The scary truth of exhaust fans.
How many of you use your non-continuous exhaust fans? Non-continuous exhaust fans are those fans that are above your stove or in your bathroom or your laundry room. We use these fans every day. In fact, the management at my apartment complex even encourages us to keep them on after we use the shower to help to reduce mold and mildew that could be caused by moisture build up. My boys also used that fan after they use the restroom—though in their case, it’d have to be on 24/7 to help fight that. I tend to use the fan over the stove fairly frequently as well as after cooking.
What I didn’t know until yesterday is that you should never run these the non-continuous exhaust fans for more then one hour at a time. That’s right: one-hour.
I learned this recently when Fire Captain/ Public Information Officer Steve Concialdi casually mentioned this—and stressed what a serious fire hazard it is—while we were discussing another issue. I was shocked and my first thought was “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Sadly, he wasn’t kidding. He said that there have been over eight fires in Orange County this year alone that were caused by people leaving those fans on for an extended period of time. In 2012 and 2013 combined, there were a total of 21 exhaust fan fires, totaling damage estimated at $350,000—and not to mention the damage to belongings and the cost of being displaced from their homes.
A quick read of the manufacturer manuals confirms the captain’s advice. And please use common sense. This doesn’t mean that you can run it for an hour, turn it off for five minutes and run it again for an hour.
Additionally, you need to make sure to clean and service your non-continuous exhaust fans regularly. I’d recommend doing this at least twice a year, perhaps when you move your clocks forward or back to adjust for daylight savings time. I mean, you’re already changing your smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries then, right? Right?!? If you’re not sure how to clean and service the fan, contact a professional to have it done.
Be mindful when you turn the fan on. Listen for unusual noises. Notice if it gets hot or seizes up. If any of those things happen, turn it off and get it looked at immediately. There are plenty of reputable companies out there who can assist you with that. Out of an abundance of caution, I asked Capt. Concialdi if similar rules applied for air conditioning or ceiling fans and he said that those are built to run for longer durations and are generally safe, but as with anything you should read the manuals and use the proper discretion.
So that’s your fire safety tip of the day. When you turn on the fan, set a timer and remember to turn them off within an hour. Sure it’s a little inconvenient to remember to set the timer, but it’s a whole lot safer and more convenient than running the risk of starting a fire.