I live in an old style garden level unit in Chicago (roughly 80 years old).

The bathroom currently has no ventilation. The window is cracked and I'll leave the bathroom door open when I shower, but I'd like a longer term solution.

The tricky part is, that the bathroom window overlooks the courtyard at eye level. There are no other vents/ducts I could hook an exhaust fan into.

Any ideas on how I can add in some sort of exhaust fan through the window which would still have privacy? It would be OK if the top half of the window became a fan, but the bottom half would have to stay blocked.

UPDATE: I'd consider pulling the window frame (old wooden one, likely original) out and the entire window. Reason being is right now the window frame is a shelf for shampoo/etc. I don't know if I'd be able to do something like glass brick or not.

  • In the most common installation, you would install a fan in the ceiling and vent it outside (either up or through the wall). Is there a reason you can't do this?
    – Steven
    Feb 21 '13 at 3:30
  • I'm reading this as an apartment/condo/townhouse, on the ground level (or even partially below grade). Is this true? Are you constrained from making building structure changes?
    – HerrBag
    Feb 26 '13 at 15:02
  • Yes - this is a below grade unit (approx 3 feet). I am constrained from making structural changes. Exterior is brick and there are decorative bars on the windows. I likely wouldn't get approval to change the appearance from outside and it would be too expensive even if I did. I can change the window and frame. Right now there is a wooden frame in the shower - which is no good for the long term. Also, there is no vent for me to hook into. As I said, the building is 80+ years old so there is no common vent system. I have to vent through the window.
    – Dave
    Feb 26 '13 at 17:10

You can easily run an exhaust fan through a window opening. Look at all the window mounted air conditioners. Same concept without the cooling capability. The main constraints are cost and appearance. As you can imagine, the more handsome the installation, the more it will cost. You basically will want to use a small square duct fan, similar to a very small box fan or very large computer fan. You should consider at least a short duct so you can incorporate a backdraft damper to minimize infiltration when the fan is not in use. You may also want a louvered grille for appearance or privacy reasons. Depending on how this is accomplished, the exterior decorative bars may need to be reworked slightly.

It sounds like this window is in or above the shower itself. In such a case, all electrical work will need to be approved for wet locations (I believe if above 72" from floor, only damp location measures are required, but please verify this). The simplest installation would be to open the window, run the duct through the opening and close off the remaining opening with an insulated panel of some sort. The sliding panes will need to be fixed in place somehow for security. Fan wiring can be run in surface mounted EMT tubing.

A better solution is to remove the wood window, which is not the best material for wet locations. Install the fan/duct and some minimal infill framing in the rough opening. Any wood in contact with masonry should be pressure treated. Install a new PVC window in the new, smaller opening, with obscure glass. A cleaner look will be achieved if you can hide the fan wiring behind finished surfaces. Depending on existing conditions, this can be somewhat simple or quite expensive.

A glass brick solution is also possible. Depending on the size of your opening and the brick module size, it may be an excellent or poor solution. Ideally, you may need no infill panel at all, the duct may fit nicely in one corner. Or so much infill is needed that the glass brick solution is just too visually insubstantial to be worth doing at all.

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