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. 

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.

  1. KathyJB says:

    I’m interested on the easy to clean part. I wish I would have kept my 1950’s exhaust fan in the bathroom. It was loud, but now that I know a little more about vintage fans, I wish I would have kept it. It had fan blades, not those icky airplane turbo looking things. NOT easy to clean at all. Horrible. Now I’m online searching for a vintage exhaust fan.

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