” – especially the quiet ones. The US made ones seemed to be mostly the cheap, noisy models. All the heat/vent combinations were imported. 🙁

    BTW, for the person whose heat/vent fan just blows air back into the room, that’s because the gate that switches from exhaust to heat is stuck, or the solenoid that operates it has burned out. You should hear a click and see movement in it when you switch from fan to heat. If there’s no click or movement, replace the solenoid. If there is, clean and oil the linkage. Hope this helps!

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