Over the years I’ve noticed that the bathroom fan at my house has been getting obnoxiously louder and louder. Since the bathroom fan was installed before we moved in, it was probably in need of some type of cleaning. At first, I became lazy and just kept the bathroom door open hoping it would ventilate the humid air out. A few weeks of this and the paint on the walls started peeling, big mistake. Finally I grabbed a ladder, popped off the vent cover, and removed the fan motor and blower wheel to try to clean it. After using a vacuum to suck out all the dust and dirt, I got in between the blower wheel vanes with a toothbrush. I replaced the fan motor and turned it back on. What I should have done was record a clip of the fan going before the cleaning so I could compare it to what it sounded like after. It was slightly quieter, but I was unsure. A week passed and I realized the noise level was pretty much the same, if not worse. Finally I caved and started looking up replacement fans online and also did some research to see if I could do a deeper cleaning (which was a long shot). Bear in mind I was able to date the unit to about 20 years old! Some places like Lowe’s or Home Depot had similar complete fan units for about $150-200. They also showed quick “How To” videos that outlined the replacement process and it did look fairly easy, but I didn’t want to shell out the cash. Since the rest of the fan still works (it’s a combo, fan and heater) I decided that I might be able to find a replacement motor. Here’s what the motor and wheel looked like before (but after my initial cleaning):
I found that the manufacturer was a company named NuTone. Another popular brand of bathroom fans is Broan. Eventually one of the companies bought out the other, but I forget which one. Luckily on NuTone/Broan’s website finding the right replacement part was a breeze. I tried to order the parts online and found the motor was in stock, but sadly the blower wheel wasn’t. I could’ve purchased them separately, but I didn’t want to pay an additional shipping charge. I checked Amazon for replacement parts, but none of them were a direct fit. Some reviews said they had to reverse the motor (which I think requires desoldering the leads and soldering them backwards) and/or cut the motor shaft so that it would fit the enclosure properly. Since I didn’t want to do any modifications that may render a new part useless, I called NuTone’s 800 number. After half of a ring (guess they don’t get many calls), an old man answered. I explained I needed a part and he pretty much gave me another number to call. I asked if the prices were the same and he said they’d be the same if not cheaper. I was skeptical at first because 1) this new place was in Michigan 2) the number was to an individual parts “collector” so I didn’t know if the part was new 3) the guy didn’t have a website so I couldn’t check reviews about his business.
After calling Gary’s Electric in Lansing, MI (517) 484-9361, I found Gary to be helpful and very nice. He answered all my questions about the part and knew exactly what I needed. Somewhere in 2005 and after, NuTone started manufacturing the entire units differently so the parts weren’t interchangeable. He made sure I received the right one. One caveat was that Gary sent my package to the wrong address (thankfully the house number he sent it to did not exist, so UPS held the package at the hub), but he was quick to give me a tracking number when I called him back. Before you hang up the phone with him, have him verify all the information (I did this initially, but I think he typed in the address for UPS incorrectly) and have him call you with a tracking number when he ships it out. Anyway, I paid $45 which included tax and shipping, which made me very happy since the parts on Amazon were roughly $15-30 without shipping costs. Here’s a picture of the new vs old fan motor and blower wheel:
As you can see, there’s a significant amount of rust on the old motor. In the next photo, you can see the amount of rust on the shaft itself. This contributed to an unbalanced shaft, causing wobble and vibration which was causing all the noise. I was also able to move the shaft up and down, it had a fair amount of play in it.
Here’s a shot of the new part. So shiny! Also, look how clean the vanes are on the blower wheel!
I fell in to the same trap as before as I didn’t record a clip of the noise before and after. Thankfully I can definitely tell the fan is quieter and my wife can also confirm it. I saved $150 by just replacing the motor instead of buying a completely new unit and struggling to install it. If you have a noisy bathroom fan, pop off the cover and see what you can find. A simple cleaning might do the trick, or you may need to tighten a few bolts. Please take extreme caution as you’re working with live electrical lines! Here are some tips:
- Record a quick clip of what the fan sounds like before you do any repairs, you’ll have solid proof if the repair worked (or didn’t)
- BEFORE YOU POP OFF THE COVER: TURN OFF THE CIRCUIT TO THE FAN (if you have to, the entire bathroom; in this instance, use a shop light and extension cord for illumination!)
- DOUBLE CHECK THE CIRCUIT IS OFF
- TRIPLE CHECK THE CIRCUIT IS OFF
- Make sure your ladder is on a sturdy surface
- Take pictures before you start unscrewing stuff or draw a diagram where wires and screws go
- Keep in mind of the position of the fan plug, it’s short for a reason
- Wear eye protection: stuff can and will fall into your eyes (think 20 year old dust bunnies, eeeww!)
- Excess moisture caught by the fan is often siphoned off into a drip tray on the fan enclosure, use a drop cloth or lay out some newspapers when disassembling the fan motor. You’ll see what I mean, just note this “moisture” has been stagnant for days/months/years it stinks like mold and can stain carpets, towels, clothing. Think of it as the drip trays or the oil catch that is installed in your stove’s range hood
I think there are more than enough tips for a successful repair or replacement. By reading this post, I am in no way responsible for any damages, injury, or deaths that may occur from performing the repair or replacement. Just throwing that out there! =)