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Due to noisy 24/7 bathroom exhaust fan the breaker was turned off. Turning off the breaker feeding the bathroom, it de-energized the exhaust fan, bathroom lighting and counter outlet, bedroom lighting and all outlets in the room, half the outlets in the living room and the apartment smoke detectors.

This apartment building is only about a year old.

  • Is the circuit wiring to code?
  • Is the bathroom fan supposed to run 24/7?

The bathroom fan has a wall switch adjacent to the outlet and light switch that increases the fan speed.

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  • If it was a house that new, would say it is not in code, a house from the 70s 80s maybe. An apartment is probably on different codes due to size, but will need someone who knows. World location would help also.
    – crip659
    Sep 22 at 16:41
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    Continuous fan operation is normal for tight (well-sealed) new construction to ensure adequate ventilation. The switch to increase the speed when more than background ventilation is desired is common as well. The noisy fan aspect for that purpose is ye ol' slumlord buying cheap crap.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 22 at 16:45
  • Where in the world are you? Code requirements vary by country, state and even city.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 22 at 16:48
  • It sounds like the landlord's friend's cousin's uncle was able to do it cheaper than a licensed electrician. I would move, who know what other issues lurk.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 22 at 19:50
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica you're jumping to an incorrect conclusion here. Pretty clear the tenant turned off the breaker (in the tenant's breaker box) to shut off the noisy fan, and found a surprising number of things, some indicating code violations, when they did that. Nothing dishonest about that.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 23 at 1:13

3 Answers 3

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This sounds like a few different issues.

Combining Loads on a Circuit

There are certain circuits that are required, by modern code, to be dedicated. They include:

  • Bathroom Receptacles - Can be shared by multiple bathrooms, can be shared with bathroom light/fan. Can't be shared with anything else.
  • Kitchen Receptacles - Two separate circuits required. Can be shared with certain related rooms, but not with bedroom, living room, etc.
  • Laundry - One dedicated circuit required, normally used for washing machine.

Most other things - lights, bedroom receptacles, living room receptacles, etc. can be combined. So it sounds like you have a violation with respect to the bathroom receptacle circuit.

Exhaust Fan

Bathrooms are required to have an exhaust fan or an operable window (minimum dimensions apply). There is a relatively new requirement in at least some places for the fan to run automatically based on occupancy or humidity or other factors. I think running a fan 24/7 would be a waste of energy but not in and of itself violate any rules. However, if you have a speed adjustment, it will typically also include "off", unless it is totally automatic. An automatic humidity sensor that fails "on" could cause the fan to run all the time with no obvious way to turn it off.

I recommend talking to the landlord/management company. You can't make any changes to the circuits yourself (because you rent). They likely won't want to spend the money it would take to bring the circuits up to code (that could easily take several hours of an electrician's time), and if pushed on that you may find they come up with an excuse to not renew your lease. (Not good, but it happens.) However, they should be interested in saving money. If a fan uses 50W x 8,395 hours/year (i.e., assuming you actually want to use the fan 1 hour/day) at 0.15/kWh, that is costing them $ 63 per year. Not a huge amount, but worth getting an electrician to fix it.

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  • Usually (in quality construction) the 24/7 operation is via an HRV or ERV to limit the waste of heating/cooling energy. And bathrooms are a stock location for the intakes. The waste of fan electric energy can be low with a quality efficient fan, or not low with a crappy one.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 22 at 17:01
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    @Ecnerwal Interesting. If indeed that's what is going on then maybe the fan speed is to speed it up when you need extra exhaust (due to humidity or odors) and the rest of the time it is running on low. But I'm suspicious of the whole thing because the improperly combined circuit implies "cheap mess". Sep 22 at 17:17
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact I think the code requirement is that the 20A bathroom countertop receptacle circuit can only share with other loads (like lighting) in the situation where it only serves a single bathroom – so for example it can’t serve receptacles in two bathrooms and also lighting in one of them.
    – trawson
    Sep 22 at 19:00
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    Not everyone has electric included in the rent, so the landlord may not be on the hook for/care a whit about the $63/year. However, having the fire alarm system not on a dedicated circuit may interest the local building inspector/fire department. Of course, raising that issue may bring about a sudden increase in rent or lack of renewal options. That's a life safety issue, though (for the OP and anyone else near by), and may well be worth the inconvenience of having to move when the lease is up.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 23 at 13:12
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All circuits serving bathroom receptacles must pick one of these two rules and follow it.

  • It can serve receptacles ONLY, in any number of bathrooms. ...or...
  • It can serve receptacles in 1 bathroom, and also hardwired loads in that same bathroom.

Other than that, all that circuit sharing is Code legal. However even if that deficiency was corrected, it would have no bearing on your problem since the bathroom fan is allowed on bedroom circuits.

Your root problem is that the bathroom fan is not switchable. That may be a requirement imposed by your landlord - many landlords have been burned by black mold caused by nitwit tenants not airing out bathrooms after a shower. So they make they install automatic exhaust fans which sense high humidity, which is reasonable. However if a) the humidity control fails, or b) you keep your house at very high humidity for some reason, the fan will never stop running. In that case, the landlord is obviously invested in humidity controlled auto-fans, so if you communicate your concern, they should be all too happy to replace it with a functioning unit.

It's also possible that the fan and light had separate switch controls, and then some nitwit tenant replaced the switch with some fancier switch that malfunctioned or was not suitable for the application.

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There is no way to know for sure if the wiring is compliant with the code. You said this apartment is only a year old. That should mean that bathrooms must have a dedicated circuit for the outlet and another for the lights. However we do not know where you are in the world and what the code is for apartments there. It sounds like it may be ok except for the bath lights and outlet being on the same circuit. You say the bathroom fan has a wall switch...does that not turn the fan of and on by itself? If not, I would suspect that there is and issue in that switch. Did this just happen, or has it been that way since you moved in? More info for us will get you better answers. All the answers, comments and info are done in your best interest to keep you safe...however the bottom line is you have a noisy fan. tell the landlord or management co. that it is disturbing and request it be replaced.

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    It's clearly not to code. Fer Sher, No Doubt. The only things a bathroom counter receptacle circuit can be shared with are also in bathrooms. They can share with the bathroom lights/fan, they can share with another bathroom. Nothing Else. Good ol' slumlords with their good ol' boy back alley payoffs of inspectors...
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 22 at 16:41
  • we do not know where this structure is in the world, therefore we do not know that it is or is not wired to code for that location.
    – RMDman
    Sep 24 at 16:13

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