How to Stop Your Bathroom from Wasting Energy

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy
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The bathroom is typically the smallest room in the house, making it easy to overlook when seeking out energy savings. But it’s also the room where lights are often left on and the fan can be left to blare away unnecessarily.

Think twice before deciding never to run your bathroom fan again, though. Proper ventilation in a bathroom is important for not only keeping the room fresh but also preventing the growth of mold and helping maintain a healthy home environment. Without a bathroom fan, you’ll need to open a window to ventilate the room, which is not efficient — especially on hot and humid (or chilly) days.

Here are two simple ways to cut down on energy waste in the bathroom.

Install a Motion-Sensing Fan

If you don’t want to mess with wiring, or you’re in the market for a new bathroom fan, a motion-sensing fan is your best option. These fans are rated highly by Energy Star for their cost-efficiency. They come with or without an LED light, and you can adjust the timer depending on how long you want the fan to run after the room is empty.

You can also have the fan run continuously at a low speed. This may seem counterintuitive to energy savings, but according to Green Building Advisor, “When operated for 24 hours per day or when controlled by a timer, [a bathroom fan] can act (in some cases) as the most important component of a whole-house ventilation system.”

Some bathroom fans have features that add convenience and a “wow” factor to your bathroom. There are fans equipped with Bluetooth-connected speakers that allow you to play music wirelessly from your smart device, models disguised as light fixtures that won’t detract from your decor, and ultra-quiet fans that whisk away humidity without a sound. 

Retrofit Occupancy Sensors and Timers

In my half bath, the problem of lights being left on and the fan running for hours was becoming a major family issue. I was concerned about the wasted energy; other family members didn’t like the fan’s annoying noise when they were watching a movie in the adjoining family room.

I decided to replace our existing switches with an occupancy-sensing switch and a timer. The occupancy-sensing switch turns on when you walk in and turns off after five minutes of no activity. (The switch can also be manually overridden for people who remember to turn the lights off when they leave the room.) The timer switch lets the user select how long to leave the bathroom fan on, ranging from minutes to hours. It also has regular on/off button. These two switches cost about $50 total.

WARNING: Installing these switches requires some electrical knowledge. If you are not comfortable dealing with wiring, call a licensed electrician. If you have some technical know-how, however, it’s a relatively simple project — it took me about an hour in total. If at any point you are unsure of what to do next, call a licensed electrician.

Things You’ll Need

Phillips-head screwdriver
Voltage tester
Occupancy sensor
In-wall countdown timer
Wall plate

    Step 1

    Turn off the power to the switch at the breaker. This crucial step prevents injury. Test that the power is off by flicking the lights to see whether they turn on. Once you’re sure the power is off, unpack all the equipment and carefully read through the directions for each switch.

    Step 2

    Remove the existing wall plate. (You may need a flat-head screwdriver.)

    Step 3

    Examine the wiring you have and make sure you have the correct wires according to the directions that come with your switches.

    Step 4

    Remove the old switches by unhooking the wiring, noting where each wire goes in case you need to rewire the same switches at some point.

    Step 5

    Wire in your new switches, following the directions and using the included wire caps. Tug on each wire cap to make sure the wires are in securely.

    Step 6

    For the in-wall timer, be sure to hook up the “hot” wire (the wire coming from the circuit breaker) and the “load” wire (the wire carrying electricity to the fan or light) in their correct place, as instructed on the timer’s packaging. If you’re not sure which wire is which, a voltage tester can identify (with the power on) which wire is receiving power (the “hot” wire).

    Step 7

    Once all wires are connected, turn the power back on and make sure the switches are working correctly. Next, turn the power back off and tuck the wires in.

    Step 8

    If everything is working correctly, screw in the switches and attach your wall plate. Turn the power back on, and you’re done. If you need a more detailed walk through of the process, check out this DIY video on installing an occupancy sensor.

    Invest some time into making your bathroom as energy efficient as possible. It will pay off in the long run and make for a happier, healthier home.

    An award-winning freelance journalist, Jennifer Tuohy has been writing for newspapers and magazines, as well as marketing and online content, for more than 15 years. Her passions lie in technology, sustainability, and the intersection of the two. To see a selection of bath fans like those described by Jennifer, please visit The Home Depot’s website.

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