13 Pros and Cons of Solar Powered Attic Ventilation Fans

Your attic can be a useful place for storage, even if the area isn’t fully finished. That’s where your seasonal decorations can go, the old toys that the kids no longer use, and anything else that receives only occasional attention. If you don’t regulate the temperatures that occur in this space, then you could damage the items that are kept there.

Although winter temperatures can be problematic in some geographical areas, it is usually heat that creates issues in this space. Even during the colder months of the year, hot air rises to become trapped in this enclosed area. Without the presence of a fan and venting, an attic may not be as usable as it could be.

That’s why the pros and cons of solar attic fans are essential to consider if you want to maximize the use of your home’s space. By upgrading your system or installing one for the first time, you’ll create usable space without pushing your utility costs upward.

List of the Pros of Solar Attic Fans

1. This option runs on a renewable energy resource.
The most significant benefit of solar attic fans is that they operate using renewable energy from the sun instead of being hooked up to your electrical grid. When you compare the capital expense of this product to the ongoing bills you would pay to operate the unit, you’ll come out ahead every time. This advantage also means that you can reduce the carbon footprint of your home as a secondary way to help the environment.

2. It will make a home become more energy efficient.
If you are blowing the hot air out of your attic during the summer, then you’ll create more usable storage space for your belongings. You can also push that air back into your home in the winter months to manage your heating needs more effectively. A cooler attic space contributes to a lower energy demand throughout the rest of the home, which means some property owners could see significant reductions in their heating and cooling bills throughout the year.

At the same time, you’re freeing up more storage space that you can use to limit the clutter that happens in the rest of your home.

3. You have access to energy on the days that you need it the most.
When the skies are overcast and threatening rain, then there is less heat energy directed into your home from the sun. That means you wouldn’t need to run a fan in your attic to maintain the correct temperatures. Because solar attic fans use the sun for energy, you can operate the unit on the days you need it the most without worrying about the extra electrical expense. The extra sunshine gives you power on the hottest days of the year.

This benefit makes a solar attic fan a useful investment for any geographic location that sees 250+ days of sunshine each year. It may even reduce the need for air conditioning or a swamp cooler in some areas.

4. It can improve the curb appeal of your home.
Solar attic fans can provide your home with an improved appearance that speaks of environmental consciousness when you make this investment. It also provides a lower profile then other ventilation options so that you can streamline the look instead of using bulky items that can cause distractions. It is even better than the passive fan models that operate with a traditional connection, which mean you’ll gain benefits on multiple levels by completing this installation.

Part of the reason for this benefit is the fact that the average solar attic fan doesn’t require roofing cement, caulk or any other product to prevent leaking. You’ll need to cut a hole in the roof, two if you purchase multiple fans, and a third if you need a remote-panel location. Knowing how to properly flash these housings can ensure that a seamless look remains.

5. Solar power is safer to use with an attic fan.
The safety and effectiveness of an attic fan is a subject that is hotly debated, but line-powered products usually cost more to operate than they can produce in savings during the summer. They also create zones of negative pressure that could pull the AC-cooled air into the attic. This issue can even pull carbon monoxide upward and other gases from combustion appliances to create a potential danger.

When you choose solar attic fans to meet your needs, the amount of power they draw eliminates that concern. It won’t cost anything to operate once it becomes functional either.

6. You don’t need to pay an electrician to connect the fan.
The cost of connecting a traditional fan to your electrical grid can add several hundred dollars to the installation process. You can avoid all of that by opting for solar attic fans to move around your hot air. Although it may not exhaust all of it from your space, it will create a cooler environment for most home owners without a significant labor expense.

There is also a certain level of quiet that you get to experience with solar attic fans when they operate compared to the typical line-based model.

List of the Cons of Solar Attic Fans

1. There is a cost factor to consider with a solar attic fan.
The price of solar attic fans requires a greater capital cost for homeowners compared to the traditional models. Although you can recoup the initial expense through your energy cost savings over time, there is a barrier to entry with this product that may be too much for some consumers to manage.

A single fan will typically cost about $600 in most markets, and then you’ll have $150 to $300 in installation costs to pay. Although a building permit usually isn’t necessary for this unit, some jurisdictions may have specific rules that you need to follow that come at an extra cost as well.

2. You will probably need two solar attic fans to get the results you want.
Because solar attic fans operate with a lower power output, they are unable to move as much air as some of the other options that are available. That means you will need to double up your investment in this area. If your home is more than 1,600 square feet in size, it may require three fans to maximize your air movement and utility savings.

This disadvantage is the reason why many contractors suggest that the investment makes sense only if you’re using the attic regularly or are in the room adjacent to it. If your primary goal is to save some money, then upgrading to R-38 insulation, creating a radiant barrier, or switching to a white roof might be cheaper options.

3. It can take a long time to recoup your installation costs.
If you choose an Energy Star-rated solar attic fan for your home, then you might qualify for tax credits that equal up to 30% of your initial expense. Because you’ll usually need two fans to create the results you want instead of a single traditional product, your expenses are going to double.

As HGTV points out, cooling a 1,000 square foot home with solar attic fans can save you about $40 per year in a warm climate like Florida. That means it could take between 10-15 years to get back to even with this investment.

4. This product requires direct sunlight to operate.
Your attic can get pretty warm without direct sunlight exposure thanks to the thermal energy that comes from the sun. If you don’t receive those rays, then the solar attic fans are not going to operate. Some communities are unable to rely on solar power because they get 150 or fewer days of sunshine per year. You could temper some of this disadvantage with a large battery that can store energy for you, but that would increase the cost of your installation as well.

Before considering solar attic fans, you will want to think about how much direct sunlight your solar panel will receive each day. Cloud cover, dust, and other obstructions are essential to review before you commit to this technology as well.

5. Air movement can be a significant problem with some models.
If you choose solar attic fans over the traditional models, then you are installing a product that will not be as powerful. Although there are some benefits to this fact, you may discover that there isn’t enough strength to push the air out of the attic like you want. It may be necessary to combine this technology with passive flow options to keep your electricity costs down while encouraging stabilized temperatures in the space above your head.

You might find that some solar attic fans only push around the hot and humid air in your space instead of exhausting it. That means you’re paying for the equipment without really getting the benefits that you need to improve your storage space.

6. Drifting clouds can prevent the fan’s operation.
Solar attic fans require direct sunlight to operate. Because most models do not use a battery as a backup power source, any drifting clouds that come along will interrupt the operation of this unit. The fan will stop spinning immediately once it loses contact with the light. That means you could be stuck with a hot day and no way to improve the conditions in your attic. It is not unusual for even the premium models in this category to only move about 800 cubic feet of air when it is fully operational.

7. You must change the structure of your roof.
It is impossible to install solar attic fans without cutting a hole in your roof. What some homeowners don’t realize is the fact that you may need to place multiple holes in your structure to support the entire system. That’s why it may not be a suitable choice for some properties. The weight of the installation could be disruptive to the supports that are present at the top of your house.

Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Solar Attic Fans

Making the correct choice for your house requires an inspection and detailed analysis of your attic’s situation. A local contractor familiar with solar attic fans can provide you with the information needed to make an informed choice with this product. Some homes may benefit from the extra air movement, but it could be problematic for some structures as well.

That’s why the pros and cons of solar attic fans must receive an individualized review. Each key point may apply in different ways to your property. Make sure that you consider the region where you live, the positioning of your home to the sun, and the unique interior layout as part of this process so that you can make an investment that helps your home.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.