Friday, March 18, 2011

Bathroom exhaust fan timer

I needed a break from building a Pottery Barn knock-off, so I decided it was time to finally install a bathroom exhaust fan timer switch!  Previously, it was a regular switch like so -

From left to right it went 'Light above the shower', 'Light above the toilet', 'Exhaust fan which is part of the light above the toilet'.  Like most people, I'd either forget to turn it on while showering, which eventually does Bad Things to your ceiling and walls, or I'd forget to turn it off, which eventually does Bad Things to your electric bill and the environment.  So, I went to Orange!

Here's what I came home with -
I decided I liked the push-button type of timer versus the knob & spring so that meant I had to change my switch type to the giant flattish ones (whatever they're called...I like to call them Flappy Paddle because I watch too much Top Gear (UK)).  So I bought a new faceplate, 2 new regular switches, and a fancy new timer switch doohickey.  Came home, shut the power off in the bathroom at the breaker and busted out the tools.

I took off the faceplate and unscrewed the switches so I could get at all the wiring in the box.  Like so -

Faceplate off.
This is kind of a cheat picture.  I'd already started the wiring for the new timer...and it was already wrong!  I was looking at the wiring backwards.  So I was thinking the hot was coming from one side when it was really coming from the other.  So, I messed that up but it was no big deal.  I also screwed up the neutral connection.  This is the part where I thought I was smarter than an electrician.  I saw the bundle of neutrals tucked into the back of the box and they were tied together with a wire nut but not to any of the switches. Which was FINE, because the switches didn't have a spot for neutral.  However, this massive fabulous timer NEEDS the neutral hooked up.  So I figured I was supposed to detach the wire-nutted neutral and wire-nut it to the neutral on the timer.  No.  I was supposed to add the timer neutral to the bundle of neutrals.  But, I figured that all out later.  After I (incorrectly) finished wiring the timer, I wired the other two switches like so -

Don't you love my instructions taped to the wall?  I know, it's genius!

So, I ran downstairs, into the garage, and hit the breaker.  Back upstairs, into the bathroom...Leftmost switch turns the light above the shower on, huzzah!  The other two don't do anything, bummer.  So I turned the breaker off again, and took a quick break (did some more work on that mirror, and then consulted Google).  Found this video - and that was when I figured out about the blue versus black wire and the neutral issue. 

Corrected those, downstairs, breaker on, upstairs...WORKS!  Downstairs, breaker off, upstairs and install the switches into the box (such a hassle, ugh!  I don't have strong enough hands to bend all that wire around), then spend the next 500 years sweating like a mofo trying to get them lined up for the faceplate.  THAT was the hardest part.

It's pretty easy, just don't think you're smarter than the (hopefully) Master Electrician who did the original wiring in your house. 

Now I just need to do the Little Boy's bathroom as well.  His fan doesn't get used as much, but it IS something that would be nice to have.  I think I'll wait a week to see if the house burns down first though.

/ETA - The timer was 20$, the other pieces were just of couple dollars each.  The second to the last picture shows the new white neutral going to the bundle of neutrals.


  1. Top Gear(UK) totally rocks, and you have proven that you do too, yet again.

  2. Thank you for very good blog about Bathroom Exhaust Fan. It's very nice.

  3. I know exactly what you mean by unnecessary electricity usage just because somebody left the bathroom exhaust fan on. It is for this reason that installing a timer for your bathroom exhaust fan makes perfect sense. This is especially helpful for very busy moms, so they won't have to make that extra trip to the bathroom from time to time just to check if the exhaust fan is on or not.

    Staci Severns