Whole House Fan vs Attic Fan

whole house fan vs attic fan

Hot attics don’t have to be an inevitability. Without proper ventilation, attic temperatures can reach up to 150 degrees during the hottest days of the year. These temperatures can soar even higher in hot climates. There are two possible avenues for reducing the hot air trapped in your attic: whole house fans and attic fans. Choosing the right one can make your home’s living spaces more comfortable.

Whole house and attic fans perform similar functions, mainly improving ventilation. Before deciding between the two, it’s best to understand their pros and cons of attic fans and whole house fans. Read on to learn about many of the important factors that may influence your decision.

What Are Whole House Fans?

what are whole house fans

A whole house fan is a cooling system used to eliminate or reduce the need for artificial cool air, which can reduce the strain on your air conditioning system. Many homeowners appreciate this device because it produces about one-third as much electricity as a standard air-conditioning unit. Reducing your electricity can result in lower energy bills and cooler airflow throughout your home. You can turn on this machine when the temperatures outside drop to use the cool air to ventilate your property.

Here are some things to remember about whole house fans:

  • You mount them between your living space and attic.
  • It’s best to use them in the evening and early morning — or any time the temperature is much lower outside
  • These instruments pull warm indoor air toward the attic and push hot air out of your home.
  • When you open windows in your living spaces, they draw cool air from outside.
  • As they cool your living spaces, they drive heat buildup out of your entire home.

What Are Attic Fans?

what are attic fans

Attic fans draw hot air out of your loft and push it outside. They work well with your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Unlike whole house fans, it’s best to use attic fans during the hottest times of the day to reduce heat buildup. Doing so helps you ventilate your attic space only.

Below are some features of attic fans:

  • You mount them between your attic and outside space.
  • It’s best to run attic fans when it’s hot outside.
  • These mechanisms actively remove hot hair from the attic.
  • They create negative pressure in your loft and pull outside air through the roof.
  • These instruments minimize the heat buildup in your attic and keep temperatures as comfortable as possible.

What is the difference between a whole house fan and an attic fan?

In a nutshell, below are some of the factors that differentiate whole house fans from attic fans.

Keep reading to delve deeper into the mentioned components.

Major Differences

One of the most obvious differences between whole house fans and attic fans is the areas they serve. While a whole house fan pulls out air from the entire house, an attic fan only works its magic in the attic.

Depending on your whole house fan’s capacity and home size, your electrically powered machine can change the air up to six times per hour. Your attic vents open and close in sync with the fan’s movements.

It’s essential to allow one square foot of opening for every 750 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of fan capacity for whole house fans to perform optimally. You can use various vent types, including dormer, eave, or ridge to stimulate attic venting.

On the other hand, attic fans or attic ventilators dispel hot air from the attic based on the signal from your thermostat. You also need air intake. There are two usual attic fan types:

  • Gable attic fans: You can mount this fan type on your existing gable. As soon as temperatures drop, they push warm attic air out of the gable.
  • Roof attic fans: As the name suggests, you can find a roof attic fan partially inside the attic and partially toward the roof. It should not be closer than two feet to your roof’s ridgeline.



Winner: Attic Fans

Whole house fans end up in your attic, but you have to connect them to your ceiling through a vent. In most cases, they span 36 to 40 inches. This length should be long enough to cover ceiling joists.

Attic fans are always less visually obtrusive than whole house fans because you don’t need to connect them to your living space. However, if you put an attic fan behind an existing gable vent, you can almost see it from the outside. Gable attic fans are not as noticeable as whole house fans because they can fit behind a gable’s opening vent.

The Installation Process

whole-house-vs-attic-fan_the installation process

Winner: Attic Fans

If your attic has live electric power, the most challenging part of installing whole house fans is going through walls to attach the damper box to ceiling joists. Naturally, big fans are more complicated to install. However, you can use 20-inch vent tubes to suspend your fan with ranger straps.

On the flip side, attic fans are easier to install than whole house fans. You can install one quickly as long as you have a power source in the attic. However, keep in mind that this process becomes more difficult if you have powered roof vents because you need to make a hole in the roof.

Cooling Capabilities

whole-house-vs-attic-fan_cooling capabilities

Winner: Whole House Fans

As long as the temperature outdoors is lower than inside your home, whole house fans will work to your advantage. During such times, you can use these machines instead of energy-hungry air-conditioning units.

In most cases, whole house fans are better at cooling your home than attic fans because they move cool air throughout the house. Attic fans are not the same as standard room fans, but you can feel the temperature difference when you turn them on.

Attic fans may cool your home, but you might not need them if you have a well-insulated property. Attic fans are designed to produce to circulate fresh air throughout your home, reducing humidity and increasing energy efficiency.

However, if your attic has poor insulation, attic fans can help you cool down the living areas. These appliances drop home temperatures by reducing the heat in the attic and never move air around the house as whole house fans do.

One bonus benefit of using attic fans is preventing mold and mildew growth in your home.

Ease of Operation

whole-house-vs-attic-fan_ease of operation

Winner: Attic Fans

Whole house fans require you to manually turn them on and off. You’ll also have to open screen doors before you can open the fans.

However, there are ways to make the process more convenient for users. For instance, you can install a pull cord from the ceiling or a wall switch. One major drawback is that these machines only work when the air outside is colder than the air in your house.

For attic fans, you won’t have any trouble operating them as long as you install them properly. It’s also best to have easy access to a switch. However, these appliances can turn on and off automatically. If the temperature inside your attic shoots up, the mechanism will send the fan a signal to turn on.

Noise Levels

whole-house-vs-attic-fan_noise levels

Winner: Whole House Fans

Older whole house fan models are known for their noise, especially after many months of use. The moment your fan blades get weak, they knock around the machine as they turn. Loud sounds are signs that you might need to replace your fans.

However, whole house fans have evolved into quiet indoor tools. You can find some on the market with lower sound levels than 42 decibels — just like a quiet library.

On the other hand, attic fans are mechanical devices that can be noisy. They may be several feet away from the gable but they can still reach high sound levels. If you find that they make too much noise for you, you can check out soundproofing options.

What is better an attic fan or whole house fan?

Winner: Tie

Attic fans tend to look better and they are easier to install and operate. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any home, so the best home improvement project will be customized to your home’s needs. Also, remember that these products are not mutually exclusive. If you need whole house and attic fans to make your home more comfortable, you can install both of them on your property.

If you need to keep your whole house cool during the hotter days of the year, it’s best to go with whole house fans. And if you want to add ventilation to your attic, choose attic fans. Now that you understand their similarities and differences better, you can determine which product is the best fit for your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a whole house fan expensive?

Whole house fans can be expensive when you factor in the cost of installation and ongoing operation, but it is a worthwhile home improvement investment if you’re struggling to circulate cooler air or improve your central air conditioning’s efficiency. Whole attic fans can range from $500 to $2,000 depending on the size of the fan, brand, type, and ease of installation. According to HomeServe, the average fan can cost anywhere from $200 to $400, but the installation can cost an additional $600 to $1,200. Whole house fan installation is roughly $3,000 to $5,000 less compared to central air conditioning costs.

Can a whole house fan be used as an attic fan?

Whole house fans are designed to run in the evening and after sunset to circulate cooler air throughout your home, while attic fans are designed to turn on during hot days. Whole house fans work to cool your entire living space whereas attic fans primarily cool your attic. However, insulation and other forms of ventilation can improve the comfort of your home as well.

Are attic fans important in cold climates?

Attic fans are important in cold climates, despite their reputation for cooling your home in the warmer months. Well-insulated and well-ventilated attics prevent heat build up, which can reduce ice damming.

Additional Attic Fan Resources